the caterpillar story

A few weeks go I was talking to a friend, telling her how I felt like I just had to "sit down" in life.  I felt like I had been turned upside down, inside out, around and around so much that nothing made sense anymore.  And, I so I found myself just "sitting."  Of course, I do have three children, so there are lots of basic things I had to keep doing, but in my spare moments--the precious few that I have--I found myself in a very still and quiet place--internally.

My friend recommended a great book about the process the heart goes through when you have to wait in such moments when nothing makes sense.  The author uses very rich language and imagery throughout the book.  One of her metaphors is the caterpillar's process of transforming into a butterfly.  She calls it the spiritual art of "cocooning."  When you enter a dark, quiet place, nothing seems to be happening on the outside, but on the inside, an incredible transformation is taking place. The caterpillar must enter the cocoon in order to transform.

Anyway, this imagery really resonated with me.  I feel that God often uses metaphors and imagery to speak to me--make because I'm partly a creative type, partly analytical--they really speak to me.  

A few days into the book, while I was shopping for some flowers to plant in my yard, I ran into a nice lady who had two large flowering plants in her shopping cart.  Guess what was on the flowers?  A large monarch butterfly!  I remarked at how incredible her plant was, and she proceeded to tell me all about "butterfly weed" (a.k.a. milkweed) and how monarch butterflies lay their eggs on it.  She harvests the eggs to take into her great-grandson's preschool classroom so that the kids can to watch the process of caterpillar-to-butterfly.  She regularly checks the store to see if they have "butterfly weed," but it is very popular, and sells out almost instantly.  But, there was one plant left that day, and she showed me where it was.  I brought home one milkweed plant, thinking that maybe we'd attract some butterflies.

A week or so later, guess who I discovered on our plant?

A monarch caterpillar! Miss M named him "Silky."  

Just to give you a sense of scale...

Again, for scale.  This is Miss M's hand "petting" the caterpillar. She loves creatures!

Our milkweed plant.  Did you know that monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed?  It's called a "host" plant.  One monarch butterfly will lay a total of 400 eggs, but they will only lay one egg per milkweed plant because they want to make sure their babies have enough food.  Incredible!

Here's "Silky" again.  He was so fascinating to watch.

A close up of his "face."

He ate and ate for several days, and then on Monday, he took off.  I went out to check on him, and he was gone!  I freaked out, and found him on the rim of the milkweed pot, so I carefully put him back on the plant, thinking that he had fallen down somehow.  An hour later, when I checked on him again, he was gone!  I searched and searched, and found him on our neighboring basil pot, two pots over.  I was just about to leave the house for an appointment and didn't want him to escape so I temporarily put him in a glass jar.  ( I know, I was a little obsessive.)  

When I got home, I tried putting him in the azalea-bush-turned-topiary, but he did not like that at all, so finally I tried my hibiscus bush, which he loved!  It was time for him to make his chrysalis.

Look what he did!

They curl and unfurl over and over in order to let air in underneath their skin in order to shed it.  This is the final molting and the process by which they become a chrysalis.  So, turning into a chrysalis is really a process of shedding their outer skin in order to become who they really are.  Isn't that fascinating?

I kept checking on this guy because I didn't want to miss anything.  I shot the above two photos, and then came back out to check 40 minutes later, and this is what he looked like!  I was a little disappointed to miss the process.

"Silky" has be a chrysalis for less than 40 minutes at this point.  It looks almost wet.  I just love the incredible detail!

If you look closely, you can even see the wing pattern beginning to take shape.

 The above shot is one of my favorites.  I love the artsy feel.  You can even get a little sun flare action on the chrysalis.

Clearly, I'm obsessed! I'm just so drawn into the transformation process of this little creature. One other interesting factoid: the grown caterpillar was around 2.5 inches long.  The chrysalis is only about an inch long.  He's in a tight spot for sure!

Okay, these next few shots are such a contrast.  It's the caterpillar's shed skin.  I found it just directly below the chrysalis.  

A little freaky, I admit.  but, wow.  To think that the skin that was once so perfect was no longer suitable, and that he had to shed that skin in order to become a new creature.  

You can even see his old legs.  I guess he won't need so many legs when he can fly! 

Back to the chrysalis one more time.  Look at how he's fastened himself.  He's on the underside of a leaf on my hibiscus bush, hanging by some silky thread.  There's a proper name for this, but I've forgotten.  

This was all from Day 1.  You can be sure that I'll keep posting photos of this little guy in the days to come.

In case you are wondering, I shot all of these with my 100mm, f/2.8 marco lens.  A few photos are cropped in more closely so that you can see the detail close-up.