Two summers ago our family had the privilege of watching 20+ caterpillars hatch and go through the amazing process of turning into butterflies. I had stumbled upon a milkweed plant at Home Depot, and that was the beginning of an amazing summer.
If you haven't read those posts, there are three and you can read them here, here and here. At the end of the series, I promised to post some more photos...
Two years later, here they are! (Better late than never, I say.)
That summer we witnessed monarchs landing on our milkweed plants and laying eggs. Eggs hatching, caterpillars growing, and finally crawling off to let their transformation begin. I saw at least two dozen caterpillars hanging upside down in their "J" position (which they do for a very long time!)
Then then next thing I saw was a little green chrysalis.
Despite trying to keep a watchful eye, it was nearly impossible to catch them in the midst of their transformation. I would get tired of waiting and give up. Or, I'd be there at the right time, get distracted for like 5 minutes and come back only to find that I'd missed it again!
Until finally, one morning, I saw it happen!
They hang upside down like this for a very long time--at least it felt like a long time when you're trying to "catch" them in the transformation process.
They sort of curl up really tight, and then go back to the "J."
Their coloring changes a little bit. See how he looks slightly greenish? To me they look a little unwell during this whole process, sort of puffy and bloated. Their antenna become a little limp and lifeless looking too.
They do this a lot, and it gets a little boring to watch them curl and unfurl over and over...
But, that morning, I saw something different. All of a sudden, it was the right time, and he straightened out. Something I'd never seen happen before.
And then, in a split second, his skin split open at the head. It was honestly so freaky to witness.
His old skin looked like it was just shriveling up, and this very odd, strange green blobby-thing began to emerge.
The old skin lost its color too. It must not have any color to it--it must just be the shell that holds this amazing creature inside.
What do you call it at this point? It's neither caterpillar nor butterfly. It looks like a little green alien! Whatever you call it, the not-caterpillar-nor-butterfly's skin is all shriveled up. To get it off, the creature starts doing a crazy dance. Seriously, I wish you could see it. It's like this wild wiggle dance. I felt like we should be playing music for it. Something akin to LMFAO's "wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle" line from their hit song--you know the one I'm talking about, right?
Okay, so here's the skin. It still strikes me how this old skin that once held a caterpillar is now useless to it.
The crazy wiggle dance keeps playing in my mind as I watch continue to "dance." Maybe he was just so happy to be out of that old skin? Wild and free now? And yet, this creature looks pretty naked and vulnerable, having just lost his skin and not yet being a chrysalis. It's probably his most vulnerable state--no skin and no shell to protect it. Yet, it doesn't last for very long at all. The entire process probably took less than a minute.
After the crazy dance is over, he starts to shrink up and become more and more compact. Until he becomes the little green chrysalis I was so familiar with.
It still strikes me, two years later what a miracle it is when a butterfly fully emerges from its cocoon. So many things can go wrong in the process. Sometimes, there were too many caterpillars on one plant, and they ran out of food before fully growing. Wasps abounded that summer, and over and over again, I'd find half-eaten caterpillars lying dead on the ground. Those who made it to the cocoon stage often had problems emerging successfully. If they didn't get out of their cocoons in time, their wings would shrivel up, and they would die before the next day. We witnessed lots and lots of crumpled up butterflies whose wings were not able to fully open up to dry in time. Once, I saw a butterfly emerge successfully, only to have a wasp come along and attack it. It couldn't fly yet because it's wings were not dry, and there was no way for it to escape being in such a vulnerable state.
It still makes me sad to think of all the tragedy involved in the transformation process.
Why is it such a struggle to emerge a butterfly?
I still have more questions than answers.
But, now, when I see a monarch butterfly, I know there are countless others who did not survive.
And, I know what a miracle it is that it did.