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Monarchs

Below you will find the documentation of our first experience with observing monarch caterpillars as they become monarch butterflies. The photos you see below can be clicked on to view a full-sized image. Be sure to use your browser’s “Back” button to return to this page to continue reading. Also, check back since I intend to update our progress regularly throughout this short butterfly cycle.


Caterpillar CrewDay 1, Apr 28: The Caterpillar Crew (Ethan, Ryan, Sophie and Meg) began their mission to search for monarch butterfly host plants, positively identify them, locate monarch caterpillars and safely put them into their new home for us to observe them changing from caterpillar to butterfly.

Milkweed PlantMilkweed is the type of plant we were looking for to find Monarch caterpillars. In south Texas, we discovered that these plants are found in natural (i.e. non-mowed) areas near roadsides and appeared to like lots of sunlight. We found the milkweed plants by service roads nearby in San Antonio, Texas. These plants had flowers that are greenish white and have long leaves shaped like canoes. The interesting characteristic of these plants was that they appear grow sideways along the ground, leaning, instead of growing upright.

Milkweed CloseupHere’s a closer look at the Milkweed flower top. As you can see, it’s ball-shaped flower cluster is comprised of many smaller flowers.

Monarch Caterpillar Under LeafYou have to look pretty carefully to spot the caterpillars. They like to hide on the undersides of the leaves. As you can see, the monarch caterpillar has stripes of black, yellow and white.

Caterpillar in its new home.Mission accomplished! By the end of Day 1, we captured three monarch caterpillars. Over the coming days, we will continue to document the changes in these caterpillars and provide the daily maintenance required by these caterpillars to nourish them throughout this cycle. Check back for daily updates and photos.


Day 2, Apr 29: Not a whole lot going on in the caterpillar world. The milkweed plants in the container dried up and there was lots of green poop (I will have to get a picture of that another day).

Monarch HouseIn preparation for getting new milkweed to replenish the hungry caterpillars, I made a larger caterpillar/butterfly house. It should work for the rest of the cycle this season.

Caterpillar Crew 2Today’s Caterpillar Crew saw some new faces (Ryan, Morgan and Emma. Not pictured: Hannah, Brandon and Ethan) . We checked at the previous locations as well as a couple of newly discovered milkweed patches. In the end, the new patches produced nothing. And when it seemed like the new crew would not get to find a caterpillar, the previous patch proved productive. We added one new caterpillar to the house today – and it is a fat one!

Fourth CaterpillarTomorrow, we’ll repeat the process and see what happens. Even if we don’t add any new caterpillars, I think these four will still do the trick. Stay tuned for more…


Day 3, Apr 30: Gathering fresh milkweed was a rushed and very late activity today. Had to stop on the way back home from soccer practice while coming home. We didn’t really hunt for more caterpillars today.


Day 4, May 1: Not looking for more caterpillars anymore. Just focused on keeping the ones we have alive and progressing. Today there are some interesting things to report.

Caterpillar PoopHere’s a picture of all the poop these guys generate. They’re like babies – just eat, poop and sleep.

Caterpillar Preparing for Chrysalis StageBesides just pooping a lot, there are two who have butterfly morphing on their minds. I was told that when they’re ready to become a chrysalis, they will go to the top of the cage and then fasten themselves to the surface. After they’re sufficiently attached, they will hang upside-down in a “J” shape. Here is a shot of what appears to be the caterpillar attaching itself to the top of the cage with something that appears to be like a spider’s web substance.

Caterpillar Hanging in J-ShapeAnd finally, we have one that appears to be preparing to move on the the next stage as of 7:30 p.m. tonight. Let the chrysalis show begin!


Day 5, May 2: As of 9:00 a.m., the caterpillar continued to hang upside in the “J” position without much indication of the next stage to come. There did appear to be a light green color cast to its body. The white areas were not as crisp white as originally. But as of 3:00 p.m., we have the first complete chrysalis. By the end of the night, three of the four caterpillars have remained still at various points at the top of the cage. No other notable changes.


Day 6, May 3: The initial change to chrysalis.It happens very quickly!!! Today, while checking out the progress of the other caterpillars, I nearly missed noticing a bright green patch on the back of the neck/head (near the antennae) of one of the caterpillars. The following progression shows how quickly this change takes place. In real time, it took between one to two minutes from caterpillar to completely enclosed chrysalis.

The sequence of events was:

  1. Notice green spot – snap picture #2,
  2. Go inside to get tripod to take steadier pictures and return outside about 20 seconds later – snap #3 and
  3. Watch as about 10 seconds more pass – snap #4.

I cannot explain where this green cocoon comes from. As I watched closely, it looked as if the striped body could have been shedding, but in reality, it did not shed. It was probably something which is closer to liquid being secreted/excreted from the body which forms the outer green shell. This was incredible to see firsthand!

The Quick Change to Chrysalis

NOTE: I just saw some videos on YouTube showing this process. It looks like there could be shedding that occurs. Either way, this is pretty amazing and bit disgusting to watch.


Caterpillar to Chrysalis


Day 7, May 4: At about 9:20 p.m. the last of the four caterpillars made its change to become a chrysalis. Steph got to witness about the last 60 seconds of the very short transformation process. Watching it is really fascinating and raises many questions in our minds about how it is happening.

We have read that the chrysalis at this stage need to be misted daily. We can expect to keep this routine up from one to two weeks before the butterfly emerges from its cocoon.


Day 7-???, May 5: Misting the chrysalises daily. Nothing new to note.

I found a cool website related to this subject.


Day 14, May 12: At sometime in the morning, our first Monarch Butterfly emerged from its cocoon while everyone was out and busy with other things. Later during the day when I looked into the butterfly house, I noticed it hanging there with wings outstretched. One butterfly, three chrysalises.

As I surveyed the progress of the other cocoons, I could see that one was very dark. When I looked closer, its cocoon “skin” had become very transparent and the tightly cramped butterfly was visable inside. It would not be much longer before this butterfly broke free too. It was moving around within the cocoon and split open the side. It continued to wiggle and then rest and wiggle and then rest. After about 60 seconds of this it was free.

The butterfly took many minutes to stretch its compact wings and dry them out.

Side View Clear CocoonButterfly EmergingButterfly EmergingButterfly on side of cocoon


14 Days: What a cool project. The kids enjoyed it, the grown-ups enjoyed it. Two weeks was all it took to watch the incredible transformation of the Monarch caterpillar to butterfly.

My favorite parts of this project were (in not particular order):

  • Hunting for caterpillar with the kids. At first we weren’t quite sure what to look for or where to go. But after an outing or two, the kids could spot milkweed at 60 mph! We all looked forward to discovering caterpillars during our “hunting trips”.
  • Watching the transformation between each stage. It happened so quickly, right before your eyes and the resulting change was amazing. *This could have been my favorite part.
  • Not losing a single caterpillar while in our care. We did our jobs providing them what they needed to become butterflies. There’s a sappy analogy here to raising children, but I’ll leave that out for your sake. 🙂
  • Of course setting them free.

I may try this again next season, but will go a little earlier and try to find many more. Four was a good number for our first time, but I would like to have many more chances to watch them move from one stage to the next.

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this journey with me and will consider doing this yourself in the future. It’s a fairly simple project which is enjoyed by all ages. Plus there’s a ton of good reference material on the Internet to help guide you through the process (including this blog!).

Leave a Reply

 

 
  1. Suzanne

    August 11, 2010 at 6:06 am

    Observing a caterpillar that I found eating my daisies, I found your journal of your journey fascinating!

    The little guy I’m watching happily munch’s on the petals and leaves from the daisy flowers I provide. It’s amazing, and disgusting that he leaves a trail of poop behind as he’s eating. Strangely, he poop is more a gelatinous substance than pellets. If you’d like to see photos, I’d be happy to share

     
  2. Cynthia Danielle Kraner

    October 25, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Why do caterpillars bob their heads?