Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Andy: Monarch caterpillar to butterfly

This is the third year in a row that we've raised a monarch butterfly from a caterpillar, and I still can't get enough of watching it happen.

Between late July and mid-August, we start checking out clumps of milkweed, looking for a monarch caterpillar.

They look like this. Logan named him Andy.

Then, we put him in our bug observation box, and once or twice a day, we empty out the poop (they eat and poop a lot) and put fresh-picked milkweed leaves in there for him to munch on.

After a few days the caterpillar will make a chrysalis. Last year I stayed up super late one night because I happened to catch the transition from caterpillar to chrysalis. It was really weird and wild to watch! For some reason I don't seem to have any photos of it. All I can think of is that we were getting ready to move. I don't have a lot of photos from this time last year.

Anyway, they'll climb up to the top of wherever they are and kind of attach themselves and hang upside down, making a sort of J shape.

After maybe a day, (this is the wild part I got to see last year) their skin splits and they whip about until the skin falls off in a little black blob and they look like a green wormy thing and then they harden into a bright green chrysalis with yellow spots on it.

Here's Andy after he made his chrysalis.

Then, yesterday, his chrysalis started being a little more transparent, so I figured he'd hatch today.

This morning, I found that you could clearly see the colors of his wings through the chrysalis, so I knew he was coming out soon.

We had some errands to run, but I didn't want to miss the emergence, so we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, I decided Andy was just going to have to come along with us, so I packed up the bug box and we headed out to the car. Right before I touched the door handle I heard a small cracking sound and looked to find Andy was being born.

It's an interesting process to watch. When they come out, their wings are very small and kind of crumply and their bodies are big and fat. I haven't looked it up but I assume the fluid in their body gets kind of pumped out into the wings to help them expand.

Then, the butterfly kind of just has to hang around for a while and let his wings dry. I figured it would be good to put him on the beautiful butterfly bush my mother-in-law got me for my birthday.

So, he hung around and his wings plumped and I took a hundred thousand photos. I don't much like the macro option on my camera (times like this I really miss that little ole Pentax Optio M40 that I dropped in the sand) and got far more blurry photos thanks to that and the fact that there is a breeze today that was making the bush wave a little. I still managed to get some pretty shots, though.

Then we bid Andy adieu and left for town. A couple hours later, we came home and he was still on the same spot on the bush. As I stepped out of the car, he opened his wings and took off in flight for the first time, landing high up in the neighbor's spruce tree. I had to use my zoom and my hands were shaking so I couldn't get a great shot of him up there.

Anyway, that's Andy's journey from free caterpillar to captive caterpillar to captive butterfly to free butterfly. Have fun in Mexico, Andy! Stay away from the tequila!

Tomorrow, we get to watch his little sister Sandy emerge!


Sue Peters said...

What a beautiful story...well done! Thank you for sharing all the details as they happen in real time...I really loved it!