One Saturday morning as I was cleaning the caterpillar cages, I noticed one of the eggs looked dark on top. Then I saw the egg was moving and realized I was watching a caterpillar hatch!
I thought I would remember all of the details of this caterpillar’s life – when he hatched, when he molted, and on and on – but of course I didn’t. It’s hard enough to remember with just one caterpillar, but we were taking care of six and, eventually, nine. But I did take a photo every day, with a dime as a reference for his size.
July 18 – newly emerged and eating the egg:
That night, I found him hanging by a silk thread off the side of the cage. I hadn’t seen anything like this before – I didn’t even realize they spun silk for moltings until this moment – and didn’t know what to do. Was he stuck? Was this part of the molting process? I wasn’t sure if I should intervene or let him figure it out.
But 20 minutes later, he was still there and appeared to be struggling because he was twisting and turning, and was even folding himself upside-down, seeming to be trying to bite at the spot where he was stuck. I decided I had to do something, so I gently brushed a Q-tip on the side of the cage, sweeping him onto the “floor.” He then quickly walked off the thread himself, and I realized I had done the right thing.
July 25 – suddenly, they get really big really fast:
July 28 – last day before the transformation:
Night of July 28 – getting into position. Their bodies are shorter and fatter at this point.
Morning of July 29 – hanging from the silk pad:
Later that morning, a chrysalis:
Eight days later, the green is gone and orange-and-black wings are showing through:
The next morning, I woke up early to try to catch the emergence. And then I waited… and waited. Two hours later, he finally emerged:
And now I had confirmation that I was right to call it a male. (Though that was just luck, since you can’t tell the difference at the caterpillar stage.)
Unfortunately, he emerged on the first rainy day in more than a week. Best practices say you shouldn’t release butterflies in the rain because they’re too light to tolerate raindrops, so this was the one I previously mentioned looking wistfully out the window:
The next morning was sunny, and he was ready to be released:
One last comparison with a dime:
Then I moved him to a black-eyed susan, and off he flew:
More about our monarchs
- First post: Crazy cat(erpillar) lady
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[…] One monarch, from caterpillar to butterfly […]
I love this! A beautiful record of the beginnings of a new life. I’ve never documented a caterpillar’s changes day by day, but there is always that one day—now I know it’s Day 8—when suddenly you’re all, like, “Aww, what a big fat caterpillar you’re getting to be!” And then you have to run out and find some more milkweed, STAT.