Thursday, September 15, 2016

Watching The Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterflies

It's mid September in Wisconsin.  The nights are cool and the days are warm.  I love this weather.  The air is so clean and fresh.  There is a feeling in the air that I can't describe.  Maybe it is something only Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota people can understand.  With the start of fall comes a lot of bees, grasshoppers and butterflies.  The flowers are getting to the end of their blooming life and these insects are eating all they can before the frost.  I look forward to seeing all of them but sometimes interesting things happen right under our noses.  All you have to do is look carefully for signs. 

This grasshopper is looking back at me.

Every year I see Monarch butterfly caterpillars or larva on the milkweed plants.  We let the milkweed grow wild in our flower gardens because that is the only food the Monarch butterflies eat.  I looked it up this year and read that it is a good idea to collect the caterpillars and raise them through the life stages.  The monarch populations are down and this protects them from danger.  I'm not sure if that is correct information because information from the internet can be sketchy at times.  I decided to put one in a jar with a few milkweed leaves and a stick for it to attach to.

We took it out to our daughter's house.  Her son loves nature.  He catches frogs and bugs all the time.  He observes them and lets them go.  He loved this caterpillar.  He loved it so much he named it Heart.  They fed Heart and watched it for a couple days and then one morning the caterpillar formed his chrysalis.  Some of the moth caterpillars spin a silken cocoon, but butterflies don't do this.  Their pupa stage is called a chrysalis. The previous stage can either be called a larva or caterpillar, but apparently it is not correct to call a butterfly pupa a cocoon, since it does not have a silken covering.  I never knew this and have been using the terms interchangeably forever.  She didn't attach to the stick, but attached to the jar lid.  The jar was a sprouting jar so it had a nice mesh cover that allowed air to circulate.

 I wrote about the times they raised Painted Lady butterflies in their butterfly habitat container.

They put the chrysalis in the butterfly habitat.  We read that it takes about ten days for the butterfly to emerge.  I found the caterpillar on August 29th, a couple days later she formed her chrysalis and then on September 13th the beautiful Monarch butterfly emerged.  After drying off and gaining strength the butterfly was ready to be released on September 14th.  It was so exciting for them.

During the same time our grandsons were raising their Monarch butterfly, I discovered a monarch chrysalis attached to our dining room window frame.  The chrysalis is light green and smooth.  They look like a leaf has been folded around the caterpillar.

The chrysalis is light green and shiny.

As the butterfly forms inside, you can see some darkening inside and a crack forming on the top.

When the light hit it just right on September 13th, I could see a fully formed butterfly.  I knew it wouldn't be long.

I wasn't as sure about the exact timing for this chrysalis.  I watched it everyday.  I didn't discover it until September 5th and ten days would be today.  However, yesterday on September 14th, I noticed it had turned black.  At first I thought it might be dead.  I had never seen this whole process in person before.  I'm sure it has happened here many times, but I never took the time to notice.

The chrysalis looks like it has turned black.

Then after some wiggling, out came the butterfly.  She seemed a bit small but as she hung there and dried out, she stretched out.  Every once in a while he wiggled and opened his wings slightly.

Here she is shortly after emerging.  As strange as it seems, you can see the chrysalis covering is transparent.

View from inside the house.  She decided to spend the night here. 

I went to bed at 11:00 pm and she was still hanging there.  I got up early to check and she remained in the same position.  I heard they like it to be 60 degrees and at 7:00 it was still only 52 degrees. As the temperature climbed, she became more active.

As the temperature approached 70 degrees, she opened her wings and broke free from the chrysalis casing.

It was hard for me to believe that the butterfly actually fit in such a small casing.  Very slowly she moved down to the side of the house.  I could tell it was a female when her wings were totally spread out.  The male Monarch has a small black dot on the lower wing.

First she moved to the side of the house.

Next she moved to the ground.

As I was waiting for our newly emerged butterfly to fly away, another one flew in.

After waiting for quite sometime, the Monarch flew off into the wild blue yonder.  I can't wait for next year to see if can observe this process again.  As I watched her, I wondered what she was thinking or if it is all instinct.  Whatever it is, it is truly amazing.