Monarch Observations

Milkweed Plants - wall facing West.
Produced over 20 monarch caterpillars, most from the small plant in the corner!
Monarchs like to lay their eggs on isolated plants sheltered from the wind.
Monarchs do not want to fight the wind.
They do not want to waste energy being blown off a leaf.
Monarchs want plenty of room for a quick getaway.
Plant your seeds in the fall in a protected location.
Monarch caterpillars lover to hide in evergreens when they molt.

monarch feeding on swamp milkweed
In the wild, 50 to 75% of caterpillars are predated or parasitized

When caterpillar stops feeding it climbs to some safe horizontal perch,
it then tests there is ample free space below.
The caterpillar then slowly spins a strong silk pad the size of a dime,
the silk coming from it's back end hardens attaching it to it's silk pad.
Then it remains motionless for many hours and starts to change internally.

The caterpillar's front end has built a mold for it's adult body.
I think the adult template mold grew beneath it's skin all during it's life.
Perhaps the size of the mold and hormones forced it to stop eating.
The caterpillar lets go with it's six legs and starts to slowly hang down.
The caterpiller hangs upside down in this "J Position" for 12 hours or more.
All the while it's internal structure is changing.
Under it's skin, a membrane and it's template mold has formed.

The caterpillar slowly moves it's head up and down in a tight "J."
It's outer skin grows thinner and more brittle.
Finally the skin splits and separates from the membrane below.
In the above photo the body of the caterpillar pulsates,
pushing the old skin up to it's cremaster.

The monarch then rotates inside it's membrane back and forth,
wrapping it's old skin tight around it's cremaster until it falls off.
From start to finish, caterpillar to chrysalis, goes very fast, 4 to 10 minutes.
The above photo shows the chrysalis a few minutes old.
The liquid inside the chrysalis is now pumped into the mold making it grow.
The mold for it's wings, head, legs, and antennas is plain to see.

Side view of the chrysalis, about 20 minutes old
Notice how much larger the mold has grown.

Front view of the chrysalis, about 20 minutes old.
The mold for it's wings, head, legs, and antennas are plain to see.
The yellow spots, when dry, will sparkle and shine.

Chrysalis a few hours old dries to a light green color with gold jewels.

Front view of the chrysalis - about 8 to 10 days old.
The monarch has released liquid from it's rear end, just below the cremaster.
The liquid has made the thin shell of the chrysalis transparent.
The monarch's wings, head, legs, and antennas are plain to see.
The two gold jewels are directly over the butterfly's eyes.

The liquid pools at bottom of the chrysalis to dissolve an opening.
The monarch climbs out, and starts pumping liquid into it's wings.
The wings grow to full size in about 5 to 10 minutes.
The butterfly remains motionless for about 2 hours, allowing it's wings to harden.
It needs two hours to build up enough energy to climb and open and close it's wings.
The butterfly is still very weak, almost too weak to fly.

I put the butterflies overnight in a mesh tent next to an open screened window.
In the morning I gently uncoiled it's tube with a sharp toothpick.
The monarchs will immediately and automatically begin to feed on sugar water.
You can safely let go of it now, it will feed all by itself for a few minutes.
When it retracts it's probiscus, return it to it's tent.
After a few hours it will have converted and stored the energy in the sugar.
Depending on it's hydration and strength, you can feed it again or release it.
It is now strong enough to fly up to a tree to rest and warm up.

After I went outside to release one of the monarchs ...
I saw this native female silk moth on the screen door waiting for a male to arrive.

Dan Gleason