Once again we will follow the journey of a butterfly from the time the egg is laid until it emerges from its chrysalis and becomes a Monarch Butterfly. I have a butterfly garden in my yard to help the monarch population. 90% of monarchs die in the wild. This year is an especially important year because they had a very rough winter in Mexico and a lot of the population died.
In the summer, I spend a lot of my time gathering butterfly eggs, watching caterpillars grow, harvesting milkweed for them to eat, cleaning out poopy cages, and taking tons of photos of them as they grow. I never tire of this process! It's great fun to watch them and help them along, and especially to introduce the monarch to other people.
And finally, one of my caterpillar photos is being used on a sign for a permanent monarch exhibit at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They found it on flickr and asked if they could use it. Of course I said yes! The sign is already there, and the exhibit is open, but it hasn't been officially announced yet.
Here is the photo they are using:
04/23/2010: First milkweed of the season poking its head through the ground. Milkweed is the only thing that the monarch caterpillar can eat. The female seeks out milkweed to lay her eggs. The eggs then hatch and the caterpillars feed on it until they are ready to transform into a chrysalis. It takes 3-6 days for the egg to hatch, 7 to 10 days for the caterpillar to get to full size, and another 7-10 days for it to form into a full grown butterfly inside of the chrysalis.
05/14/2010: About 3 weeks later and the milkweed has gotten considerably larger. I can see the flower bud already.
August 17, 2010: The two photos below are being added to this blog because they are a very important part of the process and I wanted to include them. These are the best photos I've ever taken of a monarch laying an egg. As you can see, I got a picture of her the instant she touched the leaf and you can actually see the egg she just laid in the next shot. I was SO excited to get these two shots and see that they turned out! I'm still excited when I look at them LOL.May 29, 2010: Saw a monarch this morning! It wasn't in my garden but of course the first thing I am going to do is to get out my magnifying glass and see if there are eggs. WooHoo! I found two eggs on my plants behind my house, but none in my actual butterfly garden. I'm sure there are more out there somewhere but I haven't had time to check. I wanted to get these in the house where they are safe and get a picture. When I bring them in the house I clip off the top part of the milkweed and I put them in a small bottle, and then in a small aquarium.
May 30, 2010: As you can see in the picture below, the egg has turned almost black. That is the caterpillar inside, ready to come out. I sat with my camera for about 2 hours and tried to get a picture of it coming out of the egg. Unfortunately it was getting late, I was beat from a long day, and I had to give up and get some rest. If I get another one at some point I will insert it after this picture.
May 31, 2010: Sometime in the middle of the night, a little caterpillar was born! I'm calling this one Doodle, as in Doodle Bug. He will be the subject for the blog this year. I have approximately 7 eggs at the moment. This is just the first batch, they will come back and lay eggs many times during the summer and I will harvest every time. As every year, we will start off with a grain of rice so you can see how tiny he is.
June 1, 2010: You can see by the photo below how much he has grown, just overnight! His stripes are more defined and his shape is much more streamlined. I now have 10 caterpillars!
June 3, 2010: He's still not bigger than the grain of rice but he's getting there. I 'think' he must have shed his skin not long before this picture was taken. They shed their skin 5 times during their life as a caterpillar. Each new stage is called an instar. You can see that he is now starting to get his antennae.
June 4, 2010: I think he's officially bigger than the grain of rice! His antennae have grown since yesterday and he's looking more and more like a full grown caterpillar.
June 6, 2010: Look how much he has grown in just two days! I love this stage! Their antennae look like puppy dog ears. They are much too big for his body LOL.
June 6, 2010: Another shot from the same day, just a different angle. He's really looking like a caterpillar should! I say he but truthfully you can't tell the gender until they form their chrysalis.
June 8, 2010: 8 days old now and it will probably only be two more days until he forms his chrysalis at the top of the aquarium. I have a screen top on there which makes it easy for them to spin their little web where they will hang for 7 to 10 days.
June 10, 2010: 10 days old now and he should head to the top at any moment. I've never had one go much beyond 10 days as a caterpillar. He's really beautiful, don't you think?
June 11, 2010: When I woke this morning to find Doodle in his J shape, I was SO excited! I've been raising butterflies for years now and this is the first time that one has hung itself on a piece of milkweed rather than the top of the cage. So hard to get nice pictures when you have a plastic lid or metal screen in the background.
June 11, 2010: Below is a series of photos that show the transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis. Lots of people think that the chrysalis forms around the caterpillar but actually the skin splits and the chrysalis is inside. I can always tell when they are ready to change because their little antennae get all twisted. It seemed like a long morning. I went out at around 8 a.m. to start watching for signs of the change. I was getting anxious because my son had a doctor's appointment at 9:30 and I didn't want to miss it. Doodle was very restless and there was a lot of movement but no twisted antennae.
We left at 9:15 and I was sure I was going to miss it. We came back home and I was happy to see he hadn't changed yet, and still no twisted antennae. We got home at around 10 and I sat until about 12:30 with nothing happening except a bit of twitching. I HAD to do some running so I reluctantly left and did what I needed to do. I came back in about a half an hour and when I looked, his antennae were twisted! I got my gear all set up. My gear is my tripod, camera, Doodle, a bucket full of cut milkweed for background green, and my phone in case it rings. It took about a half an hour more and then it began.
When he straightens out almost all the way I know it's time! All the way down by his head, the skin begins to split and you can see the green. It slowly splits while he is wiggling and trying to help it along. When the skin finally gets all the way to the top, he begins violently twisting and swinging to try and get the skin off. Once it falls to the ground he calms down. In about an hour or so the chrysalis has hardened and becomes more smooth looking.
June 11, 2010: This is Doodle's skin after he shook it off and it fell to the ground. You can still see his face, antenna and his legs.
June 11, 2010: This is the top of the chrysalis. There are a couple of black dots at the top. If this were a female, there would be a line in the middle of the dots. Since there isn't a line, this means that Doodle is a boy.
June 13, 2010: A couple of days later. After an hour or so their chrysalis hardens and turns shiny and green. In the photo below you can see that the plant where Doodle made his chrysalis has wilted and is almost dead. Time to remove him and put him somewhere else.
June 18, 2010: I have removed Doodle from his wilted and dead milkweed plant and hot glued him to a nice stick. The chrysalis must be in a place where the butterfly can hang free of any obsticles so that his wings can dry properly. It really should be any day now. If you look closely you can see the lines in his wings as well as a body forming. The body is the dark area in the front lower part of the chyrsalis. I sure hope Doodle cooperates and comes out while I'm home. I have Monday off so I don't have to be back to work until Tuesday afternoon.
June 19, 2010: Tomorrow we will have a butterfly! You can already see his wings changing colors inside of the chrysalis and I have no doubt that tomorrow we will welcome Doodle the butterfly into the world. His transformation will be complete.
June 20, 2010: Today is the day! As you can see by the photo below, today is definitely the day that Doodle will make his appearance into the world! The first butterfly of the season is always exciting, although each and every one that I get to set free is just as exciting for me.
June 20, 2010: Below is a series of photos that show Doodle emerging from his chrysalis and becoming a beautiful Monarch butterfly! You can see the chrysalis begin to crack. I only had to wait an hour and a half for this, as opposed to the 5 1/2 hours I waited for him to form his chrysalis. Thank you Doodle LOL! I probably snapped another 200+ pictures but narrowed it down to a few that showed the entire process. It probably only takes a total of 3 minutes for him to come all the way out, but another couple of hours for his wings to fill with fluid. When he first comes out his wings are tiny and crumpled but within 10 minutes or so they are fully formed. It takes him a couple of hours for his wings to dry. This gives me plenty of time to take him around my yard and set him on various flowers to get a great shot of him.
June 20, 2010: Wasn't that exciting?! We now have a fully formed male butterfly! You can tell he is a male by the two dots on his wings, near the bottom of his body. The female doesn't have these dots and the lines on her wings are also thicker than the male. After about an hour and a half I took Doodle back to my butterfly garden to try and get some pictures. He immediately started feeding on the milkweed flowers. Butterflies drink the nectar with their tongue, which is called a probscis. He cooperated nicely for me and stayed for about 10 minutes before he flew away. In about 4-6 days they are ready to find a mate and start the process all over again. They only live from 2-5 weeks, except for the last batch of the year towards fall. Those lucky butterflies live about 8 months. They fly all the way to Mexico and in the springtime they start the long trip back to do it all again. I sure hope that Doodle's mate comes back to my garden to bless me with some more eggs so that I can do this all summer long. Thank you so much for coming along on this incredible journey with me! Below is Doodle the monarch butterfly! So majestic in all of his glory.