It's been 11 days since the monarch caterpillar from my garden made its beautiful chrysalis. I had wanted to take the chrysalis in its bowl on the road with my mom and me as we traveled to Cleveland this weekend, because I didn't want to miss the emergence of the butterfly. But concern for the effects that the jiggling of the car as well as the high temperatures that could occur as we did our thing away from the car led to my decision not to take it along.
This meant that I may miss the birth of our butterfly. As much as I hated the thought of this, I would never have forgiven myself if my selfish desires led to its death. So it remained at home.
I missed it.
Romie called me around noon today to tell me we had a beautiful monarch butterfly clinging to the clear shell that was once the emerald jewel that encased it. While I was happy that the metamorphosis was complete and successful, I was disappointed that I was not able to witness it.
We returned home from our two-day jaunt around 7:00 p.m. and by this time, the monarch's wings had hardened and it was clinging to the covering at the top of the bowl, no doubt wanting to get on with its journey to Mexico. Cold weather will be here soon and she needed to get on her way.
The monarchs that are born in September and later differ from their parents and grandparents born earlier in the summer. Those will only live for two to six weeks. The autumn generation answers a different call, living as long as eight months so that they can make the journey to their overwintering sites and assure survival of their species. Though biologically different, they don't differ in appearance, just in their life's mission.
We know our monarch is a female because of her markings. The male monarch differs in that the lines are more narrow and there is a spot on the lower wings that distinguishes it from the female. She will not, however, mate until possibly next March. Her goal now is to get to Mexico to overwinter there, and in late winter/early spring, begin to make her way back to the United States. That is, if she survives the trip.
There are all kinds of hazards that she will encounter along the way. Bad weather, predators, and exhaustion are just a few of them. She will not stop to eat because there is no time for that. She has enough fat reserves to fuel her journey of more than 1200 miles. Not wanting to delay her natural cycle of life, I took her upstairs to the bathroom and closed the door so that I could get a few pictures and make sure none of the cats would get her as I removed the covering on the bowl.
She didn't fly right away, instead crawling onto my finger, but I only had time for one photo before she tried her wings. She fluttered about the room for a little bit and it was quite apparent that she needed to get out of there.
I gathered her in my hands and took her outside to the back yard. Dusk was approaching and not wanting her to travel far to find shelter for the night, we released her under the huge oak tree where we have seen monarchs congregate in the past. But she had new wings that she wanted to exercise! She rose above the house, higher and higher, until we couldn't see her anymore. She was on her way . . .
I got a lump in my throat as we bade her farewell. She was "our" monarch. Born in in our garden as a caterpillar and transformed into a beautiful, perfect butterfly in our dining room, we felt a sense of ownership, but we knew we couldn't really keep her for our own. To do so would mean her death before her time and would prevent her from doing what she was born to do. So we said our goodbyes and watched as she disappeared from our lives as quickly as she came.
Have a safe flight, Little One.