I got lucky.
When I got up this morning, the first thing I did was head outside to the garden to check the Monarch caterpillar. He was still hanging in the 'J' position! That meant my vigil would continue, in hopes of being able to witness the transformation into a chrysalis.
Each time I would go out to move the sprinkler, I'd check on the caterpillar, and about mid-morning, I noticed its color had made subtle changes to a duller tone. It had gotten slightly fatter and it seemed to be doing some chewing. Around 11:30, I leaned down to take a look, and half of his skin was already off and inching upwards.
He was wiggling and writhing and in an instant, the skin fell to the ground. The wiggling occurs as the chrysalis tries to push its cremaster (or pupa stalk) up into the silk button, holding him to the underside of the leaf. The cremaster has barbs on it that help secure the chrysalis to the leaf.
The wriggling continued for a minute or so, and I managed to get some video of that:
(There are better videos on YouTube of the entire process. I highly recommend those by hoppenberg.)
Once the skin was off, the chrysalis was obviously wet and needed to harden. That took a couple of hours and during this time, the chrysalis is very vulnerable to anything that might come into contact with it. In about 7-14 days, the chrysalis will have undergone great changes and the adult Monarch butterfly will emerge. There then will be a long journey ahead for it, as it travels to Mexico for the winter.
This evening, our neighbors, who are the parents of three children, came down to get another Monarch caterpillar from our garden that's just about ready to pupate. They home school their kids and they'll put the caterpillar in a glass bowl to observe as it goes through the stages from caterpillar to butterfly, just as we did last year.
I wished them luck and asked them to give me a call when it's doing its thing, because if I see this a hundred times, I'll never tire of witnessing the miracle that is the Monarch.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008