A Butterfly Emerges

by Scott London

Yesterday I witnessed the emergence of a monarch butterfly in my backyard. It was a stirring experience. A month ago, I had noticed several caterpillars gorging themselves on a milkweed plant in our garden. After fattening up and devouring every last leaf of the plant, the caterpillars all disappeared. Later I found that one of them had made its way to the top of a vine alongside our kitchen window. After about a day or two, it attached itself to a branch of the vine, turned upside down, and began a monthlong metamorphosis.

I didn’t see the caterpillar transform into a chrysalis, but the following morning I found it hanging on the vine. The bright green pupa was cleverly disguised and hard to spot among the green leaves.

Three and a half weeks went by without any activity. Finally, I noticed that the chrysalis began to shift from a bright green to a dark brown color. I could make out the faint pattern of monarch wings through the skin.

In a matter of a few hours, the pupa became transparent as the insect began to separate itself from the skin.

The wings were now clearly visible through the delicate husk.

In less than two hours, the chrysalis had become virtually transparent.

Suddenly it cracked open.

In a matter of seconds, the creature began to ease out of the enclosure.

The butterfly unfurled as it descended out of the chrysalis.

The camera data on these photos shows that the exposures were taken mere seconds apart. The emergence took less than a minute.

Here the butterfly reaches it’s legs out of the pupa, grabs on, and in one swift movement eases itself completely into the open.

The wings were soft, wet and rumpled. It took a few minutes for them fully straighten out.

Here the newborn butterfly spent several minutes testing its equipment: moving its wings and curling and uncurling its proboscis, or antannae.

As the wings slowly straightened out, the butterfly made its way up to the branch of the vine.

Here the full splendor of the new female monarch was on display. It stayed in the same position, motionless, overnight. Later the next morning it finally took its first flight, fluttering off to a nearby rose bush.

The transformation from caterpillar to butterfly took 28 days.