By Wendy Langhans
My friend Lilian is an accomplished nature photographer, so the opening line of her email immediately caught my attention: “This was the first time I have ever seen anything like this.” I clicked through to her photo album and quickly discovered what she meant. Her e-mail was, if anything, an understatement.
She had carefully and patiently captured three of the four stages of a Monarch Butterfly’s life. And in her photos, I saw something I had never seen before – the chrysalis – just before the the butterfly emerges. It looked just like a rolled-up cookie wrapped in Saran wrap.
Seeing her picture, I immediately knew my mental picture of a chrysalis was incomplete and needed to be updated. As a child, I remember seeing Monarch butterflies in the fields near our home. One year the teacher posted a picture of a Monarch butterfly’s life cycle on a bulletin board in our classroom. The chrysalis was jade green and looked something like this:
But seeing Lilian’s photos, I realized the chrysalis (the outer covering of a butterfly pupa) changes over time. When the caterpillar molts (sheds it’s skin) for the last time, the new layer of skin hardens and becomes the glossy, jade-green chrysalis I remember from elementary school. But now I saw the change that occurs 9-11 days later. The day before the butterfly emerges, enzymes digest the chrysalis covering, making it thinner and transparent. Now I could actually see the butterfly curled up inside.
Hatching is quick – it takes about 10-15 minutes, and can be triggered by “bright sunlight”. This makes sense. Monarch butterflys have to unfold their wings and let them dry before they can fly. Bright sunlight will help speed up that process.
Emergence is a risky time for the Monarch Butterfly. But as we take a closer look at the process of emergence, we see that providing safety and security is a dynamic process, not static one. The sturdy, green-colored chrysalis provides the pupa with protection and camoflage. But when it’s time for the butterfly to emerge, the covering is too thick and the breakout time will take too long. However, as the chrysalis transforms into a thin and transparent covering, it loses it’s ability to protect and provide camoflage. So the timing is critical – the change has to occur just prior to emergence.
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Next week I’m escorting a group of school kids to one of our local parks. I hope we get to see some Monarch Butterflies. Thanks to Lilian, I’ll have some photos to share with them.
And to see Lilian’s amazing photos – go here.
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