Saturday, November 17, 2018

My Experience With A Monarch Butterfly

Every summer when I go back to Minnesota I go to a lady's house and buy plants that she grows in her gardens. This year I picked up a berry bush. I can't for the life of me remember what it is. I guess next year it'll be a surprise! I also grabbed a milkweed because she said it attracts butterflies.

I stayed at my daughter's apartment and put the plants on their balcony. I didn't really pay much attention to them. I watered them a couple of times and then left them. One day I went out because I was going to bring an iris I'd brought for a friend to her. I walked out and saw a big, fat caterpillar crawling around on the berry bush. Not only that, it had eaten EVERY leaf off the milkweed except for a few at the very tippy top. I don't know how it survived on those few sad little leaves.

I immediately went to Instagram because I knew a couple of people who had experienced caterpillars before and asked if it was a Monarch. Darcy, an influencer I knew, got back to me almost immediately that it indeed was a monarch. I was SO excited, except I didn't know where I was going to put it!! I started searching the web and a few people gave advice on Facebook on how to help it.

Thankfully my daughter lived right next to a pond and I was able to find it. I mean, I've never seen milkweed before and yet here were a few plants right in the backyard right when I needed it!

Here are a few things I learned about monarch butterflies.

1) They go through 4 generations: the first 3 generations only live for about 6 weeks and each one lays eggs for the next generation. The last generation lasts the longest and is the one that flies south.

2) They're endangered.

3) They form a J before they become a chrysalis. This doesn't last long. The chrysalis can last 7-10 days.

4) When they're ready to emerge, the cocoon will be translucent and they'll come out by mid-morning. They need to dry their wings before they take flight.

I named the pupa, Penelope, having no clue if it was male or female. The name just seemed to fit! I started sharing pictures of the chrysalis every morning to capture the entire experience and share it with anyone who was interested.

Did you know I had NEVER seen a cocoon in real life?!

I brought Penelope into the apartment and found a jar to keep it in. It ate more of the milkweed I picked from the pond and within a day, it had formed the J position. I was SHOCKED when the skin started peeling away. It happened in the morning while I was watching it, thank goodness! At first I was watching it and sakes alive it looked like it was in incredible pain. Next thing I know, the outer shell started moving up it's "body".

It was incredibly cool to watch the process. Penelope just hung there for the next 10ish days. It was interesting because at certain angles of my pictures, you could barely see a wing outline. And while it seemed like nothing was going on, it was totally changing!

Unfortunately, it picked a very weak stem to attach to. After a couple of days I could see the stem starting to sag. One day I used a bread tie to tighten it to a sturdier stem. The next morning it was even worse so I used a second bread tie to secure it. It started to sag between the ties, so a day later I used floral tape to secure it to the stronger stem. Whew, thank goodness that worked!

I knew it was going to be transparent when it was ready to come out, but when I woke up on the last morning with Penelope, it was completely BLACK!! I kind of freaked out at first. I went to bed at about 1am and when I woke up at 7am it had gone from bright green to black! I thought something had caused it to die.

Not even kidding. I panicked! I sent Darcy a photo wondering what had happened. Then I started to realize the chrysalis had become transparent! Literally in 6 short hours it went from opaque to transparent.

I'd had plans to go hiking, but since Penelope could emerge as a butterfly at any point, I wasn't going anywhere. I brought the jar out to the living room so I wouldn't miss it once it started breaking out. Well, just like when Penelope turned into the chrysalis, I missed the first moments of it coming out. Once I noticed some movement, I grabbed my phone to grab a video of it!!

Like a nervous new parent, I was afraid it might fall from the branch. I had to get it out of the jar so it could dry out its wings. I took it outside to the patio and grabbed a couple of flowers in case it wanted to get to one easily and quickly. We sat outside for an hour or so, and without so much as a "howdy do," Penelope took off and I never saw it again. I was hoping we'd have a moment, but mmmmm nope! Thankfully every time it tried its wings I started taking video. I was able to watch it fly off.

I'm hoping the milkweed I brought back with me will bring more monarch butterflies to it so I can watch the process all over again in the coming springs!


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Woven by Words by Mimi B is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.