Monarch Butterfly Quest (Captivated by Chrysalis)

milkweed pottedFor years I’ve wanted a butterfly garden, but never took the steps to make it a reality.  This February I took the plunge, planting two milkweed host plants in my central Florida garden. 

The butterflies came and laid eggs. I only know this because one day, about 3 weeks later, caterpillars appeared on March 8. The eggs had developed into larvae and metamorphosis had begun!  

A Monarch Primer

If some of you are like me, you may need a refresher on the growth process. The four life stages of monarch butterflies are the egg, the larvae (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult butterfly. Each generation of monarchs goes through these four stages during one year until it is time to start over again with stage one and generation two.

During February and March, hibernating monarch butterflies comes out of hibernation to find a mate. They then migrate north and east in order to find a place to lay their eggs.

In March and April the eggs are laid on milkweed plants. They hatch into baby caterpillars, also called the larvae. It takes about four days for the eggs to hatch. Then the baby caterpillar doesn’t do much more than eat the milkweed in order to grow. After about two weeks, the caterpillar will be fully grown and find a place to attach itself so that it can start the process of metamorphosis. It will attach itself to a stem or a leaf using silk and transform into a chrysalis.

Although, from the outside, the 10 days of the chrysalis phase seems to be a time when nothing is happening, it is really a time of rapid change. Within the chrysalis, the old body parts of the caterpillar are undergoing a remarkable transformation to become the beautiful parts that make up the monarch butterfly that will emerge. When the monarch emerges, it flies away, feeding on flowers and just enjoying its short, two to six-week life. This first generation monarch butterfly will then die after laying eggs for generation number two.

The second generation of monarch butterflies is born in May and June, and then the third generation will be born in July and August. These monarch butterflies will go through exactly the same four stage life cycle as the first generation did, dying two to six weeks after it becomes a beautiful monarch butterfly.

Caterpillar Fascination

Originally, there were three caterpillars, but then only two. It was during this time, an educator friend informed me that wasps were a predator. Sure enough, one day I spied a wasp buzzing around the potted milkweed. I immediately moved the pot inside the screened pool area to protect the caterpillars from certain death. 

Day by day, I’d inspect the milkweed plant for growth of my two striped buddies. Voracious eaters, they doubled in size (kind of like teenagers).

Captivated by Chrysalis

pupae 03142017One short week later on March 13, I discovered that my two buddies were missing! This caused me anxiety. I feared one of my cats had swatted it or worse, eaten them! But as I searched the vicinity of the plant, I noticed the caterpillars left the milkweed, crawled onto the screen and attached themselves to the aluminum post. They were both curled up in a J shape, but I didn’t know what that meant at the time. 

Early the next morning, I spied two lime green chrysalis hanging from the screen enclosure where the caterpillars had been. What a delightful sight! My chrysalis watch began March 14. It wasn’t until a week later that I spotted the gold line on the top as well as the 3 gold beads lower down. Each detail of their beauty reminds me that Creator God is indeed a God of minutia.  I’m captivated by chrysalis.

Baby, Baby, Come out!

On Monday, March 27, I was like an impatient expectant mother, eagerly awaiting the birth of these babies. I checked them every few hours, hoping to not miss their debut. Tomorrow will be fourteen days, the amount of time www.monarchwatch.org says they should hatch. I wonder if they’re okay. I prayed over them then, hoping the unseasonal temperature dips into the forties did not harm their development.

A change was apparent Tuesday, March 28, when I noticed the pupa darkening, signaling that birth was imminent (the pupa showed the black of the wings).

Monarch birth duo photoThen on Wed, March 29, I returned home from errands at 1:00 pm and there she hung! Folded up, her proboscis clinging to the now transparent cocoon. I stared in amazement. Minutes passed. She was still – then – she slowly opened, revealing her bright orange patterned cloak, white dots against black trimming the edges like a royal cape. I left her alone for 2 hours, then released her from our screened area into the wild so she could feed and do what she was created for – flutter in majestic beauty.

Brother, Where Art Thou?

For the next several days, I inspected Pupa #2 for signs of birth. The sibling chrysalis was dead monarch pupastill hanging out, incubating. I waited, inspected, waited some more. But it never produced. After a week, I realized I had a stillborn on my hands. There would be no new life. (Cue up melancholy background melody here).

Lesson, lesson, what is my takeaway?

So many lessons it’s hard to choose, but one thing I learned was that pesticides and chemicals are deadly to developing pupa. You see, in my naiveté, I sprayed a light mist of bug spray to keep the wasps away. My efforts to help my little creatures, actually killed one by poisoning. How many times have we thought we were saying something helpful to someone, only to later realize in our spiritual naiveté, we were speaking death over them? “Death and life are in the power of the tongue and those who love it (life) will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21 NKJV).

My second takeaway was a reminder that when God says we are new creations in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:17), we actually are fascinatingly transformed by His Spirit. This visual of the caterpillar morphing into an ethereal, winged, life-giving insect of beauty and grace resonated with me. Christians use this metaphor so often to explain salvation and the new birth, to the point it can lose its impact (Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!). This spring, I discovered afresh the truth of this spiritual concept.

Our old nature has been crucified with Christ! We are monarchs to a heavenly Monarch! Thank you, Lord Jesus for guiding my gardening and turning a butterfly quest into another God-adventure where You are speaking to me. 

monarch infographic

Thirdly, the research this project required educated me to the plight of monarch’s of which I was sadly unaware. Scientists observed the numbers of butterflies migrating to Mexico in 2014 was just 33 million, down from 60 million two years prior. Seems the overuse of pesticides in farming kills milkweed, coupled with deforestation in Mexico and US road construction destroying wild milkweed growing roadside has reduced monarch populations to a low of 33 million.  Crops have been genetically modified for resistance to the herbicide, Roundup which kills the seedlings of all surrounding perennials (like milkweed and wildflowers insects use for nectar) growing in and around agricultural fields. 

But due to my tiny efforts, along with yours and other gardener hobbyists planting nectar flowers and tropical milkweed, the overwintering population of monarchs in Mexico increased in 2016: from 33 million to 200 million. Now THAT’s something nature lovers can shout about!

Raising monarch butterflies is an awe-inspiring experience. I’m hooked for life and hope you’re inspired to join the quest or continue on in your nature conservancy efforts. Thanks for patiently reading this far to share my encounter!

My readers and I would LOVE to hear your gardening experience of raising butterflies. Care to share?

CONTEST: On Monday, April 24, I’m drawing the name of one person who comments on this post to win a $10.00 Home Depot gift card. My husband who frequently responds, is excluded (LOL). You need not have raised monarchs, just tell readers about your garden or comment on monarchs. Contest closes Sunday, 4/23/17 at midnight. Leave your email with comment so I can contact you to arrange delivery. 

And remember to share this post to spread awareness about monarchs. 😉 #excited!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Monarch Butterfly Quest (Captivated by Chrysalis)

  1. Professor Bill says:

    Can I disguise my name so I can win the gift card?? Just kidding! Very informative post with catchy title (Monarch quest=quest for royalty?) Excellent information. I would be inspired to try the butterfly garden. I hope others are inspired as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carmella Antonelli Testone says:

    Hello Kate I guess I’m not meant to share what I wrote it won’t go thru not sure I could write again anyway. Unless you already saw it. let me know ok

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sharon Otero says:

    Excellent and inspiring article, Kate! I’ve never grown Monarchs, but started last year planting a few butterfly-attracting plants in our backyard. Butterflies just make me happy! After reading your article I may be inspired to take the next step and grow my own Monarchs! Thanks for a fun read-complete with pictures! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Carmella Antonelli Testone says:

    Hello Kate I will try this again. I so enjoy your blogs they always give me something to ponder about and always reminds me how much the Father loves me and of course you also. When I first moved to Pensacola it really was not the greatest place I’ve ever lived love it by the water and up in the country north of here. It is a little to much city for my taste. I know the Lord has Michael and I here for this season of time and I’m ok with that. One of the things I’ve come to love is some of the things most people around here do not notice the butterflies and birds are wonderful there are so many of them. So to read your blog about the butterflies you are raising and releasing was very interesting to me. I never realized how many different kinds there are and how beautiful they are also. My mother in law loves I mean loves butterflies she has all kinds of things with them on them in her home. I was blessed to have been one of her care givers for the last year and a half she passed on Fed. 4 of this year I was with her every day and sometimes into the night. I was blessed to get to know her and learn of her life and adventures. Had my own mother not passed so suddenly I most likely would not have ever meet my husband my life was going in a different direction I thought I was going to be caring for my mother and end up caring for his. I do believe as my mother said in a note I found in her things wrote just to me that God’s Timing is always perfect. So since my mother in laws passing I have found myself not depressed but wondering what next. I do have my hands full taking care of my husband which I love and of course my little lol Jayden. I’m not working but I feel as if I do in some ways. So I started my project of a garden which I tried last year and did not have very much success at all. I was eaten up by butterfly catapillers theses worms were green and big I saw butterflies first then over night it seemed something was eating my plants at a very fast rate. So I started looking and to my surprise I found the biggest green caterpiler I every saw I went to remove him and he raised his head to attack me I jumped it was unreal it was as long as my middle finger and as fat to. I did get him but it was to late for my garden so I say all this to say I started another garden this year and it is so beautiful and doing great and my flowers oh boy I need to send you pictures. I know the Lord is helping me with this all and giving me peace that I needed after losing my mother in law and my own mother awhile back. Also have blackberrys in my yard and up the road so I’ve been picking a lot and getting ready to make some jam. God’s love for me is so special I know he is doing this all for me and my husband spoils me all the time I have to keep my mouth shut sometimes or he will buy me stuff all the time. I do love him so. Well this comment became a long letter I felt lead to share with you my friend and I feel blessed to have meet you. Every time I see a butterfly I will think of you and try and get pictures so I can find out the names of them. I pray you have a great spring and summer coming up. Sorry about my spelling I’m not the best at it. Love to you Kate take care and God bless you..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathryne says:

      This is a note I will treasure always. I miss you sweet friend! Enjoyed hearing of your garden adventures & that killer caterpillar 😂. So sorry to hear of your MIL’s passing. Surely you made her last months a blessing with your loving care. I’m thrilled you are happy- you deserve it. Love you! Kate

      Like

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