Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Metamorphosis: The remarkable life cycle of a Monarch

“When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.” - John Muir 

Nature, a symphony, a beautiful piece of art, family and friends are all things that spiritually nurture and refresh me.  Seeing the amazing transformation of an insect from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult is one of those amazing miracles of nature that is definitely a WOW moment.

As part of our club's Pollinator project, I added milkweeds to my urban yard.  My front yard has morphed also from a hillside of creeping juniper (which did harbor snakes and frogs and provided habitat for the food chain) to a yard of black-eyed Susans, asters, milkweeds and other perennial pollinators. 

The first year that I added milkweeds (Asclepias incarnata or swamp milkweed), caterpillars showed up in the fall.  I was hooked.  Lots of caterpillars and lots of eggs.  I anxiously watched for the chrysalis, but none appeared.  I have seen so many in the Canaan Valley area of WV right on the milkweed plant itself.  Where were mine?  Must because of the sheer volume of them at Canaan.  I emailed the Monarch Lab at the Univ. of Minnesota; one of many of my go-to Monarch sites.  A reply was received the next day that the caterpillars can crawl as far as 40' away and equally as high to form the chrysalis and I may never spot one.  I could, though, bring one indoors and watch the metamorphosis.  I knew about how many days it would take for the egg to caterpillar to chrysalis stage, so I just had to get one at the right time.  Big, fat and about 10 to 14 days as life as a caterpillar (5 to 10 days from egg to caterpillar). 

Canaan Valley Monarch

Two small eggs among the aphids
and dirt.  Look for the two small pearly
white circle on the right side of the leaf.

New baby caterpillar.
Look closely to find them.
Look at all the caterpillars on just a few plants.

There are caterpillar castles, caterpillar hatching kits and many other aids.  All that is really needed though is a clear container or some sort and some screening on the top. And milkweed leaves!  I found a small (about 6"x6"), deep (6"-8")container and some screen in my basement.  I waited for the next batch of caterpillars and grabbed one at what I thought was the perfect size. 

This is Chrys - notice his size.

Day 1:  Beginner's luck as during the night after I brought him in(for some reason Anna and I decided this was a 'he' named Chrys), he climbed to the top of the box and attached to the screen.
Days 2 & 3:  Lots of frass (monarch poop) on the bottom of the container.  At the end of Day 3 the caterpillar started to curl.  I don't think he ate any of the milkweed leaves that I put in the container once he got to the top and attached to the screen.  I left the house around noon and returned by 4.  The caterpillar shed his skin and formed the chrysalis in that brief time.  I hope to actually see this transformation another year.

The caterpillar has climbed to the top of the box and preparing
to attach to the top.
Caterpillar frass (poop) in the bottom.  I kept a clean paper
towel on the bottom of the container.

Caterpillar starting to curl.
Notice the spot where it attaches in the red circle.

Day 4: The chrysalis is beautiful!

The chrysalis 2 days after formation!
Beautiful.  Love the gold dots around the top.
Botanical jewelry?

Day 5:  I have to go out of town, so with not much urging Anna takes over.  Anna is a beautiful photographer and the rest is her story!
Days 6&7: No change
Days 8&9: The top of the chrysalis is beginning to darken slightly.
Day 10: Faint, light gray lines rising up in a vertical path (wings?)
Day 11: Faint gray/black lines are more visible; definitely wings.  The top of the chyrsalis where it attaches is black
Day 12: Same
Day 13, 14 & 15:  More darkening of the lines.

“Copyright by L. Anna Forbes.  All rights reserved.”  

Day 16:  WOW.  Anna even delayed her departure to the Zone meeting so she could watch and photograph this amazing transformation.

“Copyright by L. Anna Forbes.  All rights reserved.”  
Full instructions can be found on the Monarch Lab's Rearing How-To's page.

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