Milkweed Harvest of Monarch Butterflies
A few weeks later I moved a box and there they were, still pretty and green. But wait, something was moving, tiny little caterpillars had hatched out and now they were about one fourth of an inch long and climbing all over the leaves of their favorite food source. I picked up caterpillars and all , dried off the bottom of the stalks, and prepared an environment for them to continue their journey, a mid-sized aquarium with a nylon net cover. I placed the milkweed stalks in at several angles, replaced the cover and gave them an indirect daylight location to watch their progress.
The four caterpillars grew very fast, within days they had eaten all the leaves and needed more. I went back to the location where we had taken the stalks and picked several more leaves, I placed them in a zipper storage bag in the fridge to keep them fresh. Each day I took leaves out and added them to the aquarium. I later removed the milkweed stalks and added some branches. And the caterpillars continued to eat and grow. After 2 weeks I noticed their behavior had changed, they were eating less and climbing higher, soon the tell tale signs of metamorphosis began.
They began to shape themselves into a J and continued to curl and wiggle,as they attached their furthest back legs to the branch. Soon the orange, black and white striped skin expanded and split to reveal the next stage. When the movement stopped they were wrapped in a lovely pale green chrysalis, slightly larger at the top and approximately an inch long. Along the fullest part an edge with tiny dots that shone like pure gold. I knew from my childhood that those dots would be very important when the caterpillar emerged ,because that was the very place the chrysalis would split open.
Impatient for the life cycle miracle to go full circle,I waited. In about 10 days, the tiny green capsule began to look different, more transparent and the faint orange and black pattern began to show through the pale green bundle. Movement came next as the caterpillar turned butterfly struggled to free itself from the silky walls of the home it had resided in for so long, And then, the golden beads separated, the seam opened and the wings, though wrinkled and compressed slid out of the open door.
Tenuously the adult Monarch butterfly tried out their new longer legs, less of them now than when they were caterpillars. The antennae, fern like and delicate in appearance began to fill and the proboscis unfurled in search of the sugar water we had provided for this day. Slowly the wings began to fill with blood and stretched themselves to full sail.
Two males and two females had grown to adulthood. After a very short rest time the foursome strengthened and dried their wings by fluttering and taking very short flights in the confines of their glass walled home. Once released the females immediately flew, orange and black jewels on the breeze. However, the males chose to stay close by, fluttering by us, landing on our heads and hands. It would be at least an hour before they would follow the ladies in flight and we were blessed by every moment they chose to linger.