Monarch Butterly Life Cycle

This past week, we had the fun of observing part of the Monarch butterfly’s life cycle! We have a friend who teaches kindergarten, and she always raises Monarch caterpillars/butterflies with her classes in the spring. She decided after several years of buying the caterpillars that she would try attracting her own by growing milkweed (Monarch’s favorite food!) in her backyard. It worked, and she attracted many Monarch butterflies who stopped by to lay eggs during their fall migration to Mexico. We were grateful to be able to have two of the chrysalides to bring home to our house!

Our friend also loaned us this “home” to keep the chrysalides in.  It’s a large animal cracker tub that she converted to a butterfly home by cutting panels out of the sides and replacing them with netting to let the air in.

Both of the chrysalides started out green.  They turn black about 24 hours before they eclose (come out of their chrysalis).  We knew it was almost time!  Most of the time, the butterfly will eclose before noon.

Close-up view of the chrysalides.  Aren’t they pretty?

All of a sudden, the bottom of the chrysalis opened, and the butterfly popped out all at once!  It was absolutely amazing, and I’m so glad that we were right there at the table to watch it happen!

The butterfly hung upside down from the chrysalis for quite some time afterwards (1-2 hours maybe?  I lost track) while her wings dried and hardened.  We figured out that our butterfly was a female – more on that in a minute!

The wings are making progress, but still look damp and fragile.

After 3-4 hours, the butterfly’s wings had hardened, and she began to flap her wings.

We released our butterfly the next afternoon.  We could tell that this one was a female because the males have one black spot on each lower wing.  Also, the black lines on the female are a little darker.  This website has a lot of information on Monarchs – they are really fascinating!  It was fun to learn that this generation of butterfly is the one that will migrate to Mexico, spend the winter there, and then fly north to lay eggs in the spring before dying.  Check out this article on the number of generations of butterflies each year – it’s really interesting information!

(Notice how the dog is interested in what’s going on too – I think he really believes he is one of the boys!)

We had already prepared the boys beforehand that a butterfly is “not a forever pet,” so they were not too sad to let her go.   Hopefully, in the spring we’ll get to do this again – starting with the eggs this time!  We’ll have to have a source of milkweed to feed the caterpillars, though.  And milkweed is actually poisonous.  Things to think about before raising Monarchs – although I would still highly recommend the experience!

What an amazing display of God’s creation!

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