This morning I was stacking wood from a large pile that was split during the summer. The pile was about five feet high before I started, and fifteen feet wide, at least. It is made up mostly of oak and apple wood that has aged for a year. I was just working along, grabbing pieces of firewood and stacking them in neat rows on top of pallets, when I turned over a stick of wood and nearly crushed a monarch butterfly chrysalis.
All summer I’ve been scouring milkweed plants in search of monarch caterpillars, eggs and chrysalises. I’ve had plenty of luck with finding the caterpillars, but no eggs or pupae. So I was greatly surprised to find this green case just lying in the woodpile! Dumb luck saved the insect from destruction. At any moment the stick of wood could have rolled or been jammed into other hunks of wood.
I checked the chrysalis carefully and found no evidence of damage. Since the woodpile is not a safe place for baby caterpillars, I wedged the stick of wood in the branches of a crabapple tree. There the butterfly will be out danger and protected from rain. Then I returned to stacking wood, thinking what an unusual find I’d just made.
About ten minutes later it happened all over again! I came much closer to squishing the second chrysalis. Just a whim of fate lay between life and destruction for the baby caterpillar as I grabbed several sticks of wood and tossed them together to make an armload. Once again I checked the pupa and found no damage. So I carried the second over to join its brother in the crabapple.
Both caterpillars chose to pupate in close proximity within the woodpile. For the rest of the morning I used greater care when moving the wood, especially in that area. No more monarchs were found. As I finish stacking the pile, I will be on the lookout for any more silly monarchs!
This species truly has the most beautiful chrysalis. It really looks like metallic gold dotted around the ends. Why nature expends energy to create a beautiful exoskeleton for a pupating insect is beyond me. It must serve some evolutionary advantage or it wouldn’t exist.
The caterpillars in these chrysalises are still in the early stages of metamorphosis. They need ten to fifteen days to change, depending on the weather. The warmer it is, the quicker they develop. Temperatures are forecast for the 60sF-70sF during the day and no cooler than the mid-40sF at night for the next ten days. The baby insects should be able to grow. They will need to move out of this region quickly and head south. The frosts are on the way!
To form the chrysalis, a fully grown caterpillar seeks out a sheltered spot and hangs upside down by its two hind-most legs. It spins a small anchor of silk to keep it hanging securely. Then it sheds its skin to reveal the green exoskeleton. As the butterfly develops, the chrysalis will turn transparent and the lovely colors of the monarch wings will be visible within. Here is an adult monarch I saw recently in a butterfly garden on Mt. Desert Island.
I’m hoping the insects continue to develop and I’m able to get some photos of the transparent stage and of the emergence of the butterfly. I’ve read they emerge mid-morning on a warm day. So, I will keep a close eye on these baby butterflies.