This summer to fall, Stefni Krutz captured the transformation of monarch caterpillars into butterflies in her backyard.
After I read Jessica Alba’s first blog “Raising a Monarch(y)” my eye was set and I began to see monarch caterpillars everywhere. I saw them first on research visits to landowner properties, and then at home. Our field is goldenrod with intermittent milkweed so I hoped to host monarch caterpillars as they munched milkweed through their five instars and then formed their chrysalis. I had seen monarch butterflies cavorting over the field but hadn’t seen any progeny until I read the blog.
The evening of August 23 a bundle of yellow, black, and white stripes was “J”-ing up under a goldenrod leaf near the composter and another was near the fire ring. I took photos then and returned the next day to see the green chrysalises formed.
I saw many others that day, sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs, chowing down on milkweed.
I watched the chrysalises every day admiring them in different light and waiting for the butterflies to emerge. I read that they typically emerge a week or two after pupating. A week went by, then another, then two more. We were into early fall, a month since I’d first seen them curled under their leaves beginning their amazing transformation. The first chrysalis was in danger of falling from the yellowed and desiccated goldenrod leaf. It was too sad to photograph. What if they didn’t emerge? What if they emerged too late in the fall to successfully migrate? I considered bringing them in to see if the warmth inside would help but decided to let nature take its course.
We went away for the weekend and I checked again the following Monday. The leaf had indeed fallen from the goldenrod. I sifted through the crinkled foliage beneath looking for the sad chrysalis. But I only found the top. The butterfly had hatched! It had taken twice as long as usual but it had made it.
I hurried over to the fire pit and in looking for the chrysalis there I almost missed seeing the monarch triumphantly mounted atop the swaying goldenrod, wings fluttering above the empty case from which it had been enclosed. I had time for a few photographs, and then if flew away.
The pleasure of witnessing the transformation from caterpillar through the long weeks of pupation to the advent was for me analogous to the transition from summer to fall. The busy warmth and long days of summer are giving way to the dazzling colors of autumn where the mornings are cloaked in fog and the evening light is golden.