Caterpillar to pupa to chrysalis

Our monarch butterfly sanctuary is a dense stand of milkweed, over the years the established plants grow rapidly late May through June, blooming in July. The flowers have an incredible scent, attracting numerous pollinating insects.

A colony of pesky sparrows nest nearby. In spite of a reputation for tasting bad, the sparrow actively feed on the hatched caterpillars. My strategy is to examine the plants early morning, placing rescued caterpillars in this old birdcage.

Click photograph for a larger view and use Ctrl-x to zoom in closer.

The caterpillars and milkweed leaf is placed on the cage floor. I pile up the dried leaves, replacing with fresh each morning.

Sadly to report, the last, ravenous caterpillar stage is also carnivorous, cannibalistic. These two, below, were the only ones left except for one in the pile of dried leaves.

Here is a closer view of the two fifth stage instars searching for a safe location to pupate.

A few hours later one has successfully created a silk pad, attached itself and assumed the “J” shape. To the left a second caterpillar and silk pad.

The next morning, the first has formed a chrysalis. The second, hung spent.

This unsuccessful individual never completed the chrysalis, dried up and fell. My sources write the pupa transforms to a chrysalis through shedding of skin, the following photograph tells a different story. The chrysalis appears to extrude from the skin; arising over, or from, the skin rather and beneath it. I have never recovered a shed skin underneath a successful chrysalis.

Nine days later, Tuesday, July 28, the chrysalis hangs. I check several times a day.

These photographs are from a 100mm “macro” lens, handheld. The birdcage works well for protecting the monarchs. Is a poor location for photography.

Thank You for visiting.

Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

22 thoughts on “Chrysalis

  1. Thanks for doing that. I wasn’t;t aware of the molting/shedding skin to become the chrysalis. Thanks for that. IT’s wonderfully amazing to me that the caterpillar in the chrysalis doesn’t lose some legs and grow wings. It’s my understanding that they literally liquefy in there, and reconstitute as the butterfly.

    I appreciate the idea of using the old bird cage for sparrow-safe habitat and replenishing the leaves food source, like a temp pet. That’s pretty cool you’re facilitating Nature, and not letting them get completely wilted out by the birds.

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    1. I unintentionally left thoughts incomplete in that post. This morning I extended the coverage of caterpillar to chrysalis transformation. The last photograph was at odds with shedding of the skin. Thanks for that, Jordan.

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      1. You’re welcome. Caterpillars and butterflies have been of primary interest to me since I was 4. I appreciate your post in whatever stage of intentional and/or unintentional process it’s in… because… kinda appropriate to the subject matter. 🙂

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  2. I have been feeding birds, mourning doves, house finches, and sparrow came also. They perch on the wires waiting to be fed around 4 p.m. Below the wires is the area I’m planning on growing milkweed. Now it got me worried knowing the sparrows feed on caterpillars.

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    1. I have never seen the sparrows feeding on the milkweed, I know something is eating the caterpillars and it is only the birds that could do it. I’ve seen a hanging caterpillar disappear. Do not know the solution, since the milkweed cannot be “fenced off.” Finding and protecting the caterpillars is the only way I’ve found. Our bird feeder is on the other side of the house.

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      1. I know birds pick things in the trees. They even pick on the plum blossoms. I tried to scare them away but there’s no better way to do it.

        The milkweed seedlings are several inches tall right now. I transplanted several. Did you start your milkweed with mature plants?

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