04 August 2008

A monarch emerging...

...from its chrysalis. This is the culmination of weeks of "butterfly farming," and we're enjoying it "in spades" now, with 6 emerged and released in the past three days, 28 more chrysalises in containers and hanging from clothes hangers about the house, another 15 or so caterpillars forming "Js" and dozens more still progressing through the early instar phases. Still finding some eggs on the milkweed in the garden, but this far north this will probably be the last batch - the ones who will fly toward Mexico.

The emergence itself is fascinating to watch. For about the previous day the chrysalis has turned transparent, and inside one can see the colors of the grown butterfly's wings ("chrysalis" from the Greek "chryso" meaning "gold" is reasonably appropriate for this species).

Early in the morning the chrysalis suddenly splits open and the butterfly pops out, grabbing on to the chrysalis and hanging beneath it. Then he/she starts vigorously pumping fluid from that distended abdomen, pulsing it out into the wings, which begin to "inflate" and take on their characteristic shape. After several hours the fluid hardens in the vessels and the wing is rigid and ready for flight.

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