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Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

We've been raising some baby Monarchs inside. Today two of them emerged from their chrysalises. It was magical. I took them out of their enclosure pretty soon after their transformation. We put them both on my Zinnias in full sun to fan their wings and drink nectar if they wished. The males will have black spots on their hind wings, so far ours have all been female. The mama Monarch uses special glands on her feet to “taste” each plant until she finds milkweed. Once she finds it, she lays eggs one at a time on the newest growth. Over the course of a week, the female lays several hundred white eggs, no bigger than a pinhead, on any milkweed leaf she finds. Four days later the larva (teeny baby caterpillar) emerges, already incredibly hungry. These little guys eat so much and get fat, fat, fat! Their first meal is their own eggshell, and then the caterpillars exclusively eat milkweed. They will outgrow his skin and molt five times before they pupates. Each time is referred to as an instar. Monarch caterpillars have white, yellow and black bands, and one set of long, black filaments at both ends. The caterpillar crawls away from the milkweed plant in search of a safe spot to begin the pupa stage of the monarch butterfly life cycle. We've seen them on twigs, under awnings, hanging from fence gates, etc. They try to find somewhere safe and hidden, so when they emerge they aren't easy prey. They use spinnerets near its mouth to create a tiny silk attachment to where it wants to pupate. Then it carefully hooks the tail end of its body into the pad and drops headfirst to hang in the shape of a “J.” A few hours later, the skin splits at the head one last time and falls away to reveal a green structure that hardens into a smooth, waxy shell with beautiful specks of gold, and a golden curve at the top of the chrysalis. It starts at its head and then he wiggles it up to the top of the silk threads. The making of the chrysalis is complete.

It takes 10 days to two weeks for a monarch to transform from a pupating caterpillar to an adult. After the time has passed, the outer skin thins and becomes transparent, exposing the colors of the wings and body that have formed inside. Your chrysalis might appear black. Next, the chrysalis opens, and the butterfly crawls out headfirst. The wings are limp and its body is plump. It rests for a moment, then begins to pump fluid from its body into the wings. The wings expand and dry for a few hours, and then the mature adult flies away. After their wings are dry we put them in the garden on a flower, so they can suck nectar through their proboscis (food tube).


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