This post will serve as a series of bookmarks for me. My fascination with the life process unfolding in an old flower pot on our deck, now Monarch butterfly nursery, is inspiring all sorts of thoughts, poetry, short stories, cartoons, songs and life lessons.
Titles and/or themes: (can you guess to what these refer?)
Where’s the Milk(weed)?
One egg, one plant.
Multiply by a Factor of Five (Instars)
Eat, Rest, Molt, repeat.
The anatomy of a Trust Fall
Hey, you, Get off of my cloud!
A little privacy please…
Waiting. You have no idea!
At Long Last
I began this particular post one month ago. In early August we had “rescued” about a dozen Monarch caterpillars from our lower field and from the logging header who seemed to be in less than optimal conditions for survival. Presumptuous, yes. It did seem as if there were some critters out to decimate this young and hopeful population. So we intervened. Lesson #1.
I think we had a maximum of 15 caterpillars at one time in the pot on our deck. When most had pupated we removed three healthy ones of differing sizes down to the three milkweed plants in our upper field to see how they would fare. We were not able to observe these three pupating, so do not know if they made it. Today I will go out with the field mower and mow that area. We are way past time when they might have emerged.
The process of transitioning from egg on a milkweed to a flying Monarch takes about a month. Two weeks as a caterpillar and two weeks as a chrysalis. Of the dozen that actually pupated in our deck pot we only saw five emerge as butterflies. One of those was not able to cleanly remove itself from the chrysalis, and so its wings came out deformed, and it was doomed to never fly. Of the four who emerged cleanly, we only saw two of these actually fly away. The other two were on plants as night fell, and were gone in the morning.
In the midst of this period of emerging, which is called “eclosing”, when there were ten chrysalides hanging happily, there was a massacre of five of these one night. We have no idea who or what came and ate them, but they were gone.
So, of the 15 we began with, only two were seen to fly away. Two others may have made it.
When you look at the video here of the butterfly eclosing, a process taking just minutes (before it hangs to dry its wings) and look at the complexity of this creature, the perfect detail of thorax, wings, antennae, you are drawn to high thoughts (at least I was). In two short weeks an ounce of organic mush reorganizes itself into pure wonder and beauty, behind a magnificent screen of green crystal. I have no hesitation ascribing all this to some sort of Higher Power.
I was also struck by the sheer madness of the whole venture. Exquisite beauty risked with full knowledge that disaster is likely.
Yesterday, a lovely early Autumn day, I was on our field, watching hawks migrating south, and watching a steady parade of Monarchs coming through our field. Each of these butterflies has faced the survival odds I witnessed first hand, and still has thousands of miles before it reaches its wintering grounds on a hillside in Mexico. There are not words to describe the extravagance of this creative gesture.
So I leave you with this gallery of wonder. Each caterpillar and chrysalis a unique, fragile, determined and precious creation. I have no idea whether I am brave enough to venture this nursery exercise again next year. It takes an emotional toll, for sure.
Here, first of all, are the still shots; from field to pot to field again.
And, here are the videos that capture the amazing emerging moments we were able to watch, from the caterpillar becoming a chrysalis (pupating) to the chrysalis becoming a butterfly (eclosing).