...and we watched it, as we've watched all the other 20+ butterflies that I've raised this season, experience flight for the very first time and flutter southward until we could no longer see its lovely orange wings.
I wasn't going to raise monarchs this year. When the beautiful monarchs arrived in our gardens (the adults were later than normal this summer), I was smack dab in the middle of one of my many Mama-crises and the last thing I needed was to be messing with caterpillars and going on milkweed runs in my pajamas to keep them all fed.
But one day as I was getting the mail, I just happened to see a couple of big monarch caterpillars munching away on our milkweed in front of the cabin. I brought them in and gave them to my grandchildren Krew and Juni, who caught the monarch-raising bug last year.
And then a couple of days later I saw 2 more cats that were almost big enough to form their chrysalis. So I brought them in and put them in a small butterfly habitat, thinking I would just enjoy them and not have the burden of keeping them fed for very long.
But I kept finding them...every time I walked by the milkweed patch I looked over that way. And before long I found myself actually SEARCHING for those cute little crawlers who would eventually transform into a gorgeous monarch.
When I got to about 30 (I lost a few along the way...), I made myself stop looking. Enough already...plus the milkweed was looking bad and I knew they needed to emerge before the end of September to have a good chance of beating the frost (and their demise) to Mexico where they overwinter.
Sidenote: My habitat is next to my kitchen window, where I've got a wooden bird sculpture on the windowsill. I've often wondered if those emerging butterflies are freaked out to see a big bird staring right at them, thinking they might be its next prey. I think next season I will move my bird away...
Once the chrysalis (which itself is a work of art...look at those gorgeous golden accents!) forms, it takes 10-12 days for the new butterfly to emerge. The scientificy word for this emergence is "eclosing"...and you know it's about to happen when the chrysalis looks very dark. As you can see, the chrysalis itself becomes translucent and you can see the dark butterfly inside.
Every new butterfly is such a miracle...it never gets old!
The grandkids next door have released most of them...always an exciting moment to watch them take wing for the first time!
The females do not have those black dots. Easy to tell the difference, once you know what to look for.
But these butterflies we are releasing now will not reproduce until their Mexican winter vacation is over. In late March when they start heading north, they will mate and then lay eggs for the next generation somewhere along the Mexico/Texas border. Those caterpillars will eat for a couple of weeks, then transform inside their chysalis for 10 days or so, then those butterflies that eclose will finish the trip northward. Fascinating!!!
If you really want more info on the monarch's amazing life cycle and how it makes its way to Mexico and back, here is a great video (ignore all the references to evolution...because how anyone can witness these miracles and not believe in an Almighty Creator is beyond me...) made by Court Whalen, who we traveled with on our Baja Mexico gray whale-watching trip. Incredible stuff, and it just reaffirms that these creatures could never be just a randomly-thrown-together bunch of cells!
After they emerge, the new monarchs hang upside down for a few hours, pumping fluid into their wings and drying them out. They usually eclose in the morning, and are ready for their maiden flights in the afternoon.
Just like their human counterparts, some adult butterflies can hardly wait to fly away! But others, like these two, were reluctant to leave.
After 15 minutes, I eventually put them on a flower because who has time to hold butterflies all afternoon? Actually, I can think of (and have done) lots worse ways to spend an afternoon...
Our final 2 butterflies left yesterday afternoon, gracefully fluttering away....
...southbound to Mexico.