Welcome to the crowning moment of the Monarch butterfly metamorphosis! It is a miraculous birth of unending wonder. Whether having seen it once or hundreds of times, each thrilling happening holds you captivated and inspired by the miracle of life. Butterfly emergence alert! Note the accordion-like ridges at the top of the chrysalis . . . this is a sure sign the butterfly is about to emerge. If you look at the earlier shots in the last post you will clearly see the difference. The top of the chrysalis is very smooth without the open ridges in it's earlier stages.
Last time in Act III a sneak peek at Aria's chrysalis form completely changed within was presented . . . her butterfly wings singing out through the clear chrysalis casing. In Act I . . . though I did not call her by name . . . you are able to see her teeny, glossy black caterpillar head inside her eggshell and watch as she grows, molts and munches her landscape of milkweed. We can recall how in Act II . . . as a caring caterpillar . . . with a title of 'fifth instar' . . . she cleverly crafts her silk button and secures it about the sedum stem. In Act III Aria's last magical molt reveals a jade green jewel-like chrysalis dangling from her 'crewmaster' carefully attached to hundreds of threads of silk. Now we can see how her handiwork will support her through the final act of her metamorphosis. She weighs less now than when she began her chrysalis stage and presently. . . as a butterfly . . . is ready to be free . . . to dry and fly. In amazement we can watch as she shoves open the door of her chrysalis casing . . . then steadfastly she slides and flops out into her new life . . . cautiously catching herself in the act.
WHEW! Aria is safely holding on for dear life to her chrysalis casing. Her tiny wet wings are useless to her now and her life depends on the chrysalis and silk button holding fast, for if they were to fall apart she too would fall . . . to certain death. When she tumbles out, her legs become like strings to a parachute . . . her chrysalis the parachute! Quite the acrobat, she can perform many acts at the same time. While catching herself, she also immediately works several of her new parts. Her tongue or proboscis must be wound and unwound till both pieces work as a straw-like form. You can see her moving her palpi . . . the two mostly white small extensions next to her proboscis and first pair of tiny legs. The palpi along with her antennae will heighten her sense of smell. Her sight is more complex with compound eyes filled with thousands of little lens similar to our camera lens, that perceive light and forms. Traces of milkweed white juice are found dotted along Aria's thorax, abdomen and orange and black wings.
Aria's abdomen is pumping blood into the veins of her wings. Cass and Polly still hang nearby in their chrysalis form.
Within minutes, as her wings inflate, Aria moves up along the sedum stem allowing the delicate wet fabric-like wings more room to hang and dry.
Aria and one of the Muses, who emerges before I wake, will hold onto the sedum stem and leaf, much like lovely garments on a clothes line, until their wings are dry and hardened.
Here is another Muse about to exit and enter as a new creature!
Another free fall into life!
How about a different perspective this time . . . what a plump abdomen . . . filled with the life blood of the butterfly wings and body. What a clever way to fit those magical wings into the small casing!
There is something about that design that captivates my imagination!
Spreading wet wings suddenly fill the space with color.
Another Muse descends upon the scene . . . that makes three.
Perhaps that is a sac on the third black line from the abdomen way. It seems we might have a male Muse! I had to use a wine glass to hold up the Hosta leaf . . . not the leaf of choice . . . for the photographer . . . but the caters sure love it.
Once Aria is adjusted to her new parts and her wings are dry, she lets me know she is ready to go, by flapping her wings. I quickly and gently encourage her to climb on my finger. Then as I have done many times before, I walk a flawless, fresh butterfly out into the garden. Each time I walk this way I feel so blessed. This day I carefully place Aria onto a bloom of butterfly bush . . . how perfect can that be. Other times hundreds of butterflies have found my finger useful as a flight pad . . . while I . . . the lucky one . . . watch in amazement, as they take their first flight. I whisper "Good Luck" as they flap and ready for take off. Sometimes I find they are in no hurry and will spend a few moments on the tip of my forefinger moving all their new parts about . . . much like our exercises . . . to strengthen each tiny muscle. Aria is a fine fully formed female emerging in mid August. I am not certain if she will stay in the garden, for a two week life span . . . mate, lay eggs then sadly die . . . or if she is destined for a six month life span, which includes a long perilous journey to Mexico . . . for I understand migration has begun.
Aria and one of the Muses seem content and add magic and beauty to the garden. They will spend more quiet time adjusting to their new selves before feeding and flying freely.
Later in the week Cass and Polly emerge . . . only Cass is a girl not a twin boy! She does remind me somewhat of her comical caterpillar self with her antennae held in a similar way to her once animated tentacles. What an enchanting colorful creature to have known during her changing life. Now ready for flight . . . she has a large world to join . . .
and we are left with only green and an empty clear chrysalis casing. A lovely keepsake. Knowing caterpillars and butterflies this way certainly makes any ordinary day seem remarkable . . . memories that add magical fibers to the fabric of our lives . . . building a better understanding of the natural world we all hold dear and with great reverence.
This is the final act of the Monarch Butterfly's Metamorphosis, although not the end of our journey together, if you care to join me on a trip to Mexico . . . I took some years ago. I traveled with a group led by one of the first American biologist to discover the overwintering sites of the Monarch Butterflies. Of course Mexicans have known about it throughout generations . . . for Monarch butterflies have been returning to Mexico on the Day of the Dead for hundreds of years. This was a fabulous trip and an important one for my book proposal . . . for how could I write about this marvel of an insect without the final chapter. Please do not anticipate spectacular photos of large clusters of butterflies. My photos of the trip are merely average but will give you a good idea of the area and native peoples, who live near the sites our beloved Monarchs fly to each fall. I hope you will join me and who knows maybe we can all plan a visit together!