year in winter, Monarch butterflies return to North America and
Hawai'i from Mexico, mate and lay their eggs on leaves.
was thrilled to find out that there is a tree next to my house with
crown flowers which is in the milkweed family, and that is what
monarch butterfly's need for food and laying their eggs on. First
I noticed the cute colorful and plump caterpillar chomping on the
leaves of my tree, so I grabbed my camera. (Another milky flowering
tree in Hawaiíi that the Monarchs like is the plumeria. Both
of these flowers are used in leis).
little eggs hatch in 3 to 5 days and the tiny, 1/8th" long
caterpillar eats its way out of the egg, and then works on eating
the crown flower leaf its egg was laid on.
STAGE: The caterpillar grows to 2" long before it pupates in
a jade and emerald green chrysalis - what most people call a cocoon.
is the nonfeeding stage between the larva and adult, during which
the larva undergoes complete transformation within a protective
the caterpillars chubby little legs - there are eight pairs.
a life, all it does now is eat nonstop until it's too big for its
skin, so it sheds its old skin, eats it, and then continues to eat
more milky leaves. After 15 days of eating and eating, the caterpillar
is more than 3,000 times heavier than the egg it came from! It does
this molting 4 times until it's ready to change into its 3rd stage
STAGE: Now this 2" chubby caterpillar must find a place to
begin the next part of its metamorphosis, the chrysalis stage. The
caterpillar looks for a firm place out of the wind and rain. This
little guy used an old bbq grill. On it's lower lip is a body part
called a spinneret. This is how the caterpillar spins a sticky,
silky thread. First it spins a small, silky, sticky knob. It hooks
its back feet into the knob and hangs with its head down in a "J"
formation. It splits its larval skin for the last time upward from
the head to the tail. Its new skin is soft and damp, but hardens
as it dries.
at how very beautiful the chrysalis is with its glittering gold
and black dots. Inside, a miracle is happening. It will take 10
days for the complete metamorphosis. By day 7 the chrysalis changes
and you can see the dark orange and black of the wings. In 10-12
days the chrysalis is perfectly translucent and then . . .
STAGE: the chrysalis skin splits and the butterfly emerges a bit
damp and crumpled as it pumps liquid from its swollen abdomen into
the black veins of its wings to stiffen them.
the wings are still wet, the butterfly can be moved to a leaf without
can see there are two pairs of wings, which are covered with dust-fine
scales, which overlap like shingles on a roof so that it can shed
rain. Its tongue has become a coiled tube, because it doesn't chew
like when it was a caterpillar, now it sips nectar from flowers.
The sugar in the nectar is turned into fat - like all the sugar
beings eat. The Monarch uses this fat to give them energy on their
long flight south.
about an hour of hanging out and drying, the butterfly starts with
short flights until it is strong enough to fly over 2,000 miles!
the moist, soft butterfly was hanging there, I was worried that
if I wasnt there to keep the birds that might want to eat
it away, it wouldnt live long. Then I found out from reading
that for its entire life cycle, the Monarch is poisonous for predators.
The toxins from their milky weed diet gives the caterpillar and
butterfly this defense, so they need no camouflage.
you know that many animals advertise their poisonous nature with
that live east of the Rocky Mountains fly to Mexico in great flocks.
It takes them two months to reach their winter home, which is about
75 miles from Mexico City, high up in the mountains.
not sure if the Hawaiian butterflies also come from Mexico.
late April or early May they begin their migration north, mating
along the way. The female lays eggs along her journey north, just
one egg on each leaf, but 300 leafs!
life span of an actively reproducing Monarch butterfly is only 2
to 5 weeks. Three generations of butterflies will live and die during
the summer breeding season. The fourth and final generation doesn't
reproduce until they fly back to their great-great grandparents
hope you had as much fun learning about the Monarch as I did.
view more pictures of the Monarch Butterfly and its various life
stages, click here