Updated: Aug 9, 2021
We watched as "Monty" the Monarch butterfly took his first flight last Saturday, July 31st at our workshop "Monarch Butterfly Birthday-A Celebration" led by wildlife biologist Ryan Lamoureux https://www.ryanlamoureux.com/
Photo Credit: Ryan Lamoureux
We learned about the 4 stages of a butterflies life, from egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis) to adult (imago). The female monarch will only lay eggs on milkweed plants. She uses special glands on her feet to taste each plant and when she finds milkweed she lays eggs one at a time, laying several hundred white eggs on the underside of the milkweed leaf.
Approximately 4-6 days later the caterpillar emerges from the egg, ravenous, first eating its own eggshell and then consuming milkweed leaves. The caterpillar goes through five distinct stages of growth and molts after each stage. The caterpillar increases in size, storing fats and nutrients to carry it through the non-feeding pupa stage.
Many of us have seen the very distinctive white, yellow and black bands on caterpillars on the underside of milkweed. It's one of nature's miracles that this caterpillar eventually becomes a beautiful Monarch butterfly. But I am getting ahead of myself; there is one more stage in the life cycle and that is the pupa stage.
The caterpillar moves away from the milkweed plant and finds a horizontal surface to securely attach to with its hind legs, hooking the tail of its body into a silk pad and drops headfirst, hanging in the shape of a "J". It molts into a blue-green chrysalis. The skin splits at the head and falls away revealing a green structure that hardens. It will transform from the pupa stage to an adult in approximately 10-14 days.
When the butterfly emerges the wings are damp, soft and folded against the body. While the butterfly rests the wings begin to dry. The wings then pump prior to its first flight. The participants in the workshop had the opportunity to witness this first hand. It was a cooler day, (butterflies need warm temperatures to fly) so Monty pumped his wings for quite some time before he took his first flight. It gave us a chance to get some great photographs of this butterfly preparing for flight. Our youngest participant, Wren, named him Monty! It was all such fun and educational. Watch this great video by Ryan.
Photo Credits: Bob Bowles & Janet Mitchell