Wednesday, October 9, 2013


We've recently had a cool little project going on here at the farm. For Christmas last year, Sarah and BJ got creative and gave the girls a "San Diego Butterfly Extravaganza!" Essentially they took them to the Reuben H. Fleet to see the Flight of The Butterflies at the Imax, then they went crazy with cool butterfly stuff. Milkweed was brought home and planted (apparently milkweed is the only thing that Monarch caterpillars eat,) a butterfly terrarium was bought and a neat learning experience was had.

Soon after the milkweed was planted, teeny tiny monarch caterpillars began to take it over. Contrary to my beliefs, we didn't have to purchase the larvae or eggs or anything - they were very proficient at finding the plants naturally and proliferating. It didn't take long for the young plants to be eaten all the way to the nubs, and those tiny caterpillars gave us a whole new understanding of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. We grabbed a few and stuck them in the terrarium to see what would happen next.

Within days, the caterpillars found their way up to the top of their temporary home and attached themselves to the lid with a silky web. They hung out upside down for about a day and then magically transformed into chrysalises.

courtesy of
Now, these guys looked nothing like the silk worm cocoons I had witnessed as a kid. All of a sudden, these yellow and black worm things completely transformed into these beautiful hard shelled green things like this guy above. It wasn't an hours-long process like the weaving of a cocoon, it literally seemed like it was in the blink of an eye. One minute it was a hanging caterpillar and the next time you looked it was a mint green pupa. I did some research and discovered that chrysalises aren't formed in the same way as cocoons at all. While a cocoon is spun out of something the larva excretes and then covers itself in, a chrysalis is actually the exoskeleton of the bug itself. Basically, it sheds it's baby skin and the new skin underneath is the chrysalis. This is the pupal phase of most butterflies.

phases of chrysalises - about to hatch out of it's shell, a newly formed one and one that recently became a butterfly
The emergence of the butterfly itself is almost as quick as the evolution of the chrysalis, if you blink you'll miss it. I did get a good picture of one just after it came out, though.

We now have monarch butterflies all over the farm and have learned a lot about their evolution and lifecycle, as well as their amazing migration. One last shot of Jeremy hanging out with one of the little guys:

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