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Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

18 April 2016

Stuff in my yard: The Monarch butterfly

I set my alarm for 5:45 am so that I would not miss the emergence of the Monarch from its chrysalis.

I missed it. 

It was already out and hanging from a stick. It was still dark outside, so I didn't even try to get a picture. 

I went back to bed but was too excited to sleep. So I showered and dressed, and by then it was light enough to photograph.

First shot of butterfly. Note the empty chrysalis hanging from a stick at upper left.

Butterfly is ready for life and tries to escape its box.

Facts: Butterflies can be handled when young; I look awful in the mornings.

The black dots on the lower wings close to the torso identifies it as a male.

Butterfly rests on a finger.

Butterfly's face

Butterfly rests on butterfly bush (Buddleja sp.) in butterfly garden. 
Still resting

Empty chrysalis
I planted milkweed (Asclepius sp.) in two of our xeriscaped bird and butterfly gardens. I have been checking them every other day or so but have not yet found any more caterpillars. I'll keep looking. We had a lot of fun with this caterpillar.

17 April 2016

Tomorrow our Monarch butterfly emerges

Our Monarch caterpillar turned into a chrysalis April 5, and today the chrysalis finally turned dark. If you look carefully, you can see the orange and black wings through the chrysalis, which is becoming transparent.

05 April 2016

Stuff in my yard: My caterpillar transforms

In my last blog post (, I had a photo of a Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) caterpillar, fifth instar, on a milkweed plant in my yard. I brought it inside, put it in a lettuce container with some sticks, and fed it milkweed every day. 

Yesterday, it stopped eating and roamed its enclosure in apparent distress. About 8:30 pm when we checked it, it was hanging in a J shape, the sign that it is preparing to shed its last skin and reveal a chrysalis:

Monarch caterpillar in J shape

(Please excuse the poor picture you see if you blow it up. The light was bad, and I had forgotten we had a tiny, usually useless tripod. This was taken at about 1/20 s.)

This morning, I checked the caterpillar several times, and at about 10 am, it was wiggling around. After the first shot, I set up the camera on the tripod. Over the next few minutes, the caterpillar's skin peeled off:

Then it did what one book calls the "chrysalis dance" to get completely rid of its skin:

beginning of chrysalis dance

You can see above that at first, the previous stripes were still visible. Two hours later, it looked like this:

The chrysalis is fully formed but still has dead skin attached and light striping. 

Once the old skin drops off, I'll be able to discover whether it's female or male.

Now to wait. According to my caterpillar book, it will turn into goo inside and slowly reconstitute itself as a butterfly. It should emerge from the chrysalis in one to two weeks. I'll photograph its emergence for you if I'm lucky enough to see it.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to check my milkweed plant for eggs and more caterpillars.