science,  seasons

Monarch release

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Our butterflies came out of their chrysalises, all four the same day, despite one having transformed into a chrysalis a full day before the others. It leaves me very curious as to how their communication and processes work.

The first to come out was the first to go in, the only male butterfly of our collection though we didn’t know it was male until it came out and we could see the distinctive scent glands on its wings.

A second one came out shortly after, and then the male started moving around and in the process touched a third monarch in its chrysalis. A moment or two later we could see the chrysalis open making me wonder again if there was some communication between the two, or perhaps just the stepped on monarch responding to the possibility of danger around it by coming out.

The wings of the butterfly look so small and out of proportion when the butterfly first emerges, and its abdomen so bloated and big.

The last of the monarchs came out around two in the afternoon. Several webpages recommend keeping them in their cage until the next morning but a few say to release them once they start flapping their wings or at about five hours after they emerge. We waited until three dropped down from hanging upside down and then the cage they were in just didn’t look big enough for us to leave them there. We worried they would beat their wings against the sides.

Preparing to release our monarch butterflies.

Outside I removed the netting from the container (with one monarch still hanging from it). The four in the bottom continued to move around but seemed to be struggling against the smooth bottom of the container. I carefully placed my finger in front of one and allowed it to step onto me.

monarch on my fingers

My boys both wanted to try holding a butterfly too, so they copied what I had done. My daughter, only three years old, wanted to hold one too but when I instructed her to put her hand right there in front of one she couldn’t bring herself to put her hand that close.

By placing our hands next to flowers we allowed the monarchs to move off of us, and onto the plants. We watched and photographed them for a bit. One of the monarchs made a very short flight from one flower to another, and the male climbed up the Joe Pye Weed he had been set on but they didn’t seem all that active, so eventually we left and went inside.

We worried when the weather turned stormy and again we offered them fingers for a lift, carefully transporting them into a sheltered space under some large leaves. I checked on them just before going to bed. They were all quite near where we had placed them, but not quite. Three had crawled out of the sheltered area up to the tops of the plants.

I thought they might be gone by morning, but they weren’t.  We had the opportunity to watch them more, including looking closely at how the proboscis unfolds so the butterfly can drink. proboscisunravelling

One butterfly had crawled up into the sun but the other three were in the shade. We waited and watched, and then while we weren’t watching the sun-lit one took off. Did you know monarchs are solar powered? Not really, of course, but they need warmth for their wing muscles or they can’t fly. We carefully carried the other three monarchs into the sun and waited while they warmed their wings and prepared to fly away.




What did we do while we waited?

The kids pretended to be statues.


They practiced their sword fighting.

sword fight

We tested out how fast the camera could take pictures. (They were actually running in slow motion here for me.)

action shot

They discovered that the seed pods of one of our wildflowers can stick together like velcro.

seeds stick together like velcro

We found crazy looking caterpillars on a nearby crab apple tree. Apparently these are Cecropia caterpillars, part of the giant silk moth family. They need to eat lots as caterpillars because once they turn into moths they won`t have any mouth or digestive system at all.

crazy looking  cecropia caterpillar

One by one they went, up into the sky and away. I had expected little hesitant flights like the one I had watched the night before but this time they just fluttered their wings and disappeared off into the sky.

This is a male monarch butterfly on a bee balm plant.

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