Photos and Text by Fred Sgrosso

One of the most fascinating events that occurs in nature is the miracle of metamorphosis. To see a caterpillar transition to a chrysalis, and then to a beautiful butterfly is truly a miracle. Talk about magic!

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Monarch caterpillar
Monarch Caterpillar(s) on a milkweed leaf.

The first step is for the female Monarch Butterfly to lay her eggs on the underside of a milkweed leaf. She lays hundreds of eggs, but only one egg per leaf. This is to insure an adequate food supply for her progeny. At that time the egg is the size of a pinhead. The larva emerges in about 4 days and is less than 1/8 inch long and weighs about 1/60000 oz. In about 15 days the caterpillar has shed its skin 4 or 5 times and weighs in at 1/20 oz. The caterpillar above is about 1.75 inches long and 1/4 inch in diameter. These caterpillars are voracious eaters, and it seems that what goes in one end comes out the other as miniature black logs. That is a good way to find them. Look for the little black logs. By the way, the weight gain is 3000 times its original weight!!! There are actually two caterpillars in the above photo. I think they are eyeing one another to make sure there was enough to eat. In case you were wondering, the head is at the top of the photo and the business end is at the bottom.


Monarch J
Monarch "J " Stage taken by natural light.

The next major event occurs when the caterpillar stops eating etc. and starts to look for a place to start the process of metamorphosis, usually a fence post or such. Since I had my caterpillars captive, I supplied a twig. The first caterpillar obligingly attached itself to the stick. The second guy escaped and our sharp eyed young neighbor, David, spotted him attached to my shelf in the porch. I found a third caterpillar later, which became Monarch #2. The middle caterpillar evolved into a chrysalis, but did not mature. The business end is attached to the twig, with the head free to move a bit and twitch. For those of you old enough to remember the Studebaker automobile, we had the same problem--telling the front from the back.  

Monarch Chrysalis
Monarch Chrysalis

Exposure with electronic flash was 1/30 sec.@ f22.

The next step was wondrous. The "J" state occurred at 10 AM. That evening at 11:30PM, I checked on it and found that the change had occurred. It surprised me that it was so quick. I was too tired to take any photographs, but it was awesome! The chrysalis was there and the caterpillar was not. The frog that became a prince came to mind. (I did NOT kiss the caterpillar.) The chrysalis was wet, glistening, twitching and throbbing. It was MAGIC!! The photo above was taken the next afternoon, about 12 hours later. The actual size is about 1 inch long and 3/8-1/2 in. in diameter. The gold colored flecks and band glisten like real gold. The chrysalis is translucent at this stage. Some objects just do not photograph as beautiful as they are. This is one of those situations.

  More magic to come
Chrysalis backlit.

The exposure was 1 sec. @ f22, self timer and mirror lock-up features utilized.

The photo above illustrates the forming of the butterfly within the chrysalis. The top portion is dark, and vague shadows occur near the bottom. It was taken with natural light.
The first photo was taken outside with a Canon EOS A2, and a Canon 100-300mm zoom with Nikon 5T close-up lens. The balance of photographs were taken inside, with a venerable Minolta SRT-101 outfitted with a Sigma 100-300mm zoom with the Nikon 5T close-up lens and 81A filter. A tripod was utilized. Film: Fuji 400 Superia print film.


2000 version

This chrysalis was taken in September of 2000. I had the chrysalis in full sun and tried to capture the magic of the transformation. The photo above is the result. It is very interesting to observe how the chrysalis changes from a green to a translucent color. At this stage the formed Monarch is clearly seen. When the light is poor, the chrysalis appears black, but when the light level is sufficient, the orange color becomes evident. A milky effect is noticed when the light hits the chrysalis from different angles. This translucent "skin" is what is left when the Monarch breaks out. I believe I have another female.


Next page: Click for my new baby!

All Photos by Fred Sgrosso ---

Page updated on 12/01/00


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