Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Monarch Butterfly Emerging From Chrysalis

This time of year, in late September and early October, monarch butterflies that hatch out now are the ones that will migrate to Mexico.  Educator Judy Molnar has been doing monarch tagging demonstrations here at the Virginia Living Museum for several years.  She keeps monarch chrysalids in a screened enclosure until they emerge.  After a monarch's wings pump up and dry out, she places a small Monarch Watch tag on its wing before releasing it.  On an "as available" basis, Museum guests can observe the tagging process --a totally enchanting experience!  Sometimes, if you're really lucky you might be able to see a monarch emerge from its chrysalis.  I took this short video clip of a monarch emerging on September 28, 2012:

In case you're curious, I waited about two and a half hours for the butterfly to begin to emerge--but the actual emergence itself only took about 3 minutes.  We've seen other monarchs emerge in less than 2 minutes!  Anyway, we knew it was going to come out some time during that day because the chrysalis had started to turn from green to clear the day before--clear enough to see the black and orange wings inside.  Look closely--can you see that the dark chrysalis is starting to split open at the bottom?:
Here's a few photos that show some details of the newly emerged butterfly.  Its proboscis, or tongue, which at first is in two halves must be "zipped" together for it to work properly:
Can you see the tiny scales that cover its wing? (you may have to click on the photo for a larger view):
When a butterfly first emerges, notice how large its abdomen is--it's filled with fluid which it'll use to help pump up its wings, which at first look all crumpled.  If you've ever watched a freshly emerged butterfly, you might notice that it drips a reddish fluid--don't worry, it's not blood!  It's excess fluid and waste that has been stored up while it was inside the chrysalis--it dumps the fluid after pumping up its wings:
Many thank-you's to all who helped with the filming of this video:  to Judy for all her hard work in rearing the monarchs (and for rigging an impromptu lighting set-up!), to Kelly Herbst for editing the video (it was originally a five minute video with audio of excited staff yelling down the hall: "Quick! Come look at this!" "Wow--that's sooo cool!"--we figured you'd enjoy the music better), to Jim Drummond for fixing the microscope lighting apparatus which had broken the day before, to Chris Lewis for letting us run many extension chords through her office, to John Wright for lending me a tiny camera tripod that would fit inside the screened cage, to fellow educator Bo Baker and VLM Volunteer, Harry Wroblewski, who also contributed alternative light sources (only in a place like this can one yell "I need lights!" and in two minutes have people hand you microscope lighting apparatus, cave helmet lights, and a security maglite!)  Finally, I'd like to dedicate this blog to a couple of guests from Pennsylvania, Tere and Matt, who sat patiently for about half an hour waiting for the butterfly to emerge.  Sad to say, they missed seeing the butterfly come out--but they were able to see the video off my camera before they left for the day.  That's all for now....more "off the beaten path" in two weeks!


  1. I've always thought it was interesting how plump they look when they first emerge - definitely a far cry from the butterfly that most would expect! I love the very last stage of the chrysalis when it goes translucent and you can see the wings underneath it.

  2. So cool!! I've not seen a monarch emerging from its chrysalis. It's beautiful and mysterious:)
    I did't know their abdomen was filled with fluid. That's really interesting! Thank you for your sharing rare information.

  3. It is very wonderful!!
    I looked at the moment of emergence for the first time.
    It is very mystical.
    The wonderfulness of the life was felt.

    1. Hello Yasuhiro & Family! Doomo arigatoo gozaimasu!