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Shape-Shifting Chrysalis

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Perhaps unaware that its skin has popped off, the chrysalis continues its wild loops. Perhaps it's just exulting in the last motion it will be able to execute before it hangs, motionless but transforming, for the next 14 days.
You can see its beaded antennae, running from the eye (at the bottom of the chrysalis) along the leading edge of the wing. You can see the veins in the wing, and the segments in its fat abdomen.

Here's a sequence of pictures that shows how the chrysalis changes its shape in the course of only an hour. It starts out still vaguely cylindrical, reminiscent of a caterpillar.
It writhes and pumps and changes as it hangs.The whitish line on its midsection moves up as most of the bulk moves higher into what will be the butterfly's abdomen. It's starting to assume the tapered shape of a mature chrysalis. (see the right-hand one for comparison).

But for the ravishing seafoam-green color, the fresh chrysalis on the right is almost there:
Over the next day, the whitish buttons on the midline and around the tip will brighten to burnished, 24 K gold finish. I don't understand or know how an insect creates the hue and sheen of iridescent gold, but it does, and I am in awe.

We let this caterpillar choose a place close to another chrysalis to hang and make its transformation. However, at this point it's possible to detach the silk anchoring the chrysalis with a sharp X-acto knife, and with a dot of Elmer's glue, attach it wherever you wish. The important thing is that the chrysalis hang absolutely clear of any obstruction such as a twig or terrarium side. The emerging butterfly is weak and must hang clear of obstacles, or its wings could dry crumpled, rendering it flightless. So a thin twig is ideal for anchoring the chrysalis.
Here, the glue is drying. When it hardens, I'll hang the chrysalis up where it can get light and air, to remain undisturbed for a couple of weeks. I'll spray it with a mister from time to time, but that's about it. The chrysalis has work and much magic to do.

If you like these photos, just wait 'til you see what I captured this morning. We have a butterfly to look forward to!


One of my favorite lines from Annie Dillard reads thusly:
"The whole creation is one lunatic fringe. If creation had been left up to me, I'm sure I wouldn't have had the imagination or courage to do more than shape a single, reasonably sized atom, smooth as a snowball, and let it go at that. No claims of any and all revelations could be so far-fetched as a single giraffe."
She might just as easily have said, 'so far-fetched as a caterpiller metamorphosing into a butterfly.'

Fascinating serious of posts! I can't wait to see the butterfly!

Is anyone but Heather having trouble leaving comments? Tell me about it at julieatjuliezickefoosedotcom and I'll see if there's a fix.
I'd hate to think you're muzzled, stifled, or bummed out.

Cyberthrush, I love that quote, and agree totally. There's nothing like staring at a chrysalis for six hours straight to make you wonder about the insane intelligence of (evolutionary) design. Yeah, I'm messing with you.

Wow. Wow. Wow. Thank you for the pics!! I can't wait until tomorrow.

This is such an amazingly wonderful series of posts: thank you, thank you, thank you. My son and I are transfixed and can't wait to see the wings.

Incredible details, Julie. I'm so intrigued by watching this happen under your supervision. Oh, I'm so looking forward to tomorrow!!

EEEP! How cool is THAT?

*quietly bummed that my visit wasn't a few days later*

Changing from caterpillar to butterfly must be like giving yourself.

This is fascinating stuff. For some reason, I had it in my head that the caterpillar *put on* the chrysalis, rather than shedding its skin to reveal the stuff underneath. Perhaps I have it confused with silkworms spinning a thread to cover themselves in a cocoon.

Any-who, it is pretty amazifying, and I for one am glad you are sharing.

~Kathi, who is neither muzzled nor stifled, but is occasionally bummed out

Good point, Kathi! I'm going to incorporate that observation in the next post. Started to respond to it here and it turned into a little dissertation. Thank you!

That process is just full of wonderment and awe, isn't it? :c) Can't wait to see the metamorphosis.

Beautiful! Your pictures have got me off my duff and researching a bit. The gold dots on the monarch chrysalis have always fascinated me. From my dalliance with the books I find that science does not know what the dots are for or how they form. So many mysteries yet to understand!

I've always wondered if it hurts to metamorph- it must-but the results are so beautiful.

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