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Becoming a Butterfly

Monday, November 10, 2008

Having spent a gray Sunday sitting by the fire composing 14 blog posts to nourish and entertain you while I pack and travel to Guyana this coming Saturday (eek!), I have to say it's tough to balance real-time events (like Liam's birthday, like my October trips to Boston, Hartford and Chicago--poof, gone with the wind!) with measured and carefully composed posts like these. For instance, I just found a treasure trove of photos from the Washington County Fair back in September that I must share with you soon; they are too wonderful to let languish in the files. The same goes for a bunch of Halloween pictures that make me quack out loud.

There's just too darn much going on around here to blog like a grasshoppa. If you want real-time twittery stuff, you're in the wrong place, mah friends.

Anyway, you get what you pay for, and you eat what I'm servin', right? (Slams plate down on table).

Thanks for all the birthday wishes for Liam! He read them before leaving for school this morning and almost bounced onto the bus, riding it as a nine-year-old for the first time. He had said he wasn't so sure he liked being nine, but I promised him I would still treat him like my little Shoomie when he was 9 or 25, and that seemed to help.

We're back to enjoying the ecdysis of the Artist Formerly Known as Combo. When last we left him, he was looking miiiighty transparent, and I was yakking on the phone with my mother, helping pass the time in my five-hour vigil, when I noticed a bulge at the chrysalis' bottom.

With a hurried explanation, I hung up on Mom, who understood. I'd always missed the ecdysis before; it had happened too fast for me to see or record. But Combo took his time, and how sweet it was to see him slowly emerge.
When does the chrysalis end and the butterfly begin? Here?Here, when the great swollen abdomen flops out of its case?

Here, when the proboscis pulls free and begins to coil?
Here, when the wings suddenly begin to expand?

The new butterfly swivels on its legs, swings in the breeze, its abdomen unwieldy, heavy with fluids meant for the crumpled wings. To fall now might mean the butterfly's death. Hang on, Combo.
Contained so tightly for so long, the wings expand like sponges soaking up water.
Its abdomen expands and contracts as it pumps blood and fluids through the long black veins of its new wings.
The wings unrumple and grow before my eyes; every blink brings a change.
The chrysalis, once opaque and green, is no more than a discarded cellophane wrapper.
The butterfly scrabbles for a hold on the twig, its strong hooked feet clinging surely as the wind buffets it. To fall now would be to die, injuring its wings and rendering them useless for flight. The expanding wings must be held clear of all obstructions until they are bright and hard. It swivels until it gets all four legs (the front two are reduced to pedipalps) on something. It's taking no chances.
Every gust bends its wings to and fro. Still it pumps fluids, and still they grow larger. The wings are almost full size now, but a half hour from emergence, they are still wet and soft, unable to bear weight, to open or close.
Finally, they are fully expanded. Still, they are so wet that a breath of air bends them, and I see the brilliant cinnabar upper surface. This is a rare shot, for they will never again be this flexible. All of this has happened in the span of perhaps thirty minutes. Quick, as miracles go.I am nervous enough about this newly minted creature now to bring it back inside, to the kitchen table, so its wings may dry and it may rest, untroubled by wind or predators, for the next four hours.

Tomorrow, we fly!


Very cool, Julie! I have never caught them in the act, always see them right after, or right before, then go off and come back and they are out! Thanks for sharing the play by play.

Excellent action series. That must ve taken a lot of patience.

wow, incredible....can't wait for more pics!

Thank you, thank you! Just a few weeks ago I witnessed a Monarch caterpillar becoming a chrysalis, but was not present at the birth of the butterfly! Amazing and wonderful!

I never would have expected that a blog would have me on the edge of my seat.................

But it did. Fascinating.

Combo the edysiast! A strippa wit' class!

WV: reppro

Belated birthday wishes to Liam. A wonderful birthday present, that gloriously emerging butterfly. Does it get any more spectacular than that?

Guyana? Safe travels and good journey to you.

Oh, wow! great pictures, great post.

WOW--talk about drama. You had us on the edge of our seats, here at the computer--cheering on a butterfly.
And, as blogger would have it--my word verification--TURNO.
Turno into a butterfly.

I love the fact that Blogger seems of late to be using almost-English words for its verification, instead of those dreadfully difficult jumbles of letters. They're much easier to type in, while still acting as a firewall of sorts. My detested Chinese spamgremlins fly by all of them nonetheless.

Glad you all are enjoying the butterfly posts. It was one of the more satisfying photoadventures I've had. Tomorrow's post makes me weep, but then a lot of things do. Have a hanky ready, MARY.

Perhaps the first flight is when it truly becomes a butterfly?
For it is what we all wait for.

I watched this once in my garden a couple summers ago... just unforgettable.

Thanks for sharing these pics.. so wonderful!

I wonder... the shed skin is transparent... is it always so? When the chrysalis is green, is the skin still transparent and the green goo on the inside? Where are those gold dots gone to?

No! No hanky!

This brought back the feelings I had watching my childhood pet Beagle give birth to puppies.

On the edge of my seat now...

(I do enjoy words in the word verifs, esp. after two glasses of wine on Friday nights - OK 3)

like secretly looking through a peephole at a little miracle... very special.
...can't imagine what the weeping tomorrow is all about... I think you have us all on the edge of our seats now!

That is just so miraculous Julie. Wow. Thanks for sharing it with us. Wow.

Dear Laura,

I've wondered just the same things. I can tell you that the gold dots leave with the butterfly, though the black dots remain. My hunch is that the chrysalis covering is actually green and opaque until it isn't. I have a couple of reasons for thinking this. First, with all the metamorphic stages the caterpillar goes through, I can't believe it's a uniform sea-green color throughout, and we're seeing that through a clear casing. There's a lot of pigment in a monarch, and I'd bet it's all black and orange inside for awhile before we are able to see that. Second is the way it changes when it's ready for ecdysis. At first there is a barely perceptible loss of green color, followed by a translucence, when you can see the hint of orange and black within. And then rather suddenly it goes transparent, and gets moreso until the butterfly emerges. What may be happening is that the butterfly is somehow absorbing the protective chrysalis sheath material, which is quite tough in a mature chrysalis, and as it thins it gets weaker and clearer. By the time the butterfly emerges it's barely there, just the thinnest cellophane.

These are all just guesses, of course. And another thing bugs me, but in a nice way...what are the gold dots made of? And why should it be so beautiful? Why isn't it simply cryptic? Why the fancy doo-dads that delight us so?

Thank you for sharing these. We used to find monarch caterpillars or chrysalises frequently when I was growing up, but I haven't witnessed this event in 30 years.

Stunning! What a great series, Julie.

When I was 13 (46 years old today, matter of fact), I had raised a monarch caterpillar to adulthood and into a chrysalis. At the same time I was scheduled to have open heart surgery - so to make me feel better, my mother let me take the chrysalis with me to the hospital. Even though this was a very scary time for me, I stayed focused on that chrysalis the entire time.
While I was recovering, the chrysalis opened and once she could fly, we all went down to the ground floor of the hospital to release the magical creature that helped me through.
Monarchs hold a VERY special place in my heart - always will.
Thanks for making me remember all of that!

Tammy. What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it. If I were you, I'd send someone I love to to get you a monarch chrysalis pendant for your birthday. And happy birthday, butterfly!

This reminds me of this summer when I watched dragonflies emerge from their larval housing at our family's lake house up in Michigan. Enthralling and captivating.

By the way, crafting 14 posts in one day? You are my blogging hero.

Word verification: sweaftan. At first I thought it said sweatfan!

Wow... I love your pictures and how you bring them to life with your narration. It felt as if I was right there, feeling the tension and excitement of Combo and you. Thank you!

I shared your photo at my blog post at and linked it to your site. Is this fine?

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