Raising Monarchs part three
Eventually, the green chrysalises turned dark in color, and then black. Several days later they became clear and I could see the colors inside – orange, black and white, patterned just like a butterfly wing. One morning, I noticed long legs sticking out of a chrysalis. I watched, transfixed, as the first butterfly emerged. I kept watching as it stretched its wings to their full size, and stayed clinging to the empty chrysalis, drying and adjusting its proboscis (the tongue it uses to sip nectar from flowers). It rested there for a few hours getting used to life outside the chrysalis. More butterflies emerged. Then one by one, as they seemed to be wanting to get out, I released them. They lingered on my hand for a bit before taking flight. And then they flew only as far as the leaves of the nearest tree, and stayed there to soak in the sun, while still adjusting to being a butterfly and having new wings.
Hello Old Friend!
Yesterday I saw a zebra swallowtail butterfly! I haven’t seen one in many years, but that’s definitely what it was. It didn’t stop or even slow down to let me have a good look at it. But I know that’s what it was. It was unmistakably black and white striped and looking for something.
Raising Monarchs part two
I acquired seeds for the type of milkweed recommended for my growing zone and planted them in the ground. The first spring, I was happy just to have been successful growing the milkweed. But no butterflies. The second year I discovered three tiny caterpillars, but they disappeared in a short time. The third year it was April when I sighted a monarch butterfly laying her eggs on leaves of my milkweed. She seemed so happy that she would dance about and then lay another egg and then dance about some more. She stayed for hours, laying eggs and dancing. I felt as excited as she was. In the days following, I kept watch over the eggs, and then one day they hatched. They were so tiny! I brought a dozen of the tiny milkweed eaters inside to protect them from predators. I was smitten.
Over the next two weeks, I monitored caterpillars in the house as well as out in the garden. They grew rapidly, all the while consuming more and more milkweed. It wasn’t long before it was a challenge to keep up with their appetite. I had to buy more milkweed! I brought more caterpillars indoors for safety after I watched one being devoured by a wasp.
I learned that caterpillars shed their skin five times while they are growing. Each time they emerge larger and more mature. In their final caterpillar stage, they looked powerful, just like I imagined a caterpillar superhero would look. They ate like obsessed eating machines. After days of eating they stopped and climbed as high as they could in their enclosures to find just the right place to hang from their tails in a J shape. It seemed to be the caterpillar version of meditating. After a time their antennae went completely limp. Then it was as if they unzipped their striped pajamas and wiggled out of them, exposing a bright green chrysalis inside. Again it was a shedding of the skin. One by one the caterpillars were replaced by chrysalises.
Raising Monarchs part one
Last summer I finally did something I have wanted to do all my life. I raised and released 23 monarch butterflies! I had raised black swallowtails two years before and that also was a dream come true. There’s something extra special about monarchs. Maybe it’s because they journey each year to Mexico to spend their winters, migrating up to 3,000 miles and then back again the next spring. Maybe it’s because I used to see them every summer and it had been years since I'd seen one. They had been common and now were very rare. I was worried about them.
The Butterfly Costume
One Halloween my grandmother bought me a Cinderella costume, it was simple but I thought it was beautiful. I was over the moon. When my Mom came to pick me up, I showed her my costume but she didn’t seem to think much of it. She said “take a look at the costume that I made for you.” She showed me a yellow leotard, yellow tights and big yellow wings with blue sequins sewn on. On Halloween day at school, we children put on our costumes and lined up in the cafeteria. There were cowboys and monsters and astronauts and more. At one point, I realized that everyone was looking at me. The children and even the teachers were mesmerized by my butterfly costume, especially the wings. It was quite a remarkable change from any other day. I was a shy and rather awkward child, usually made fun of or else ignored. So to have all eyes staring at me in amazement was astonishing. I remember feeling sad for the kids who usually made fun of me. They were speechless. But their eyes were glued to me in wonder. I wanted to say to them “it's only a costume, I’m not better than you, I’m just the same as anybody,” but I didn’t have the words.
Learning about Butterflies
It was my father who first told me about butterflies when I was only four years old. Sure, I was already attracted to them – a splash of color streaking through the yard on a summer's day. But he had a collection of framed butterflies preserved behind glass, backed with cotton. They were radiant with the magic of nature. There were butterflies with tiger stripes, zebra stripes, black ones with iridescent blue, and some with long and dripping tails called swallowtails. There were moths with fuzzy antennae. Some were very small dainty things. Some were big with great big eyes, it seemed, on their wings. He told me the story of how they started as a caterpillar, became a chrysalis, and finally emerged as a butterfly. The very idea of it blew my young mind! That’s when I became obsessed with butterflies. I began drawing butterflies every chance I got. My Mom went wild over them. At school my teacher helped me to make a small book about butterfly metamorphosis. I drew the pictures and told her what to write. The book was laminated and filed away in the school library for safekeeping.
I chose butterflies as the subject of this exhibit because of the transformation, the metamorphosis that they go through. That any creature can begin as a crawling, gorging little insect and then transform into an awe-inspiring flying wonder is just an astounding thing to imagine. It’s the stuff of fairy tales. And yet it happens all the time.
I like to imagine that humans can change like the butterfly. We look out into the world and see people driven by fear and hatred to do unthinkable acts. We humans cannot metamorphose like the butterfly but we can change and transform from fear and hatred and all of their consequences toward love and compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude. If enough of us do this the world can’t help but change for the better. I extend an image to the collective imagination with this exhibit of unmistakable transformation and metamorphosis, just as a reminder.