At last report, Marvin the monarch caterpillar was devouring milkweed at such a remarkable pace, we were sure he was about to move to the next step: hanging in a “j” shape from the highest point in his enclosure, the posture they strike before molting one final time and forming a chrysalis. Three times in the ensuing days, Marvin crept along the highest twig in his large vase, then gripped the mesh screen that sealed the top with all his tiny feet. Come morning, however, he was back to eating Hobbit style (breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses…).
We realized this penchant for sleeping upside down occurred when the weather became rainy and cool. Whether that was wholly coincidence, a typical caterpillar reaction, or just a personal preference on his part, the budding amateur lepidopterists in our household can’t say.
In any event, when it did occur, the change from “j” shape to chrysalis happened quite quickly. If you are hoping to catch this step of the monarch life cycle in real time, do not, for example, watch your caterpillar move into the “j” position and think, “I have time to run up to the neighbor’s Labor Day BBQ for a quick hello.” As we did–and missed it.
Compared to Marvin qua caterpillar, Chrysalid Marvin almost seemed too small. How had our portly pal fit himself in there? Was everything okay? When a row of gold beads appeared about a quarter of the way down the chrysalis, we thought for sure it had cracked. Back to the library, where The Boy found additional science books in the children’s section that included close-up photos of each stage of the monarch butterfly life cycle. Sure enough, they showed glistening gold beading near the top of the beautiful jade-green casing. Far from being in distress, our monarch was a perfect specimen of this stage.
The elementary-school teacher up the street said her classroom monarchs have always come out precisely two weeks to the day from the time the chrysalis forms. It was one week on Monday!
I mentioned Sam Swope’s sweet story Gotta Go! Gotta Go! in the first Marvin post. We’ve discovered a second book of fiction that has also become part of our butterfly studies: Hurry and the Monarch by Antoine Ó Flatharta, published in 2005.
Hurry, a wise old Texas tortoise, watches with curiosity as a monarch caterpillar eats his way around his beautiful garden (rendered in whimsical watercolor illustrations by Meilo So) before undergoing the metamorphosis into butterfly. The reader follows the butterfly as she makes the often dangerous migration to Mexico, returning come spring to Hurry’s garden for a rest on her journey north. Like Gotta Go! Gotta Go!, Hurry and the Monarch ends the book with the birth of an inquisitive new caterpillar, completing the monarch life cycle.
Unlike Sam Swope, Antoine Ó Flatharta actually refers to the passing of the monarch in the tale–ever so gently, and in a way younger kids would not notice. After leaving her friend Hurry, the monarch continues north. Spotting a curtain through an open window, its deep orange color offering ideal camouflage, she stops to rest “for a while…. [and] For a while becomes forever.” Turn the page, and the reader is back with Hurry… and his discovery of the next monarch generation in his garden.
Our own monarch has many adventures awaiting him before he reaches his forever resting spot–and we’re eagerly waiting to meet him in his new form any day now!