The Yard’s First Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Caterpillar Sept 23

Butterfly metamorphosis is one of nature’s most spectacular spectacles. I’ve always wanted to see the whole cycle, and this fall the yard cooperated. It started with nine caterpillars feasting on the milkweed.

Monarch Caterpillar Sept 23

Monarch Caterpillar Sept 23

Five survived to maturity. One by one they stopped eating, anchored their last pair of legs with silk, and slipped into the characteristic upside-down pose that precedes a monarch caterpillar’s final molt.

Monarch Caterpillar Sept 25

Then they began their transformation.

Monarch Caterpillar Sept 25

Monarch Caterpillar Sept 25

One died before completing its molt…

Monarch 5 Chrysalis Sept 30

…but the other four safely hardened into chrysalises, where they remained for the next two weeks.


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One by one they emerged, the first during the morning of October 10th and the last close to noon on October 11th.

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I was too excited to remember my camera, most of the time, so I only have a few photos for three of the four.

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But I managed to capture a full sequence for one of the monarchs. The following slideshow covers a period from September 25th to October 11th.

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All four butterflies struggled in their first moments of flight, crashing a few times as they tested their wings.

Monarch 4 Oct 11

Monarch 4 Oct 11

But after a few hours of short flights with long rests between, all four took to the air and fluttered off in search of nectar.

Monarch 4 Oct 11

I wished, in the moments after watching them leave the yard, that they might stay a while longer. Then I took a deep breath and wished them warm winds to ease their southward journey.

Monarch Caterpillar Sept 24

Whatever fate finds my four butterflies, their brief weeks in the yard contributed something permanent and lovely to my world. I hope they thrive during their long migration, and I hope they stop as often as possible, each time bringing something lovely into someone else’s world.

Monarch 1 Oct 10

12 thoughts on “The Yard’s First Monarch Butterflies

  1. kat April 9, 2015 / 10:11 PM

    Awesome that you were able to catch the entire metamorphosis! Miracles do happen!

    • Rae Spencer April 9, 2015 / 10:45 PM

      It was the most fun I had all summer! 🙂

  2. Brad Grimm October 28, 2014 / 2:13 AM

    The photos really captured my attention. I raised my first cat to wing this year. I think I may have read (her) a few bedtime stories to pass the time. Thank you for sharing. I really like your perspective.

    • Rae Spencer October 28, 2014 / 3:53 PM

      I didn’t think to read them bedtime stories! Hopefully I’ll get another chance next summer… 🙂

  3. Mary Erickson October 27, 2014 / 3:53 PM

    Your writing about and photos of the process of Monarch caterpillars transforming into high fliers is near and dear to my heart. Very well presented. Thank you!!

    • Rae Spencer October 28, 2014 / 4:19 PM

      The monarchs have worked their way into my heart, too. Every photo I see of monarchs moving south makes me wonder if my four will survive the winter. And I’m already itching for spring, eager to plant more milkweed and a few butterfly-friendly nectar producers. Perhaps next year will bring even more monarchs into the yard!

  4. jeanryan1 October 26, 2014 / 10:55 PM

    What tender patience. And such lovely photos.

    • Rae Spencer October 26, 2014 / 11:07 PM

      I can’t claim too much patience on this one. I was very eager for the butterflies to emerge, and more than once I leaned close to their chrysalises and whispered, “How’s it going? Will you need much longer?” 🙂

  5. pattimoed October 26, 2014 / 9:32 PM

    Absolutely gorgeous photos!

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