garden creatures

Monarch Lessons

Ryan is taking a field biology class at college this semester.  He’s majoring in business and marketing, but I wonder if he wonders if business is the right area for him.  He’s loving his field biology class.  I personally wish he would have explored the natural sciences before now.  He’s (hopefully) in his last semester at school.

He brought home a monarch caterpillar in a small plastic container, with a lid that had a little screened opening on top.  We are all captivated, watching “Milly” grow.  She eats SO MUCH, in fact, it seems that for a solid two weeks, that’s all she did.


I did not know before this little experiment that monarchs eat only milkweed.  I have to say, I remember lots of milkweed growing along the roads when I was young.  But I don’t really see much of it now.

The caterpillars know how to prepare the leaves by chewing a hole in the main vein so that the sticky milk stops flowing.  It’s pretty sticky, and I’m not sure how they don’t glue their mouths shut!

Milly chewed through the two leaves of milkweed in less than 2 days, so we had to take a little trip to the campus where Ryan showed me the milkweed that grows there.  We collected enough food for the next two weeks.

Last Tuesday, Milly (now a good solid 2″ caterpillar) decided to climb to the roof of her house, spin a catch, and hang from the lid.   She stayed up there overnight.


The next day, Ryan was watching her and says he left the room for a brief 15 minutes, but when he got back, Milly was no longer a caterpillar, but snug away in her cocoon!  How exciting!  I only wish Ryan could have witnessed this small event.


It’s crazy how these creatures just naturally perform their metamorphosis.  How do they know what they are doing?

So now we wait for Milly to emerge as a beautiful butterfly.  The cocoon is very pretty – it almost looks like there are glistening gems on the outside.  I’m not sure how long this will take, but we await the arrival.

I can’t wait for her release.  I wish I could tag along on her migration to Mexico for the winter!

Post script

Well, this past weekend, Ryan went to visit some friends in Ohio.  And Milly decided to meet the world.  It was such an extraordinary thing to watch.

On Saturday morning, the cocoon looked black.  Not knowing what had happened, I asked Mr. Google and sure enough, the metamorphosis was beginning.  It was either that or the dreaded Black Death.  Don’t ask.


I took the box outside to get some better light, and we could see the very definition of a monarch butterfly wing, all curled up and ready to explode out of it’s tiny house.  I took some pictures to send to Ryan.  I was so upset that he was going to miss this.

In the sunlight
In the sunlight

That night, we returned from our outings to find an empty cocoon, and Milly was laying at the bottom of the box in a pool of red liquid.  This did not seem good.  And indeed it was not.  

Milly’s wings never did open fully.

a butterfly at last
a butterfly at last

From what I’ve read, very few monarchs evolve successfully.  And Milly did not beat the odds.  It seems that she was supposed to spend more time hanging from the cocoon, and her fall from home was much too soon.  That liquid pool that she was laying in was supposed to be pumped through her wings.

This little butterfly will not be making it’s way to Mexico.