Thursday, August 12, 2010

Miraculous Transformation

I don't care how many monarch caterpillars we catch and how many years we do this, it never ceases to amaze me or become less miraculous.  It is an amazing thing to watch!  Today we released one butterfly and watched two caterpillars transform into their chrysalis.

{Today it was hard for Malachi to set the butterfly free.  He was crying pretty hard.  I was sure he would squish it, but I did give him a chance to hold it before we put it on this tree.  That helped him feel better about it.  He watched it in the tree for a while, but left it alone.  See how incredible our garden is doing in the background??  Our tomatoes made up for lost time (I can't believe they were just sticks a few weeks ago) and now are choking out the pepper plants.  Something kept stripping my pepper plants, but they persisted and now have blooms on them.  I'm hoping with the continued hot weather we've had that we'll have enough time to grow a few peppers.}

{We have 4 caterpillars "in waiting".  Judging by their sizes, they'll be going into a chrysalis soon.}

When I saw that 2 caterpillars were on the verge of transforming, I couldn't resist grabbing my camera.  After all, I've never had the chance to photograph them with a *really nice DSLR* before.  Hehe.  But to describe the process a little if you are unfamiliar.  In the larva stage above, the caterpillars eat and eat and eat.  They love milkweed, so that's what we feed them.  It grows wild in the ditches here.  Usually when Micah goes out to get milkweed, he comes home with another caterpillar.  ;)  When they get nice and fat, they climb to the top of the container and spin a nice thick, sticky web.  They grab on with their back feet, and drop into a 'J' position like this:
While it is in this position, it looks like it's not doing a thing.  Sometimes I wonder why it takes SO long to do what it does next.  But you can't see the changes on the outside, the change is happening on the inside.  And it is marvelous.

There are some clues that it's almost "time", however.  Just like giving birth--labor can last for many many hours and then the pushing stage begins and that can sometimes take a while.  But then the baby begins to crown and you know it's going to be over very quickly.  Same thing.  The caterpillar at this point is having sort of "contractions" throughout its entire body.  The antennae become withered looking (they are severed internally).  The body looks very green.  And then the curve of the J straightens out as the contractions become more intense:

Finally at the back of the caterpillar's head, the outer skin bursts open and the caterpillar wiggles to shed its skin.
The skin moves slowly upward towards the feet.

As the skin gets all the way to the top, the caterpillar (can I even call it a caterpillar at this stage?? Pupa??) begins to rotate its body violently.  It almost seems desperate to get that skin off.  The problem is this--its hind feet, which it has a hold of the web with, are attached to the skin and are coming off.  Inside, under the skin, is a small black stem.  The end of the stem looks like the hook side of velcro.  The pupa writhes violently to ensure that this stem embeds deeply into the web while simultaneously flicking off the skin.  I read once that at this stage, it is possible for the pupa to fall because of how quickly this let go/hang on stage happens.  Incredible!

Now that the hard work is over, the Pupa will continue to contract and pull itself into a chrysalis form.  Then it will rest, unmoving and still.

{Joshua is inspecting the skin that was shed.  It does look really cool.}

Goodnight butterfly-to-be.  See you in 10 days.

What an incredible reflection of how God is working to transform ME from the inside out.  It isn't always easy, and maybe there are even very scary moments where I could fall, but I am always in His hand. 
Philippians 3:20-21, Philippians 1:6, 1 John 3:2...and I could keep going, but these are just a few verses that speak of the transformation we undergo as Christians.


  1. I'm with you... it is never less amazing, no matter how many you watch! We've got two in chrysalis's right now, and a Milkweed Tussock Moth as well. One other thing that really amazes me is the fact that they ONLY eat milkweed! I go check the milkweed by my neighbors shed every couple days and usually come back with a new caterpillar. The smallest one we found was the size of a Life person. ")

  2. I just found one less than the wideth of my pinkie fingernail! So amazing!