This page shows photos and videos taken of Monarch chrysalises raised inside. There are some stages to a chrysalis, from the moment it starts moving inside the ‘J’ phase caterpillar to detach itself from it from the inside, to the last stage where it turns black and orange and we can see the butterfly inside, ready to emerge.
(More general information on the Monarch butterfly can be found here.)
PREPARING TO EMERGE FROM ‘J’ PHASE CATERPILLAR – The ‘J’ phase of a Monarch caterpillar doesn’t last long, about 10-12 hours depending on the temperature. When the time to pupate comes, the caterpillar undergoes some changes. Here’s what to look for if you want to watch the chrysalis emerge from the caterpillar:
Tentacles: the tentacles (which are NOT antennae) at both ends of the caterpillar will become limp and twisted, emptied of their fluids.
Body Movements: the caterpillar periodically bends its upper body closer to the rest, and relaxes it somewhat. This is accompanied by repeated head ‘noddings’. You can tell that there’s something going on inside. Then as the time to emerge gets closer, general body contractions will start in waves, pushing the caterpillar skin up and stretching the lower part behind the head. This is where the skin eventually splits lengthwise and the chrysalis gradually bulges out.
The first video shows a caterpillar in the ‘J’ phase about one hour prior to pupating into a chrysalis:
This video below of the same caterpillar around 30 minutes before pupating. Note that the general waving movements have started, where the chrysalis inside detaches itself from its caterpillar skin:
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EMERGING, or FRESHLY EMERGED AS A CHRYSALIS – Most of the time when getting rid of its old caterpillar skin, the emerging chrysalis will be able to detach itself from ALL of the caterpillar parts. It seems this is not always the case as per photo below of Chrysalis No. 3. For some reason the caterpillar skin remained hanging to the chrysalis, and there are two tentacles from the caterpillar skin that remained attached to the chrysalis.
The skin did eventually fall to the ground, but the two tentacles remained for the whole pupal stage. This however did not prevent the butterfly from successfully emerging from the chrysalis.
Below are videos of caterpillars turning into a chrysalis, shown in real time. There comes a point when the chrysalis comes out, where it doesn’t hold on to much. This happens just before it attaches its own cremaster hook to the silk pad, when the caterpillar skin is pushed up and still attached to the silk pad by its last pair of prolegs.
What the chrysalis needs to do is pull out its own black cremaster hook from under the old caterpillar skin, and send it up until it reaches the silk pad.
As soon as the chrysalis hook makes contact with the silk pad, we can see an acceleration in the body movements of the chrysalis – it twists right and left trying to push its cremaster hook as deep as it can into the silk pad.
At the same time it needs to detach the prolegs of its old caterpillar skin from the same silk pad, and push that skin off. This is a crucial time for the chrysalis, and as soon as it reaches that point, it stops the frantic twisting and jerking, and will only repeat some of those movements mildly in the ensuing couple minutes, just to make sure the hook is secure.
This video below gives a better view of the black cremaster hook. The tip of this hook is made of dozens of tiny hooks that the chrysalis pushes into the silk pad. The result is something very solid, a velcro-like fastening.
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THE REGULAR CHRYSALIS – Why call this section ‘regular‘ chrysalis? If you look at the freshly emerged chrysalis photos and videos above, and compare with the photos below of chrysalises a few days old, you will notice a number of differences. The changes actually take place not long after the chrysalis emerges.
Color: the newly emerged chrysalis still shows some yellow and white barring from its time as a caterpillar, but after a few hours the color becomes a uniform light green and it turns more opaque. Also the green color changes as the butterfly forms inside.
Shape: the newly emerged chrysalis is about half abdominal rings with the lower part showing the future butterfly head, antennae and wings. After a few hours though, the shape is smooth and almost a uniform cylinder.
Golden dots collar: The typical golden and black dots ‘collar’ that is near the top of the older chrysalis is around the middle when it has just emerged, and it has more white than golden.
MALE OR FEMALE? It is possible to find out the sex of the future butterfly by checking the black dots area of the chrysalis near the cremaster hook. For a female there is a tiny vertical slit just below the lower pair of black dots, whereas this area is smooth in the male. Nos. 11 and 16 below did turn out to be females, whereas No. 6 turned out to be a male.
DARKENING CHRYSALIS : The time a Monarch chrysalis takes to emerge as a butterfly varies according to the temperature – the warmer the shorter period. This period can vary from 9 to 14 days approximately. During that time, the chrysalis undergoes some visible changes in its color, getting increasingly darker. At the same time, the chrysalis envelope gets thinner and transparent, so that we can see the butterfly forming – the orange and black wings, the black body with its white spots.
Generally these noticeable changes occur in the last 48 hours of the chrysalis stage. But of course, the butterfly development inside is a continuous process, it’s just that we don’t see most of it.
The caterpillar that turned into a chrysalis in a lilac outside (see photo above) is shown below in its last stage. After surviving a bad storm I brought it inside without wiping it. It kept its little rain drops till the end! Note the change in color between the first photo and the third one. More more photos and videos when it emerges, see this page.
HOW TO TELL WHEN THE BUTTERFLY WILL EMERGE: There is a visible difference between the two photos below. The top part above the golden dot ‘necklace’ is smooth at 8:49 am (left), but on the right photo (10:42 am) we can now clearly see the abdominal segments. This butterfly emerged as a male just after that last photo was taken.
BUTTERFLY GETTING DETACHED FROM THE INSIDE – Another indication that the Monarch butterfly is going to emerge soon is when it gets detached from the chrysalis envelope at the bottom (you can see it clearly when you zoom on the first photo). The butterfly from the chrysalis below emerged as a female about 30 minutes following the last photo.
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THE INVERTED ‘V’: These photos below show clearly a inverted ‘V’ shape on the chrysalis (left and right photos). Normally when the butterfly emerges, the thin and dry chrysalis envelope tears up along those ‘V’ lines, starting at the bottom.
The ‘restless pair’: In spite of turning into a chrysalis almost at the same time, this ‘pair’ emerged as butterflies one day apart. The chrysalis on the left was a female, and the butterfly emerged after nine days. The chrysalis on the right was a male.