monarchs emerging

This page shows photos and videos of Monarch butterflies emerging from their chrysalis, with some notes along the way. Click here for more detailed photos of a Monarch butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.
(More general information on the Monarch butterfly can be found here.)

(The numbered labels above the chrysalises indicate the date and time when the caterpillars turned into a chrysalis. When they emerged as butterflies, they did not always follow the same time sequence.)

CHRYSALIS STAGE DURATION AND SEX: In the small sample I had (15 caterpillars), I found that males spent a longer time than females in the chrysalis stage – males: 10 days; females: 9.4 days.

THE WAY THE CHRYSALIS ENVELOPE CRACKS OPEN appears to always be the same, i.e. along the two inverted ‘V’ lines where the legs are. The envelope starts splitting from the base and along those lines, and the butterfly slips out between that flap and the rest of the chrysalis envelope. This can be clearly seen on this page, a series of detailed photos of monarchs emerging.

MALE OR FEMALE? One way to tell a male butterfly from a female one, aside from the spots on the wings (see this page for photos) is by looking at the tip of their abdomen. The male has a ‘clasping organ’ that allows it to hold on to the female during copulation. See those differences with the two photos below.

Monarch Butterfly male - © Denise Motard
Monarch Butterfly male – © Denise Motard
8 No. 9 Clinging to empty chrysalis - Aug. 14, 2018 - © Denise Motard
Monarch Butterfly female – © Denise Motard

HEMOLYMPH PUMPING (or how the wings reach their normal size): As soon as the Monarch butterfly has emerged from its chrysalis, the abdomen, which is filled with hemolymph, starts pumping it into the wings. These then gradually reach their normal size. Here’s a video below that shows those pumping movements.
At the beginning the wings are smaller than the abdomen, somewhat shriveled and looking wet with two color tones. Then at the end the wings appear to have reached their normal size. By the way, the tip of the abdomen indicates that this is a female.

TIME OF DAY WHEN BUTTERFLIES EMERGE: Of the small sample I raised (15 caterpillars),  13 of them emerged in the morning, and the two others around mid-day. This timing is very different from the timing when the caterpillar turns into a chrysalis. The latter (again from my small sample) was spread all over the day AND evening.

WHY FOUR LEGS? Normally insects have three pairs of legs, and Monarch caterpillars do have three pairs of legs. However when emerging, Monarch butterflies are seen with only four legs (two pairs), not six. They actually have their six legs, however the first pair is atrophied and kept close to the thorax.

PROBOSCIS AND LABIAL PALPS: As soon as the Monarch butterfly has emerged from its chrysalis, it holds onto it with its four legs while its wings are drying and enlarging. At the same time however, its proboscis and labial palps are very active. This video below shows the proboscis uncoiling and coiling back repeatedly, and the labial palps moving back and forth laterally in rapid fashion.
The proboscis tip looks forked, but it is actually made of two tubes which suck nectar from flowers. As for the labial palps, they are sensory organs and also protect the eyes.

The video below shows how the Monarch butterfly emerges from its chrysalis.  When the Monarch butterfly emerges from the chrysalis envelope, the moment the abdomen slips out is critical due to its weight. The butterfly had better hold onto the chrysalis solidly with its four legs to absorb the ‘shock’ of that heavy abdomen suddenly hanging down. The legs end with two claws each for that purpose.

These photos below were taken at different intervals following the above video. They illustrate how the wings grow to their normal size as they are being filled with hemolymph pumped into them from the abdomen. As the wings expand, the abdomen shrinks to its normal size.

1 No. 12 at 10-43 am, Aug. 31, 2018 - © Denise Motard
No. 12 at 10:43 am, Aug. 31, 2018 – © Denise Motard
4 No. 12 at 10-50 am, Aug. 31, 2018 - © Denise Motard
No. 12 after 7 minutes – © Denise Motard
7 No. 12 at 11-30 am, Aug. 31, 2018 - © Denise Motard
No. 12 after 47 minutes – © Denise Motard
11 No. 12 on lower shelf - 3-20 pm, Aug. 31, 2018 - © Denise Motard
After 4 1/2 hours, No. 12 moved a few inches along shelf edge – © Denise Motard
2 No. 12 at 10-44 am, Aug. 31, 2018 - © Denise Motard
No. 12 after two minutes – © Denise Motard
5 No. 12 at 10-51 am, Aug. 31, 2018 - © Denise Motard
No. 12 after 8 minutes – © Denise Motard
9 No. 12 & larger orange dripping - Aug. 31, 2018, 2-30 pm - © Denise Motard
No. 12 after 3 hours, with its orange drippings – © Denise Motard
No. 12 orange dripping at 11-30 am, Aug. 31, 2018-
Hemolymph orange drippings after 45 minutes
3 No. 12 at 10-46 am, Aug. 31, 2018 - © Denise Motard
No. 12 after 3 minutes – © Denise Motard
6 No. 12 at 11-02 am, Aug. 31, 2018 - © Denise Motard
No. 12 after 19 minutes – © Denise Motard
10 No. 12 moved left - 2-30 pm, Aug. 31, 2018 - © Denise Motard
No. 12 started moving after 3 hours – © Denise Motard
No. 12 orange dripping at 2-30 pm, Aug. 31, 2018-
Hemolymph diluted orange drippings after 4 hours

ORANGE DRIPPINGS: The orange ‘drippings’ seen above are excreted from the abdomen of the butterfly. It’s the excess hemolymph that’s no longer needed for the wings. Note the difference in color density – the first drops are darker and look more concentrated in orange pigments, whereas the last drops are more watery.


Photos, videos and information on Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed