sooner or later it was bound to happen

I knew that if I could just be patient, sooner or later I’d manage to catch one of the Monarch caterpillars in the process of transforming into a chrysalis. This evening, it finally happened — and it was worth the wait! What a strange process! Some might even describe it as a little bizarre. Some might even find it rather gross! Let me know what you think.

The main part of the transformation happened in about 4 minutes 30 seconds. About 10 minutes before the real action began, the caterpillar started to squeeze up and down a little, sort of like one of those squeeze-box accordions (the little ones, if that’s what they’re called). I watched and waited patiently, and finally, I could see the hind segments of the caterpillar beginning to collapse together. That’s when I started shooting the .mpeg movie on my camera. Unfortunately, even after compression, a movie running well over 4 minutes is just too much for my dial-up connection to upload into a server, so I decided to take the clip and speed it up by a bit over 4x normal speed. So, what you’ll see if you watch this little MP4 movie (1.9MB), is about 4+ minutes of action reduced to about a minute, along with some quick titles and a © notice at the tail end. Hopefully it will work okay. Btw, the above photo is a frame grab from the footage, so the quality of the shot leaves a little to be desired. I should probably mention that, after the action in this clip, the pupa went on to wiggle and gyrate as you’ll see in the clip. That probably went on for about another 2 minutes or so. Then it became quiet and gradually contracted until it was about the right shape of the chrysalis. I’ll post that little sequence sometime soon.

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20 Responses to “sooner or later it was bound to happen”

  1. Harry Says:

    That’s deeply weird. But then I guess metamorphosis is pretty weird, for those of us that come from non-metamorphosing species.

    The fresh pupa looks like a jelly-baby.

  2. Wayne Says:

    How absolutely wonderful, Bev. The mpeg is perfect. I had no idea that that’s what happened, and love the little jiggle as the cat appears to squeeze itself into the bag at the end.

  3. burning silo Says:

    Harry – Yep, it *is* a little weird. I wasn’t expecting the action to be quite so lively. Whodda guessed?!!

    Wayne – You can’t imagine how pleased I was to finally capture one of these transformations! Just to show you how difficult it is, there were 6 other cats that pupated yesterday and I missed all but for this one. That’s even with now knowing that the antennae go totally flat shortly before the action begins. I guess it’s just that an event that takes less than 5 minutes isn’t so easy to catch, especially if you’re doing other stuff and can’t be watching them 24 hours a day.

  4. Wayne Says:

    Bev – I was watching the antennae the whole time, curious to see what might happen.

    Oh yes, I *do* imagine how pleased you are. But only imagine. This is quite an incomparable coup, and congratulations to you.

  5. burning silo Says:

    Wayne – Thanks! I have to say that the sequence of events unrolled a little differently than I had expected, and perhaps it isn’t always the same, but I had thought the exoskeleton would just split down the back and slide off. I wasn’t expecting such a vigorous performance. Also, the skin behaves in such an odd way as well. From my vantage point, it began to look like a shrinking tiger or zebra skin as it contracted. The closest thing I can think of is something like a spandex leotard, especially as it and the antennae are reduced to almost nothing after they shrivel up and fall away.
    Next project is to try to get some good still shots of the same process. I may try to shoot some DV footage as well as that would be nice to have. Once the butterflies begin to eclose in greater numbers, I’m hoping to capture that transformation as well. It’s really been quite fun having all of this going on all around us. Last night, a butterfly eclosed in the living room. This morning, I found a chrysalis attached to a pottery bowl. Never a dull moment around here these days! (-:

  6. robin andrea Says:

    OMG! I love this. I think it’s beautiful and weird. I don’t know why, but I thought the transformation would just look different than it actually does. It seems to start down by the antennae, but I expected it to start where it is attached to the screen, and split down. It splits up and the skin winds up shriveled at the top. I am really surprised by the energy it takes to complete the whole transformation. Wow. I’m going to have to watch it a few times just to be sure I’m seeing what I think I’ve seen. The compression worked well, Bev. Fantastic. Congratulations.

  7. burning silo Says:

    Robin – Isn’t it a combination of weird, beautiful and even a little hilarious? I called Don in to see the movie while I was editing it last night and the look on his face was priceless! I too thought it would start to split up near the screen and was actually watching the top while I was checking my camera settings, and then all of a sudden I noticed that there was something green bulging out near the bottom around the head. Also, I just could not get over the wild gyrating motion and the ferocity of its attempts to catch the cremaster onto the silk was quite surprising.

  8. Ruth Says:

    My lone caterpillar attached itself to the screening on the container this afternoon. I have watched it all evening but would not have anticipated such action! I will likely miss it overnight. Thanks for the clip…we all had a good chuckle.

  9. burning silo Says:

    Ruth – Your caterpillar may not actually pupate until morning. Most of the ones here seem to hang upside down for about 24 hours or so, although I did notice that this latest batch of about 10 have been a bit quicker. I almost wonder if the advancing season is having something to do with that. We had 4 pupate today and I missed all of them! Good luck with yours. I hope you get to see the process.

  10. Randa Says:

    THAT was AMAZING. How thrilling that you captured that process! And are able to SHARE it with us! Thank you Bev.

  11. Laura Says:

    So neat! That cat was doing a lot of dancing – wow.

    I have to tell you that I’ve been prowling my milkweed patch looking for monarch eggs and cats – still none. But, I’ve been having fun watching a few *family groups* of milkweed bugs grow up and shed their skins on the seed pods. A few today looked large enough that it must’ve been their final transformation – their wings were still transparent and their orange and black coloring wasn’t quite *finalized* yet. Wish I could manage some nic pics – it’s been interesting to watch.

  12. Mark Paris Says:

    That video was amazing. Nature trumps the special effects of the movies. And that’s the last time I will look at a photo and not read the text. I finally came back and saw that it was a frame grabbed from a video, and then actually watched. Thanks.

  13. burning silo Says:

    Randa – Thanks! And yes, isn’t it *nice* being able to share the things we see?

    Laura – It sure was doing a lot of dancing around. I’ve watched a couple since — not possible to photograph them as I didn’t notice until they were in the process of transforming and I didn’t want to move them to where I could shoot photos — but neither was quite as active as this one – still very active, but just not quite so wild. I’m not sure what is “average” but I suspect it varies a lot depending on the size and vigor of the individual caterpillar.
    Very interesting about your Milkweed bug observations. I should really try watching them more carefully, although I have photographed them often in the past. You really learn about insects by paying a lot of attention to them on a daily basis. That’s really been the key to a lot of what I now know about insects and spiders, so I highly recommend continuous observation any time it’s possible.

    Mark – Yes, you’re certainly right — nature trumps just about anything that special effects can come up with. I was thinking that other people might look at that image and think,”Oh no… not ANOTHER of those chrysalis photos!!!” and not bother looking at the little video clip. However, it does seem to have gotten quite a few views over the past 2 days, so I guess somebody is watching it!! (-:

  14. Carel Says:

    Lon Cheney, eat your heart out.

  15. burning silo Says:

    Carel – Ha! (-:

  16. Stephanie Says:

    I’m so glad you caught this so my husband could see it — we just couldn’t describe it accurately. We had one pupate yesterday and missed it. We caught another one which hung itself upside down within hours of captivity. We watched it like a hawk today and were rewarded with witnessing the whole amazingly weird and gross process, though we really didn’t understand how it happened until we watched this movie several times. I thought it had practically turned itself inside out, but now realize it shed its skin. Wow, wow, wow. My 5 kids and the neighbor’s 4 kids all got to see it. What an awesome miracle. Can’t wait for the next stage. By the way – they both took about 15 hours from the time the got in the J position to start this unbelievably quick process.

  17. burning silo Says:

    Stephanie – Glad you got to see the chrysalis forming. Isn’t it a weird looking process?! Sorry to not have answered your comment sooner, but I’m traveling around out west at the moment and haven’t had a net connection for over a week.

  18. Korey Counts Says:

    This one makes sence “One’s first step in wisdom is to kuesstion everything – and one’s last is to come to terms with everything.”

  19. Lilly Says:

    Absolutely love the video. My caterpillar has just made a J form and now I know what to look forward to seeing (if I happen to see it ;-) )


  20. bev Says:

    Lilly – Thanks! Hope you had good luck seeing your caterpillar make its chrysalis!