As I meandered around the Prairie Meadow the other day, I came across this Monarch Butterfly caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) feeding on a Common Milkweed plant. As I moved in close and watched it, it was literally having a feeding frenzy on a milkweed leaf. As I watched it, I was reminded of the great transformation that was about to occur with this little beauty, a “recycling” process, if you will. The Monarch caterpillar typically is in the caterpillar stage for 2-3 weeks. At that time, it looks for a place to pupate.
When the caterpillar finds a suitable place, it first attaches itself to a plant or other object by weaving a patch of silk there and then grabs hold of the silk with it’s rear prolegs. It then begins the process of turning into a pupa, or chrysalis and hardening. Upon completion, the pupal case remains for 5-15 days. During this time, the caterpillar is transforming into an adult Monarch butterfly. Once the butterfly is ready to emerge, the pupal skin splits open near the head and the adult butterfly crawls out, with it’s wings all folded up. It moves to where it has room to hang upside down by it’s legs, holding still until it’s wings dry and harden. The butterfly can now fly, and the life cycle begins all over.
Here are a few images I made of the caterpillar as I sat and watched it in the early morning light: