My face tightened up as I concentrated on being careful with the fragile chrysalis clinging to the toothpick in my hand.
At Pollinator Paradise, we rear monarchs from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult. When they hatch, they are so tiny it’s almost impossible to see their vibrant black, white and yellow stripes, but they quickly devour milkweed and grow 2,700 times larger before they’re ready for metamorphosis.
Then they shake, shrivel and shrink up into their brilliant green chrysalis, complete with gaudy gold dots.
However, they do that in the clear containers they live in as caterpillars. We don’t want them to hatch out into these containers and not be able to fly, so we instead put the chrysalis on a tree inside our monarch rearing enclosure.
To do that is a gentle process of scraping back the sticky webbing that the caterpillars spin to hold their chrysalis to whatever it’s hanging from, in this case a container lid. Then we wrap that webbing around a toothpick, put a dot of hot glue on a tree branch and carefully stick the webbing — not the chrysalis itself — to that dot of hot glue.
Don’t touch the chrysalis. Don’t drop it. Be gentle. Be ginger.
It’s kind of a terrifying process to me, who constantly drops everything and trips over nothing.
However, I must have done it OK a couple of weeks ago, because yesterday, one of chrysalises was no longer green and had a beautiful orange monarch hanging from it, pumping its new wings.
It’s a majestic sight to see — a brand new monarch entering the world.
Bring in caterpillars
We are always in need of caterpillars and caterpillar eggs for Pollinator Paradise, so today, I challenge you — when it’s not raining — to go out and check milkweed for caterpillars.
Monarch butterflies need milkweed. It is in the only thing that monarchs lay eggs on and the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat. So, it makes it also the only place that you will find these yellow, black and white caterpillars.
You’ll usually find caterpillars on the underside of milkweed leaves, because it is the safest place to be, hidden away from predators.
So head out, find some common milkweed and flip those leaves over. If you find caterpillars, put them in a plastic container with a milkweed leaf and bring them in to the Dickinson County Nature Center during our open hours 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. People will love to experience the monarch life cycle up close thanks to you!
Pollinator Paradise is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday through Sept. 1. Don’t miss out on seeing this awesome place filled with exhibits on butterflies, bees and native plantings this season.
Also, keep an eye on our construction project, where we are building a brand new Pollinator Paradise addition to the Dickinson County Nature Center. This will allow our fun exhibits on butterflies and bees to be open year-round for visitors. See more information on the construction project on the Pollinator Paradise page — click here!