Posted by: csdailyblog | July 26, 2010

Conserve Monarchs Take Wing

Conserve School staff and students participate in the University of Minnesota Monarch Larvae Monitoring Project. As part of that project, we collect monarch caterpillars on campus milkweed and raise them in an observation chamber as a means of monitoring parasite activity. Our first wave of collected monarch larvae pupated a few weeks ago and recently have begun to eclose (emerge). The following sequence of photographs shows one monarch’s journey from chrysalis to cage and then back to the garden in which it was first collected.

I have to thank my son William, a recent Conserve School graduate, for the photographs of the chrysalis, the newly emerged monarch, and the butterfly taking its first flight. I left him babysitting the chrysalis with a camera because I knew the butterfly was about to eclose, but I had to be somewhere else at the time. Butterflies seem to have a knack for eclosing just when you’ve turned your back for a moment, and, true to form, this monarch eclosed when William was away from the cage briefly. Although he missed the monarch emerging from the chrysalis with crumpled wings, he got some great shots, as you can see below.

Mary Anna

The monarch can be seen clearly through the clear pupa case, or chrysalis. A chrysalis starts out green and then gradually appears to darken as it becomes more and more translucent. When the case is shiny and clear, and the orange wings are visible, then the butterfly is about to eclose, or emerge. Above the chrysalis, you can see the dark and shriveled skin that the caterpillar shed during the pupation process.

The newly emerged butterfly hangs on to its chrysalis case while its wings expand.

The monarch eventually creeps away from its chrysalis case.

Wings now fully expanded, the butterfly takes its first flight. It's a boy! Only males have the black dot you can see on the butterfly's hind wing.

Cathy Palmer, Director of Outdoor Programs, and Jean Haack, Stewardship Coordinator, set the newly emerged butterfly and three of his cagemates on zinnia blossoms, one of the monarchs' favorite nectar sources, in the Conserve School vegetable garden. (We like a few flowers for color amongst our vegetables.)

A close-up of Jean's hands shows the two butterflies she is about to release.

One of the released monarchs flies out of the vegetable garden and into the butterfly garden, settling on some Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed), a type of milkweed.



  1. Thanks. I’m glad you liked them. The photograph was not set up, really. It was just taken in the butterfly cage we use to raise the collected larvae. The cage walls are a polyester mesh material, so that is what you are seeing in the background. The chrysalis itself is attached to a milkweed leaf, which I taped — scotch tape, high tech 🙂 — to a stick. The stick is in a vase in the cage. Usually I leave the chrysalises wherever they were made, but in this case the leaf looked as though it might fall, so I detached the leaf and taped it to the stick to make sure the chrysalis wouldn’t fall. One side of the butterfly cage can be zipped open, so we just left the side open as we were waiting to get a photo of the butterfly eclosing.
    Mary Anna

  2. Lovely pictures. Thank you for taking the time to set this up. GTW… what is the material on the gray blue wall and how did you fix the chrysalis/leaves to it?

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