A seasonal miracle

This summer I decided to plant an annual flower known as Silky Butterfly Weed  (Asclepias curassavica) in the pots on our pergola deck and in a few places around the gardens. I already had the perennial Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) in our pollinaters’ garden. Both of these are members of the Milkweed family, which is the only type of plant on which the caterpillars of the monarch butterfly like to feed. I’d thought I would help the monarchs out and give us some lovely flowers as well. It worked: We had lovely red and orange flowers most of the summer; the monarchs arrived in late August, and shortly after, we began to observe striped yellow, black and white caterpillars munching on the milkweeds. Then I began to see the largest, fattest of these caterpillars (about the size of a pinky finger) attach itself to a near-by branch or leaf (and in one instance, a daisy petal), hang upside down, and then curve into a“J” formation. And the next day, the “J” had turned itself into a jewel-like chrysalis. These are often so well hidden in foliage that they are difficult to see, but one caterpillar attached itself in plain sight on a vine on a post of our pergola. This we observed closely.

The caterpillar attached itself to a vine and prepared to form a chrysalis.

We knew the butterfly that was forming inside the chrysalis was close to emerging when we saw it darkening, and could clearly see an orange wing.

As the butterfly emerged from the now-transparent chrysalis, it was mostly all thorax with wings and legs folded up tightly. It held onto the empty chrysalis as its wings slowly unfolded and expanded.

The wings unfurled and inflated, and in the process, a clear liquid dripped off and the newly emerged butterfly began to dry.

Finally, after drying for several hours and flexing its wings a bit, it inched away from the chrysalis. Then it spread its wings (revealing that it was a male—notice the black dots on its inner wings) and flew away, heading for Mexico, a trip that will take about six months.

Definitely more of the Silky Butterfly Weed is in the offing for planting next spring.
—Anne Cox

PHOTOS: Anne Cox

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One thought on “A seasonal miracle

  1. Polly Davis

    Wow! Thank you for the beautiful photos and narrative of the developmental stages. Absolutely incredible and miraculous!


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