Wildlife Photography

My Backyard Monarch

After watching the following events unfold in my backyard for the last two weeks, I am left completely in awe, once again, of the natural world.¬†While a caterpillar turning into a butterfly may sound like a routine part of nature, it is still pretty incredible, especially when you witness it firsthand outside your dining room window like I did. A pudgy little caterpillar one day; a delicate Monarch the next. At the very least, it is one of Mother Nature’s more random ideas.

Two years ago I planted milkweed in my backyard with hopes of attracting Monarch butterflies, as the plant usually does. But I waited, and eventually after seeing no sign of Monarchs, gave up.

That is…until one afternoon two weeks ago, I was looking at the enormous seed pods that had formed on my milkweed plant. I had grabbed the plant and was drawing it close to my face for a look, when Brandon exclaimed Woah! Look Whit! and pointed to the stem just a few inches from my hand. A Monarch caterpillar was clutching the plant for dear life.

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What?! I had given up hope, but here before me was a Monarch caterpillar, gnawing its way through my precious plant.

At first I thought, Hey, you’re eating the entire plant! But then I had to remind myself that this was why I bought the plant in the first place.

After frantic picture-taking, I let it be, and checked on it periodically as it stripped my milkweed of leavevs.

Then one morning I was pacing my dining room on the phone, and looked outside to see it on the cover of our smoker. It kept reaching for a nearby palm, trying to figure out a way to get onto it.

The palm was a good foot from the smoker, so I knew it would never make it. I put the phone down mid conversation–this is what you can expect during a phone conversation with me–and went outside. I grabbed a small branch from one of my trees, and laid it across the smoker as a bridge connecting the smoker and the palm. By the time I picked up the phone again, it had made his way across the bridge and was on the palm.

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It wondered around the palm for a little while, checking out the various leaves.

The next time I checked, it was hanging upside down on a leaf.

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And so the incredible process began…

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It hung upside down from the leaf, still as if frozen, for about two days. In that time I learned I was not patient enough to watch this unfold.

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The next time I looked at his spot on the leaf, the caterpillar was gone. It was replaced with a this:

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What the what? Where did the caterpillar go?

Somehow, it had created this cocoon around itself.

The next day, I went to the window, expecting to see something.

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No change.

Each morning I rushed to see if anything had happened, but saw the same green edamame like pod.

Nearly a week went by, and this little green mass hung motionless from its leaf.

…my patience was wearing thin.

Finally, one morning I got my first real sign of a Monarch forming inside it.

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The changes started happening in quick succession after that.

The next day, I awoke to find the cocoon had turned completely black.

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When I looked closely, I saw spots and patterns of a monarch butterfly wing underneath the surface.

Things were finally happening! I checked the window every few minutes.

A few hours later, I was walking by the back door and my eye habitually darted over to the palm.

I stopped in my tracks.

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A beautiful Monarch butterfly was slowly beating her wings together beside the cocoon, which hung empty like a discarded skin.

She was more majestic than any Monarch I had ever seen, of course, because she had been birthed in my backyard.

I am slightly biased.

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I sat and watched (and fiddled with every lens I had), and the butterfly sat there calmly resting, stretching her wings, and getting her bearings.

I walked away from the window for a moment, elated that this Monarch had made it into a butterfly.

But when I came back, she was gone. She had flown away, probably after a final pit stop on my milkweed.

I will admit, I was sad to see her go! But I’m glad I was able to give her a home on a palm under the roof of my house, where she or she could transform in peace with only the occasional corgi running by.

Little did she know she was giving a nature-lover the thrill of a lifetime!

I’m just left with a few questions for Mother Nature:

How does a caterpillar that size fit into such a small cocoon?

How does a monarch butterfly, with a wingspan of nearly 5 inches, fold its delicate wings into such a tight, cramped space?

How does the caterpillar know to stuff itself with milkweed?

And why? Why a caterpillar first? Why not a moth or a ladybug?

These questions will stump me forever.

It was like a real life version of a children’s book…

And then the caterpillar turned into a beautiful butterfly. The end.

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