Transformation and Healing


China, an 11 year old cat and I are healing together. She was injured on July 21. We think she was attacked by a feral cat. Her left shoulder was dislocated. For the past three weeks we have been recuperating together.Yesterday I felt like I was being called to come to the woods; I stated to walk out to the forest on a weathered trail. I didn’t walk very far before I heard a meow. I turned around and saw that China was following me. This is the first day that she has been outside and  already she was going way beyond a safe zone. China is still limping and wouldn’t be able to fend off another predator in this condition. Naturally I turned around and we walked home together.

It is interesting that we have been recuperating together. China on three legs and I slowly building endurance after a medical crisis with respirator exasperation and other issues that caused a perfect storm. I have learned patience from China and I am still learning. Both of us need to pay attention and not go beyond our limits.  She had no business being out in the woods. Perhaps I too am pushing it. My goal is to walk out to see the old Boy Scout camp. It is here where a wild butterfly habitat exists now. I want to see what shape it is in. In the meantime, there is a butterfly story that follows.

My brother-in-law Jack wanted to show me something in the garden. Growing among tomato plants there was a milkweed plant; a large monarch caterpillar was munching away on milkweed leaves several days ago. Yesterday Jack again wanted to show me something.

Monarch in classic J shape
Monarch in classic J shape

A monarch caterpillar was hanging upside down on a tomato stalk. The creature was in the classic J shape that indicates that it is going into the pupa stage. This is where it splits its skeletal skin for the last time and changes into the next stage of its life cycle. The day was cloudy and rainy. The caterpillar didn’t transform itself. When I was taking a photo I accidentally bumped into the plant and the caterpillar balled itself up in a protective mode. I questioned, does the caterpillar need sun to warm its body in order to allow the caterpillar to have the energy to change? Later in the day, the heavy rains came. I hope it didn’t get dislodged from its hiding place among the tomato plants. It does have some protection from surrounding tomato leaves. For now I will observe development. There is no such thing as coincidence. All thee of us are changing, China, the caterpillar and I. Each of us is coming into new life after being injured, ill or simply transforming.

Be happy insectamonarca friends where ever you are.

Monarch Butterfly Chatbook – Chrysalis


 When the outer shell of the pupa hardens it is known as a chrysalis (KRIH-sah-lis). The process of changing is known as metamorphosis (meh-tuh-MOR-fuh-sis). It takes approximately 10 days to two weeks before a butterfly emerges. A monarch butterfly goes through four unique stages in its life: egg, larva, pupa and adult butterfly. The caterpillar inside the chrysalis disintegrates into a green liquid which is mysteriously transformed into a monarch butterfly.

The Chrysalis starts off with a beautiful lime green color shell and has a striking band of gold near the top and three gold specks scattered near the bottom. According to Journey North, “The color itself comes from cardenolides in the milkweed that larvae eat.” What purpose the gold markings have is still unknown.

Monarch Butterfly Chatbook – Classic J Shape


When a caterpillar hangs in a classic J shape, it is ready to change into the pupa  (PYOO-puh) stage. I actually saw this poise. One day I was visiting a pond in the village and saw beautiful swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) growing near a pond’s edge. This was the only time I noticed monarch caterpillars eating milkweed flowers; they  had already eaten all the leaves on the milkweed plants. I visited the site for a few days. It wasn’t long before the caterpillars were no longer seen on milkweed plants. They may have found shelter on another plant or twig to begin the next stage of their life cycle.

Watching caterpillars in the wild is interesting. One day after a summer rain, I witnessed a caterpillar hiding under a milkweed leaf. The caterpillar was upside down with the abdomen prolegs clinging to a milkweed leaf. The caterpillar was peacefully fast asleep. Milkweed leaves can be large and this may help a caterpillar stay dry or hide from predators at night. Don’t be surprised if caterpillars go missing in late afternoon. They usually return to the top of milkweed leaves in the daytime once the sun warms them up by mid morning. 

In the fifth and last instar stage when a caterpillar is ready to shed its final skin it will no longer eat between the larva and adult butterfly stage. The caterpillar has an average of two or three weeks to complete its journey as a larva.

It is amazing to watch a caterpillar shed its last skin and change into a pupa or sac. The whole transformation takes place within a matter of minutes. Once the pupa is formed it is soft and needs to harden in order to protect what is within.