Thursday, May 21, 2009

Soggy cereal and a caterpillar transformation!

Wow, talk about good luck! Kenny took the day off today so we can go look at laptop computers to start "Plan B" in my teaching career. It was fortunate that he was here because the following photos and movies would not have happened had I been here alone. (I am putting both still photos and the movie clips on here because some computers don't have the capability to show the movies.) I was just sitting down to eat breakfast when I noticed one of the 3 Monarch caterpillars I've been raising was getting close to its last molt. The whiplashes (antennae) had shriveled and curled and the caterpillar was beginning to stretch and bend. So, I tied the critter cage lid to the curtain rod to give me easy access to the event. I grabbed my little Olympus pocket camera for the movies (naturally, the good movie camera had a dead battery!) and my Nikon with the macro lens for the still shots. As I was eating my cereal I nearly choked as I yelled, "It's starting to happen!" to Kenny. I started filming as quickly as I could.
It is amazing how quickly the process of shedding the skin happens, within 5 minutes the caterpillar had become a pupa, in the case of a butterfly, it is called a chrysalis. Metamorphosis means "change shape", the metamorphic cycle takes about 1 month from egg to butterfly. I have shown the egg and various stages of the caterpillar in earlier blogs. When Kenny came over to the window I quickly handed him the camera and I began snapping away with my DSLR. The skin began to slide upwards and the chrysalis wriggled to hasten the process. You'll notice my camera's flash in the movies, I was determined not to miss this opportunity! Although I've been raising these beautiful caterpillars for 23 years, I haven't been able to catch this on my camera.

Here you can see the head, shriveled whiplash, and legs of the skin shortly before being discarded.

Unfortunately, we missed the skin popping off. Kenny had to take short clips of the action because long movies won't download on this blog.
The final photo shows the chrysalis a minute or two after the skin popped off. The yellow stripes that showed through the skin are still visible and the dull, flat place to the left is the area where the wings will develop. The butterfly comes out of the chrysalis head down then flips over to pump the fluid from its abdomen into the wings. This is a remarkable event that I wanted to share! I will try to get lucky again to catch the butterfly emerging in 10 days or so. :) I also have a chrysalis from yesterday and one more caterpillar in the cage, so maybe with 3 I'll have a chance.

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