A butterfly’s life is full of dangers, from hungry predators to freezing temperatures. This video captures the two most fraught moments in the metamorphosis of a Monarch. The musical score for Metamorphosis was composed and performed by Geoffrey Lee.
In the foreground, a brand new Monarch butterfly has just outgrown the shell of the chrysalis, and has to learn to use its new, much longer, legs to cling to the slippery husk. The abdomen, swollen with waste fluid built up during the process of transformation from caterpillar to pupa to butterfly, makes the job of holding on even more challenging. If the butterfly were to lose its tentative grasp on the chrysalis, it would fall and quite likely not survive, as the fluid in the abdomen would have no way to run down the channels in the butterfly’s wings to lengthen them without the assistance of gravity.
Behind the emerging butterfly, is a caterpillar that has begun pupating after weaving a silk pad to which it can cling. As the pupa emerges, it shimmies the skin, feelers, eyes, mouth, and feet of the caterpillar upwards. The emerging pupa has to replace that last caterpillar leg, which is clinging to the silk pad, with its own cremaster. If it doesn’t attach itself before the caterpillar leg is shed, the pupa will fall and not survive. The wriggling at the end, is the pupa frantically pushing the microscopic bristles in the cremaster as much as possible into the silk pad before the last remnants of the caterpillar are shed.
Watching the metamorphosis of a Monarch is transformative. Such magic and mystery, in a highly efficient and economical process of Nature. Many thanks to Geoff Lee for composing music befitting the magic.