Friday, February 27, 2015

Waking from a Dream

For the past week and a half we have been searching our courtyard, looking for chrysalises of Monarch and Queen Butterflies. We figured they would be hatching soon, based on the timing of the chrysalis we found in our courtyard last year (which hatched 10-12 days after the caterpillars disappeared).

Yesterday afternoon (Thursday) we found one chrysalis - on the underside of our patio cover, in plain view right over our heads. It had already changed color from lime green to blue, so we knew it would be hatching soon.

We moved a nearby hummingbird feeder away from the chrysalis so the hummers, finches, woodpecker and oriole wouldn't bother the soon-to-hatch butterfly.

By Friday morning the chrysalis had turned black. We knew the butterfly was getting ready to emerge so we checked it obsessively every 15-20 minutes.

We could just see the butterfly inside the chrysalis.

It didn't take long for the actual hatching process. At 10:25am we had a black chrysalis. When we checked back at 10:45am the butterfly had completely emerged from the chrysalis.

We sat on the porch under the Butterfly, enjoying the spring morning and watching as it occasionally made some tentative side-to-side stretches and slight wing flexes.

At times it would unfurl its proboscis, but it mostly sat quiet and motionless as its wings became stronger.

About 2-1/4 hours after emerging from its chrysalis, the Butterfly started doing full wing flexes. A half hour later, it took its first flight.

That first flight was pretty short: straight down.

It managed to land on its feet, and immediately started crawling up the step ladder we had been using to take these pictures.

After a few minutes resting on the ladder it took flight again, this time to the palo verde tree.

It rested again, sitting quietly in the sun.

The next short flight took it over to our Sweet Acacia tree where it again basked in the sun.

Finally it flew up high into the top of the Desert Willow tree.

It was amazing to watch this butterfly emerge from the chrysalis and begin its new life as a winged creature.

The process of metamorphosis - from caterpillar to a butterfly - is truly incredible.

How in the world do all those parts get rearranged? And what goes through the former caterpillar's mind when it wakes up transformed???

This butterfly will only live a few weeks. During that short time it will hopefully avoid cold weather, birds, predatory insects, rain, strong winds, spider webs, car windshields, insecticides and kids with butterfly nets. It will need to find shelter, nectar plants, mud puddles - and a mate - as well as a safe place to lay eggs so the next generation of caterpillars will have enough food when they hatch.

Backyard habitats make an important contribution to the survival of these and many other creatures. They create safe havens that also act as stepping stones between fragmented natural habitats. Something as simple as planting a milkweed plant can make a difference.

“Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”

~ Zhuangzi, Butterfly as Companion: Meditations on the FIrst Three Chapters of the Chuang-Tzu

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