Thursday, November 29, 2018


Remember my little caterpillar friend?

Well, he ate..

and molted...

 and grew!

And then one day - before I could secure a proper butterfly enclosure, even! - I saw him hanging upside down in a very special "J" shape.

When his antennae got very, very droopy, I knew something was about to happen.  Now? Must it happen right now?  I scrambled, I fumbled, I dropped kicked a lens cap, set up a camera, spilled a folder of music, packed up my things, stubbed my toe, shoved a hunk of bread and cheese in my mouth with one hand while pressing some buttons on the camera with the other, hoped for the best, and dashed out the door for work.  Time lapse photography experiment a la minute!

When I returned, I was astonished to see exactly what I expected to see.

Danaus gilippus (Queen Butterfly) Chrysalis

As far as my rough time lapse experiment went, I hoped I had made accurate calculations.

Action captured!  It may be wobbly, and a bit too fast, but that was far preferable to action undocumented, due to a lack of battery power or SD card space.  I would now have plenty of time to metamorphize both my technique and gear. Perhaps I might even catch the next event on video!

My transformed friend was a beautiful leaf green color, studded with a gold so reflective I found it difficult to believe I was looking at animal rather than mineral.

Later, with shaking hands, I clipped and secured his milkweed branch, maintaining his chosen angle, height, and orientation, and moved him - gently, so gently! - to the safety of a newly delivered butterfly enclosure.

Safe Haven
If you look very carefully, you will see my beagle, also in a different form, in the background!

"Five to 15 days, unless overwintering," I read. How would he know if he should "over-winter," if he was indoors? I tried to help him decide correctly by leaving the windows open as often as possible. 

We waited.  My anxiety over the welfare of this tiny (tiny???) gift eased, as we fell into a new rhythm.  Each day, instead of coming home to a beagle, I came home to check on my little natural wonder. It was nice to have someone in the house with me, even if was just (just???) a chrysalis.

We waited some more.

It got cold. Please, not today. "Not today," I told him.

It got warm.  "Today would be a good day," I advised.

One day, he looked a little different.

Wings! (Day 15)

The next morning he was mostly black. A flash flood of worry scoured a path already worn with great waves of grief.  Although the reasons were obvious, I was far too emotionally attached to... a bug.  The internet shared with me all that could go wrong.

Day 16

But as the clock ticked away the morning hours, a form became more visible.  Please, please, please...

On the final day, the chrysalis shell turns as transparent as plastic wrap.

It was supposed to be a riding day, but instead, I paced like an expectant father in the waiting room. I swept the floor. I hacked up my CSA pie pumpkin with a machete. I fiddled with the GoPro: flying lessons had taught me the importance of equipment redundancy.  I turned my head for a moment - merely turned my head! - as a technological glitch stole my atten...

Gah! I missed it!

Eclosure! (That's butterfly speak for "hatching.")

My little friend - little only in stature! - you did it.

"You did it," I whispered to him.

Before my eyes, a great reversal happened: his fat body slimmed, and his crumpled wings expanded. Sometimes, he would swing back and forth on his branch.

Having owned a Dalmatian in the past, how could I not love his little polka-dotted body?

He climbed up and up!

I had given him a flower. Just in case.

But he was not hungry.  He stayed very still for a very long time. When his wings were finally dry and ready, it was too late in the day to release him. It was true, he had every reason to be tired, but more worry - just a trickle - seeped coldly in.  He was in the same place when I got back from work. Still and quiet.  Quiet and still.  Not that butterflies are all that noisy, as far as I have ever observed.

He needs a good two hours of drying time. It's best to release him when there are still several hours of warm sunshine left in the day.

When I wake, he is still still. But I do believe he is in a slightly different location on the ceiling of his enclosure. I am not still. I am restless. I check the sky. I check the weather.  Again and again.  I check the temperature of my back yard with my digital instant read thermometer.   Our moment has arrived. It's flying weather!  He agrees, fluttering this way and that, as I move him in his little tent outdoors.

See those two black dots on his hind wings? They tell me what I knew in my heart all along - it's a boy!

"Climb aboard," I say.  He does!

He waits a long time...

... and then - oh sweet tiny enormous miracle! - he launches!  After a victory lap or two, he wisely departs my bird infested yard.  When I can move again, breathe again, I go about my business, doing this and that, indoors and out. I am joyously, wondrously, gratefully, relievedly elated. And a little bit sad.

Perhaps half an hour later I fall victim to a butterfly fly-by.  He glides over my fence.  Hello again!  And then, a little later, he visits me one final time. 

Could it be another male Danaus gilippus? Perhaps. But I choose to believe he's my former roommate.

And then? A little eclosure of my own.

I've had precious little seat time over the past few years. But I sense a change coming.
In case you're wondering, the brakes are just fine!

P.S. Who knew you could miss a bug so much?

Find a lady friend, little one, and begin it all again!


Mary Theresa Dietz said...

Such a wonderful account of a fellow being's metamorphosis! Thank you for this.

pearl said...

There are tears in my eyes, and my heart is about to explode with love. I watched the video three times because it's so amazing. I'm so sorry about your Dad and Molly, but isn't it amazing how a miracle was waiting for you right the perfect moment. You should turn this into a picture book. Thanks for sharing! sending love ♥