Local resident and journalist Suzanne Herel created the waystation in her yard to support Monarch migration, documenting the experience through photography. She released dozens of Monarchs after watching them grow from caterpillars through the pupa stage to butterflies. In 2019, Herel expanded her research into other butterflies, planting a variety of host plants, and witnessing the life stages of other butterfly species.
Monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweed plant.
In four to five days the eggs hatch, and the newly emerged caterpillars do what they do best: eat. After consuming the protein-rich eggshell, the caterpillar will turn its attention to milkweed, the only food monarch caterpillars can eat.
Monarch caterpillars can vary in coloring. This doesn’t affect their shading or pattern as adult butterflies.
When it’s time to form a chrysalis, the caterpillar generally crawls away from the milkweed plant and finds a sheltered spot. Here, it will form a silk “button” and hang from it head down, in the shape of a “J” for about 14 hours before pupating.
The chrysalis stage lasts 10 to 14 days, as the cells of the caterpillar undergo an incredible transformation. Here, a toad keeps the chrysalis company.
When a monarch butterfly is preparing to emerge, or eclose, its wings can be viewed beneath the cuticle of the chrysalis.
Just as the caterpillar hung head down before forming its chrysalis, the new butterfly emerges head first after the chrysalis cracks open.
As it emerges from the chrysalis, the monarch’s abdomen is swollen with hemolymph, or insect blood, and its wings are soft and crumpled. The organ used to suck nectar, called a proboscis, takes form.
The newly eclosed monarch clings to its chrysalis as the blood from its abdomen is pumped into its wings. A monarch must hang while its wings dry, or they may become deformed, and it might not be able to fly.
It’s easy to tell a male monarch from the two black spots on its hind wings. It also has thinner black veins than the female, and claspers on the tip of its abdomen. These are used to hold the female during mating.
Male and female monarchs can stay joined 16 hours or longer during mating. Females in the wild typically lay 400 to 500 eggs, which is a good thing as only a small fraction live to adulthood. The monarch has a variety of predators in each stage of its life, including wasps, flies, and spiders.