Eclosing from Chrysalis as a Monarch Butterfly

Newly eclosed monarch butterfly drying on chrysalis
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The journey of supporting the monarch life cycle comes full circle with the emergence and first flight of baby butterflies. In this final post of our monarch gardening the mini-series we look at eclosing from chrysalis. Exciting times! For anyone scratching their head and thinking “e-what?” never fear, you’re not alone. To eclose is the verb for when an insect completes metamorphosis, in this case as a butterfly emerging from its pupal case (the chrysalis). Eclosion is the generally accepted noun. Now you know for future Scrabble matches and crossword puzzles – haha!

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The same chrysalis and butterfly is pictured throughout this post. It’s the same monarch from as key images from the proceeding caterpillar to chrysalis post. This way, you can see the full transformation. You’ll see the hijacked melon leaf throughout too, cheeky wandering caterpillar!

Transparent monarch chrysalis ready to eclose

Preparing to Eclose from Chrysalis

When the transformation (metamorphosis) inside of the chrysalis is nearing completion, the chrysalis will start to change. Slowly, the butterfly inside becomes incrementally more visible until it can be clearly seen inside its now transparent casing. Eclosion time is near!

When (finally) ready, the butterfly presses the chrysalis casing open, pushes downwards, and thrusts out, grabbing the casing for support. It’s a funny looking little creature, with small rumpled wings and an abdomen fat with fluid.  This wrinkly butterfly looks odd, but the chrysalis is a tightly packed place to develop. It still has one final stage of transformation left to go before flight.

Monarch butterfly eclosing from chrysalis

Eclosion to First Flight

The newly eclosed monarch still needs to complete the final stage of transformation prior to take off. As fluid (hemolyph) is pumped through the wings, they enlarge. The butterfly then begins to look like a “normal” monarch, but must still hang for hours until its wings are fully ready for flight. This is a very vulnerable stage for butterflies outside of an enclosure. They can’t fly away from predators or seek shelter for the elements. 

Newly eclosed monarch pumping fluid into it's wings

Potential Problems with Healthy Eclosion

Insufficient Space to Eclose

The emergence drop and dangle is why it is important for the chrysalides to have sufficient clear space under/around. Helping to ensure this may mean clearing space, moving objects, propping, or relocating a chrysalis. If a monarch falls during the critical pump and/or dry time, offer it a climb-on support as soon as you see it for the best chance of resuming the normal process. If a butterfly cannot hang, it may be diseased or have been critically injured if it had already fallen.

Parasites, Disease, Illness, and Death

Some areas have a protazoan parasite called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE). It can cause heavily infected young butterflies to emerge weak and/or unable to fully inflate their wings, drying crumpled and unable to fly irrespective of clearance, dangle, or dry. OE is highly transmissible at and between all stages of monarch life.

OE is far from the only potential problem. Part of helping a healthy monarch population is watching for potential problems and trying to reduce the risks. Sometimes, the chrysalis dies or does not open properly. Sickly caterpillars may form nonviable chrysalides, or disease, parasites, or pests may attack the chrysalis after formation.  If you see something unusual in formation, colour, or other factors, check your local monarch diseases and pests for potential causes. Apply quarantine measures, if possible, until you know the issue. We’ve been lucky thus far, but we do try to apply monarch-safe gardening practices and assist with pest protection and monarch housekeeping.

Weather

Weather also plays a factor in safely eclosing. Cool weather slows development, but very cold weather can freeze the chrysalis and kill the monarch. Yikes! Hot dry weather may make the chrysalis hard and difficult to open. Providing shelter and maintaining moisture can help reduce this risk.

Eclosing from Chrysalis as a Monarch Butterfly
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Monarch Gardening Mini-Series Wrap Up

That wraps up our monarch mini-series, but no doubt you’ll see these garden friends making an appearance in future posts and on our social media. If you’re looking for more monarch infomation, you can find all of our monarch caterpillar and butterfly posts under the tag, and the current mini-series is linked below.

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