Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Life and Times of Hector the Monarch

/24/Well, my friends, it's been well over a month since I started this post, hoping that I would, at some point, be able to add the video mentioned below*.  Hasn't happened, ya go.  If I ever do get that video uploaded, I'll place a link in this post.

Ah, yes, my good friend and MC's pet, Hector, has metamorphosed and gone off into the world.  Here's a fond look back at his time with us.
 Hector and his buddy Tiny came to live with us on June 14, when we spotted them on some milkweed plants.  That's Hector on the left; Tiny's on the right.

Hector didn't seem to adjust very well to living with us--there were several times when I thought the poor little guy was dead, based on his strange contortions and his apparent hunger strike.  We moved him to different living situations and eventually he started eating and pooping again--I think he just wanted younger, more tender leaves than the boys were bringing him. 

Monarch caterpillars eat milkweed exclusively--it's what makes them taste bad so potential predators don't want to eat them.  The predators know the caterpillars taste bad because of the yellow and black warning coloration.
 Here he is shortly before he became a pupa--sorry about the lack of measuring device for perspective--our last measurement of his larval state was 40 mm on June 29.

 Hector assumed the J-position during the night of June 29, and this is how we found him on the morning of June 30. 

Monarchs molt several times during their larval stage, each time shedding their skin in favor of a roomier skin underneath.  The final molt happens when they go from larva to pupa stage and form their chrysalis.  That's right: they don't spin a cocoon, they molt, leaving a soft green pupa, the outside of which hardens to form the chrysalis.  We actually saw this happening with Hector and I got it on video*.  We knew it was coming because he started doing caterpillar crunches (seriously).

 Here's Hector the pupa, right after molting.  You can still see the caterpillar stripes underneath the green outer skin of the pupa, and you can see the shed caterpillar skin up at the top.

After a while, the monarch chrysalis looks like this:
As you can probably tell from the change of scenery, this is not Hector--this is Tiny, after he escaped and molted under the ledge of our fireplace--but this is pretty much what Hector looked like for 9 days.  If you look closely, you can see the wings on the left under the outer green.  Monarch pupas display a different defence against predators--camouflage.

 On July 9, we woke to find Hector looking like this.  Remember, the chrysalis is clear, so when the adult butterfly is ready to emerge, you can see the black and orange coloration through the chrysalis.

 Later that afternoon, we found Hector clinging to his empty chrysalis, trying to muster his strength for his first flight.  We were kinda bummed that we missed his emergence--we really thought we had another day.

Here's our boy outside.  We can tell he's a boy because of the dark spots on the veins of his lower wings--can you see them?  It's a bit more pronounced on the right wing.  On his left wing, you can probably see what looks like a white dot--that's actually a hole in Hector's wing--it didn't form correctly, or he somehow injured himself emerging from his chrysalis.

We see monarchs flying by from time to time, and wonder if our friend has come back to visit :)

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