All About Chrysalises
A Monarch chrysalis often looks as beautiful as polished Jade with golden accents.
Right before they emerge you will be able to see the butterfly in great detail!
Once the caterpillar has reached its full growth it will crawl to the top of the container and lay still for awhile. This is normal. You will notice that it will start moving its head back and forth, laying down a pad of white silk. Once it has finished it will then slowly walk across the pad until its rear end is positioned directly over it. The caterpillar will then push a black "stick" called a cremaster from its behind into the pad, moving it around until it is satisfied that it is sturdy. Then it slowly lets go starting with its front legs until it is hanging upside down from the cremaster. It curves its body into a "J" shape and will stay like that for about 24 hours.
Getting into position
Placing the cremaster
Laying down the pad
Letting go into a J
Here are two photos with my nice camera showing the detail of the caterpillar preparing itself to become a chrysalis, otherwise known as pupation. Note that the green color is showing through its skin! This caterpillar will make squeezing motions for a long time before its ready to go.
How Do I Know When To Watch?
I remember the first few times I watched this process. I waited and waited and...waited. Only to find out that they stay in a J for a LONG time!!! Here is what I have observed so that you don't waste your time and lose your kids' interest!
The best way to tell that it is go-time is to watch the antennae. In the photos above you can see they are still firm and upright. Here is what they look like right before they start becoming the chrysalis:
Notice that the antennae are limp. You do not want to disturb them when they get to this stage.
Here is a video I took of one going through the process!
I get a lot of messages asking what people should do in certain situations. I can only answer from my experience. Here is a list of common questions I have been asked, ones I have asked and answered myself, and a photo gallery of what I have run into over the last 7 years:
Q: My chrysalis is damaged...what do I do?
A: It depends. If it is damaged on it's face (see chart at top of page to see what part is the face) it very likely could end up with a deformed proboscis and not be able to feed. This is deadly to the butterfly. My advice, though unpopular, is to euthanize it in the freezer. Euthanizing at this stage in my opinion is the "easiest" time to do it because it is not moving around and does not have recognizable features. Its never really easy though. If it is damaged on the wing area, that spot will be wrinkled. Sometimes this does not matter, other times it can be bad enough that it cannot fly. It is up to you if you want to euthanize before it emerges, or if you want to keep it around and feed it honey water for awhile.
Q: Why does my chrysalis have tiny black dots on it?
A: It is either infected with OE or the cuticle got punctured slightly and some haemolymph seeped out and dried (it dries black). Handling the chrysalis too much can cause this to happen also. It is best to keep it separated from the others in order to avoid spreading potential disease.
Q: Why did my chrysalis turn black?
A: It is normal for it to turn "black" IF you can see the wing colors and details and its really more that it turned transparent so you can see the butterfly formed inside. If it is solid black, I am sorry to tell you that it has died and is infected with a bacteria or virus. You will want to immediately freeze in a plastic baggie and then throw it away. If it opens up and the stuff inside leaks out it will contaminate whatever is nearby. Disinfect all surfaces and cages that it was in.
Q: My chrysalis formed against a container and its flat on one side. Is it ok?
A: Most likely, yes! I have had this happen a number of times and every time it has been fine.
The Waiting Game
Now you have a chrysalis. What next? You can either leave it where it is and put it somewhere safe, or if you are a crazy artist lady like me you can rehang it somewhere interesting and take photos of it!
Here are photos showing step by step how to rehang a chrysalis.
Non-toxic Elmer's or similar glue
Ability to tie knots!
****UPDATED METHOD AS OF 2019! I'm always learning :-)
Step 1: Put a drop of white glue on the cremaster.
Step 2: Tie a length of thread around the cremaster in a simple knot. I usually double knot it just in case. You can allow it to dry if you wish, but it is not necessary.
Step 3: Removing the chrysalis. The best method is to first scrape and loosen the edge of the silk (kind of like peeling a sunburn!) and peel it towards the cremaster. You can pull the entire chrysalis off by doing this. It will not fall off the thread because of the silk sticking in the glue.
Step 4: Pinch the silk around the knotted area to further ensure that it is secure on the thread. The silk will stick to itself and the glue. Make sure none of the silk is wrapped around the green part of the chrysalis as this could cause problems for the emerging butterfly.
Step 5: Tie another knot about 1/2" to 1" away from the cremaster to form a loop. Trim excess thread tail, leaving about 1/4".
Step 6: Rehang wherever it is safe from animals, tachinid flies, etc. There are some parasitic insects that will inject the chrysalis with their own eggs!
Keep in mind that when it emerges in 10-14 days it will need room below it and you don't want it swinging around too much! I use clear scotch tape to secure it if the thread is too long.
Don't forget to observe the changes each day so you don't miss the hatching!
Fun fact: Another word for hatching is eclosing.
Below is a video of my process. I am terrible at making videos so I apologize in advance :-)