Monarch—Caterpillar to butterfly (WARNING: graphic content)

Did you know?

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love it when it brings new knowledge into my little head, like the Internet and new genome techniques. I hate it when it tries to control my life, like cell phones and cable television.

Yesterday at dawn, I went to Balboa Park to get some “golden hour” pictures for my San Diego Historical Landmark El Prado series.

At the two entrances to the Botanical Building are two large bushes. They always look rather scraggly, like this from yesterday:

Scraggly bush at the entrance to the Botanical Building in San Diego's Balboa Park

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

They look like overgrown weeds, so adults tend to pass right by them. Children (my friends say that I’m a 10-year-old child trapped in a
59-year-old body) notice very quickly that these bushes are unique. Throughout the year one can find these little critters all over the two bushes:

Monarch caterpillar

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Do you recognize that little one? Sure, it’s a caterpillar, but more importantly it’s the late stage (called an instar) of a monarch caterpillar. That little one is so big that it probably started pupating the moment I got my picture and left.

Here is a picture of one that is just beginning to pupate:

Pupating Monarch butterfly

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

If you see a caterpillar hanging upside down and curling up like that, take a look 24 hours later and you’ll probably see a chrysalis, also called a pupa. Looks like this:

Chrysalis of a Monarch butterfly

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Keep an eye on that chrysalis for the next two weeks and you might be lucky to see a monarch butterfly emerge.

Monarch out of bounds

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

(If you’re interested in creating the “out of bounds” effect like above, see my post here: https://russelrayphotos2.com/2013/10/22/how-to-create-the-out-of-bounds-effect-in-photoshop/ .)

Most people know that the Monarch caterpillar feeds only on milkweeds but that plant in the red circle in the first picture does not look like any milkweed I’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s not a milkweed. According to the little sign at the bottom of each bush is this:

Calotropis gigantea

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Sure enough, that’s not a milkweed.

Ah, but not so fast, grasshopper!

See what it says in the bottom left corner? Asclepiadaceae. That’s the subfamily. That’s where modern genetics and genetic coding (genome) comes into play. Except in the rarest of cases, we didn’t use to have subfamilies. This plant would have been noted as being in the Apocynaceae family, also known as dogbanes. Ah-ha! Guess what other plants are in the dogbane family? That’s right, boys and girls! Milkweed! Milkweed and this crown plant also are in the same Asclepiadaceae subfamily. That means they are very closely related, according to the folks decoding those genomes. That explains why the monarch butterfly loves this plant!

Although it is a scraggly bush, along with the monarch caterpillars, chrysalises, and butterflies, the flowers are very beautiful, albeit small and well camouflaged with the leaves. Flowers look like this:

Calotropis gigantea flowers

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

The Botanical Building, according to sources, is the most photographed building in San Diego, and when you’re casually traipsing through Balboa Park, you can’t possibly miss it. Looks like this:

Botanical Building in San Diego's Balboa Park

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Lastly, in the second picture, you might have had problems (like I did!) determining which end of the caterpillar is the front end and which end is the back end. After looking at a goodly number of the caterpillars, I determined that the back end has shorter antennae. Of course, the back end also is the end that poops. Here is a caterpillar checking out its poop:

Monarch caterpillar and its poop

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

If you don’t like using words like crap, poop, and the S word, frass is a term we use in the home inspection industry. Frass is an informal and loose definition usually used when referring to the poop of insects. Since it is a loose and informal definition, I give you permission to use it when referring to human poop, now also known as human frass.

As I was trying to find out which end was the front end, I came across an interesting 39-second video on YouTube that pretty much confirmed my thinking:

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Must be nice to be able to eat and poop at the same time! And on that note:

THE END

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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28 thoughts on “Monarch—Caterpillar to butterfly (WARNING: graphic content)

  1. Zack

    I wouldn’t have thought a caterpillar would have such large poop. I figure it would be microscopic. Milkweeds must be high in fiber.

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  2. kelihasablog

    Very cool and informational blog. Never knew about that poop, LOL Monarchs are one of my favorites, my daughter-in-law paints some really pretty pictures of them. We have a big Butterfly Center here at Callaway Gardens. Huge variety and they aren’t too shy… land all over you while you’re in their special area. Great post! 😀

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    1. Russel Ray Photos Post author

      Pretty cool! Thanks for the link. I’m thinking about some milkweeds for my garden to try to attract some butterflies. I have butterfly bushes but the butterflies attracted by those around here are nothing to write a blog post about…………. 🙂

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  3. Deborah

    I remember (or think I do, since I was younger than 8 at the time) a particular year when the monarch caterpillars seemed to be everywhere. We could actually pick them up and put them in little containers, whole dozens of them. Luckily, we knew enough to let them go after we gathered them together. I can’t see monarchs now without thinking of that. Thanks for the post!

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  4. julespaige

    There are a few plants that the Monarch will eat that aren’t milkweed. One of my sons and I actually raised some in the house a few years back. But it was late in the season and they had a blight and could not turn into butterflies. But we watched them grow from eggs that are not much bigger than the period at the end of a sentence.

    Thanks for your info on the Monarch. The butterflies like the nectar of butterfly bushes, which some gardening folks think of as weeds. We also watched some swallowtails grow after eating the parsley I had planted one year. That was cool too.

    The internet and electronics are only as good as the people that program them. I am still a tad in the dark ages not doing facebook or pinterest. But I’ll live. Cheers. 🙂

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    1. Russel Ray Photos Post author

      Actually, there are a lot of plants that Monarchs will feast on that aren’t milkweed. However, you’ll find that those plants are in the closely related and are either in the same Family (Apocynaceae), Subfamily (Asclepiadoideae), Tribe (Asclepiadeae), or SubTribe (Asclepiadinae). Monarchs are kind of like pandas in that they only eat one thing. Pandas, of course, eat bamboo.

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  5. Pingback: San Diego Historical Landmarks—#1: El Prado Designation Area, part 12 | Russel Ray Photos

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