The caterpillar and the butterfly- welcoming the Monarch back

When my son was in school, I used to take him to a Native American flute festival (he used to play that type of flute) near Yosemite. One of the invited performers was a beautiful young lady who would always open her show telling us about her past struggles with depression, alcohol, and drug addiction. She said that, although she felt very ashamed of her behavior, she was unable to change it for a long time. One day, however, she almost died of an overdose, and after a few weeks in the hospital fighting for her life, she woke up feeling that she was not that caterpillar anymore: she had finally morphed into a butterfly, she was now free of addiction and was going to be able to fly.

Although a metamorphosis like the one described above seems sudden, it is already happening before we notice it. But in order to meet the butterfly we are meant to become, we must accept and welcome our inner caterpillar.

A fellow entomologist who works for the University of California at Davis told me that people often call her asking how they can have more butterflies in their gardens. She must explain to them that, for this to happen, they need to leave the caterpillars alone. People are often shocked when they are reminded about the connection between an obnoxious destructive larva eating their precious ornamentals and the beautiful butterflies that visit their flowers.

During the past few years, the UC Davis arboretum has made a concerted effort to plant more milkweed on its grounds, hoping to welcome the caterpillars of the Monarch Butterfly. I was pleasantly surprised to find several of them on May 1st, on a chilly and windy morning, near the arboretum’s nursery (featured photograph).

The featured photo is the larva (caterpillar) of the Monarch Butterfly, and The photo below is an older photo of the adult, which first appeared in my blog on January 1st, 2022.

Monarch butterfly at the Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz

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Published by Alessandra Chaves

Photographer with a preference for nature photography in black and white and other abstractions.

19 thoughts on “The caterpillar and the butterfly- welcoming the Monarch back

  1. Your photos are so beautiful. Love that butterfly. Ya know as a child we saw butterflies everywhere. There were always so many in and around our gardens. Every year I plant butterfly friendly flowers in hopes of seeing more butterflies. It isn’t like it used to be. There just aren’t as many anymore. What people don’t realize is that all those pesticides they use to kill unwanted bugs like mosquitos and grubs etc from their lawns also basically kills everything else including butterfly larvae and honey bees etc. We are surrounded by a lot of corn farms here and no doubt they spread these pesticides every year. So basically as long as these toxic pesticides continue to be used I suspect I will never see as many butterflies as I would like. I imagine there are many more butterflies in areas that don’t use toxic chemicals to kill unwanted pests. At least I hope so.

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  2. Beautiful color in that monarch photo. Their seemingly miraculous transformation always makes me think about the amazing flexibility and adaptability of life, and how our species can seem so “locked in” compared to one like the monarch. I’m 70 and sometimes feel like I’ve been in the cocoon a long time, wondering when I get my wings.

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  3. Do you know if the flute performer you mentioned has managed to keep her life on a good course since the time you saw her?

    When I commented on the original January post in which the backlit monarch appeared, you replied that “gasoline is over the roof and lodging skyrocketed.” Look how much more gasoline prices have risen in the four months since then. I just checked AAA and found today’s average California gas price is $6.07, compared to $4.60 nationally.

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    1. No. I don’t know. This is like a Cinderella story, it ends with the wedding. Those who have been married know that the wedding is just the beginning but it’s up to the reader to imagine the rest. I hope she’s doing well. I know well about the gas prices! I have to drive to work on a daily basis.

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  4. Two lovely shots, Alessandra. You mentioned “fellow entomologist” above. Does that mean that you too are an entomologist? I did not know that about you if you are. Insects and plants are in a constant battle with each other. Our petty complaints are nothing compared to their warfare. If you are interested, there is a book about one such battle between Monarchs and their food source, milkweed. They didn’t just happen to be coexistent with each other, but evolved as most life does.
    We had milkweed show up in the yard one year and slowly the numbers have grown to several dozen plants and we are visited by the adults and their larvae all summer long.

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      1. I hope you will post more insects now that I’ve seen your nice monarch shots. When I have the chance I photograph a bunch in the yard and our small woods. I am currently planting to attract more. As an entomologist, I hope you can enjoy this shot from last year. Most people find it scary. 🙂

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  5. You’ve reminded me of an entirely true story from my own past. Several years ago, some of us were sitting around drinking wine, and the conversation turned to our tombstones — which epitaph we’d like to have. There was an entomologist in the group, and she said she’d like hers to say, “Maybe now you’ll stop bugging me.”

    I’ve been overrun with small caterpillars in the house this year. I think they might be immature tussock moths. Remembering all I’ve read about the number of caterpillars that are needed to raise a clutch of baby birds, I carefully pick them up and put them out in the bird feeders.

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