Observe, both in the wild or at our children-friendly hatchery, the monarch butterfly growing from egg to caterpillar, caterpillar to chrysalis, and chrysalis to majestic monarch.
Without the milkweed plant there would not be any monarch butterflies. Monarchs lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves of common milkweed, or some of the more decorative varieties. Once the caterpillars hatch from the eggs and begin to grow, they exclusively eat the leaves of these plants.
Once the caterpillar is fully grown, it will climb up a variety of plants, hang down from a branch or ceiling of the hatchery, shift into a “j” shape, and then in a blink of an eye (and usually when you’ve given up waiting) turn itself into a green chrysalis with dots of gold. Ten to fourteen days later, the chrysalis turns nearly transparent. You can see the butterfly wings wrapped up inside. Soon thereafter, and again usually when you given up waiting, the butterfly emerges and spreads its wings.
We’ve made it easier to see and wonder at this process by building a butterfly hatchery next to the Green Bay Trail, south of Mary Street. Inside the nursery, we’ve gathered several milkweed plants with eggs already laid on the underside of some leaves. The rest of the process takes place naturally, but with many more caterpillars in one small place.