My wife is a Master Naturalist who has planted milkweed from seed for the last few years. This was the first year that we had a Monarch come and lay her eggs on the plants! I spotted 12 little caterpillars munching out like little machines, getting bigger and bigger with their instars. At their final stage, we put them in an enclosure outside to keep them safe from birds and wasps. If you have never witnessed that final stage of caterpillar becoming chrysalis, just whoa. Whoa. Talk about transformation. They attached themselves to the sturdy thin bamboo and to the underside of leaves, hung in their telltale J and started shaking, looking like a wiggly dance troupe. Then, like magic, they started to shrink and smooth into the jade green wondrous cocoon, topped with literal golden crowns and flecks of gold on the outer casing. Jewels of the natural world.
We counted to make sure they had all safely transformed into their safe hang outs, a perfect glowing dozen. And we waited. And we watched. Eleven days later, the first chrysalis changed from green to black, transparent. I could SEE the wings through the shell of the chrysalis. We moved each of them carefully and tenderly to a bigger enclosure, a bright green pop-up tent we take camping, which looked like a giant chrysalis, too, now that I think about it. The tent would give them room to dry and spread their wings. We put late blooming flowers in there with them so when they emerged, they would have some nectar to drink before their long journey South to Mexico. I sat in the tent with them for hours watching each metamorphic miracle emerge finally, drop, and slowly open its wings. Over the hours, their wings dried and expanded— another dance. They practiced their flapping and fluttering in the safety of the tent, and the next morning, all twelve of the beautiful kings and queens lifted off from our fingertips to the open blue sky. I wanted to share this experience of cultivating a monarchy with you, in case you have never seen this miracle up close. This was my first time, too.
Plant milkweed! Protect the pollinators!
Kai Coggin was named “Best Poet in Arkansas” by the Arkansas Times and won the 2021 Governor’s Arts Award for Arts in Education. She lives in Hot Springs with her wife and their two sweet dogs.