When Little Green Guests Took Over the Office

September 14, 2009

Molly de Aguiar, Program Associate

For the past few days, we have hosted these little guys at our office.


Do you recognize them?

That’s right! They are Monarch butterfly chrysalises.

At some point when we were young children, we all learned about the stages of the butterfly, right? And at the time we thought it was a really neat trick of nature for a caterpillar to turn itself into a butterfly. But that was…well, let’s just say that was a long time ago. If you’re like me, you’ve not given it very much thought since then.

But Erik Mollenhauer and Brian Hayes of the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) and 2,500+ teachers who have trained with EIRC’s Monarch Teacher Network workshops think about Monarch butterflies all the time. The Monarch Teacher Network is an ever expanding group of New Jersey teachers (preK to 12th grade) who use the butterflies to teach a wide variety of skills and concepts in the classroom – training which they received from EIRC.

Erik and Brian kindly delivered the chrysalises to us in the middle of last week along with some useful information about Monarchs, their migration, and the classroom curriculum. We have been captivated by them ever since.

When you see these chrysalises up close (they’re about an inch long), you cannot help but marvel at their petite beauty, and you cannot help but be completely fascinated by their transformation.



The little gold dots look like a tiny fairy came and painted them.


And can you see the outlines of the wings?

You know what else is amazing? The adult butterflies that emerge from these particular chrysalises (that is, eastern United States Monarchs) will migrate 2,000 miles south to the Mexican state of Michoacan, traveling up to 80 miles a day. Not only is it the longest migration of any insect in the world, they must also live 8 months to accomplish this. Typically a “summer” Monarch (who does not migrate and whose job is to reproduce as much as possible) lives only 2 to 5 weeks; a migrating Monarch living for 8 months is the equivalent of a human living for 1,000 years.

Once they reach Michoacan, they cluster by the millions in dense colonies and mate multiple times.

The scene can look something like this:

Monarchs by BBC Radio 4

When Erik and Brian brought the chrysalises to us, there was still one caterpillar which had not turned itself into a chrysalis. Sadly, with all of our running around in the office preparing for meetings, we missed the caterpillar performing his amazing trick literally by minutes. One minute he was a caterpillar, the next minute, he had shed his skin and transformed into a chrysalis. It happens that quickly.

Over the next few days, the green chrysalises will turn transparent, and we will be able to see the magical black and orange wings. Once they emerge and their wings dry off, we will set them free in our rooftop garden. Stay tuned. We hope to share more photos in the coming days.

Please do take a look at EIRC’s website, and learn about the Monarch Teacher Network. Also, please know that teachers, educators and butterfly enthusiasts from anywhere (not just NJ) are welcome to take part in the workshops. Special thanks to Erik and Brian for letting us witness this really mesmerizing process.

Photo of Monarchs in Mexico courtesy BBC Radio 4