Metamorphosis, literally: How it ends

For every teensy and wildly vulnerable caterpillar, or kitten, or puppy, or anything really, that you bring into your home and cherish, there is an inevitable farewell. If that teensy and wildly vulnerable pet happens to be a caterpillar named Coco, the story doesn’t end with the metamorphosis, though I can understand how that might be the arc of the tale. It ends with a farewell.

Two days ago, I posted about Coco the caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly. Coco had been nurtured and observed by my friend Pacha’s family as an educational experience. She graciously agreed to answer a few questions about her project (which might help anyone considering the same project for their own family), which I have posted below, as well as some photographs and links to two videos that depict the conclusion of Coco’s tale with Pacha’s family and the beginning of an entirely new and exciting chapter in her life:

Q: Can you explain the context for the project? Is this part of a home school project and where did the idea come from?

A: My daughter has been talking about the life cycle of a butterfly in preschool and at parent participation she did an art project with different pastas for the different stages. I thought it would be great for her to see it in real life (and honestly, I wanted to see it too). I also wanted to get one for her classroom for all the kids to observe.

Q: Where did you get the caterpillar from?

A: My friend Kendra had a butterfly lay eggs on her plants awhile ago. She offered some to me, but I had a really hard time finding milkweed (the only thing monarch caterpillars eat). It’s dormant right now, so it’s not available. The monarchs aren’t really supposed to lay eggs right now… I finally got lucky and got three small plants at Growing Grounds SLO.

Q:  I read that this is your fourth caterpillar: How many of them have made it through the entire process?

A: Originally I picked up three caterpillars from Kendra. One for each plant I had. I gave one plant with caterpillar to my daughter’s teacher for the classroom. One of the caterpillars ran away, or maybe it got eaten. It just disappeared. We took the third one inside. It didn’t survive its next molting. Somehow it got stuck in its old skin. The one at the school pretty much ran out of milkweed to eat. It’s pretty sad, it starved. I went back to Kendra to get another one. It ate, molted, and got big and chubby. Then it molted into a pupa overnight and the next morning we found a chrysalis. It had a bright green drop hanging at the bottom. Kendra told me later that some chrysalis have a parasite that cause it to leak. No butterfly again. Kendra had one more tiny little guy that had just hatched from his egg. Coco. The only one who made it through a complete cycle under our watch.

Q: How long does the process from caterpillar to butterfly take? What kind of materials do you need to sustain them?

A: Here’s a link that describes the stages and lengths of the lifecycle. You really just need enough milkweed for the caterpillar to eat. Coco ate pretty much both of our little plants, stems and all. They’re sprouting new leaves again, so we’re planning on planting them in our front yard. Hopefully more monarchs will find it and lay eggs. If you have your plants inside, you might want to have a cage ready for when they emerge from the cocoon. You don’t want them roaming in your house. A tomato cage with tulle wrapped around works great.

Q: What have your kids’ reactions/ interest level been to the project? Are both Millie and Max engaged or is Max too young to be interested?

A: Max is too little. He’s only interested in the dirt. He actually knocked over the whole plant once, including Coco. Millie has been very interested and has enjoyed watching Coco grow. She hasn’t seen the butterfly yet. She emerged about 10 minutes after Millie had left for school this morning. I can’t wait for her to get home. We will then release Coco in our backyard.

Q: What advice do you have for parents thinking about getting some caterpillars and watching them go through the same process?

A: You need to find milkweed. Then you need to find eggs, which is pretty hard because they’re the size of the period at the end of this sentence. If you have milkweed in your garden, the monarchs might find you. I think it’s a great project for kids and adults alike. One of Nature’s wonders to observe from the comfort of your own home.

Q: Is this project limited by season?

A: Yes, because they travel. Females begin laying eggs right after their first mating, and both sexes will mate several times during their lives. Adults in summer generations live from two to five weeks. Each year, the final generation of Monarchs, which emerges in late summer and early fall, has an additional job: to migrate to their overwintering grounds, either in central Mexico for eastern Monarchs or in California for western Monarchs. Here they survive the long winter until conditions in the United States allow them to return to reproduce. These adults can live up to eight or nine months. (quoted from the website linked above)

Q: Is there going to be a fifth caterpillar?

A: Like I said, we plan on planting our milkweed, so hopefully we’ll have more caterpillars at some point. I would still like to take one to the preschool classroom at Millie’s school.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: Yes, I would like to encourage people to plant milkweed (the food source for the caterpillars) and other butterfly-friendly plants. Monarch, like many other insects, are greatly affected by heavy pesticide use and their numbers are declining. Also, the monarch butterfly grove in Pismo is a great source of information and if you can’t have your own caterpillar you can observe the whole lifecycle there. They have telescopes setup for you to observe the butterflies hanging out in the eucalyptus trees, and usually have a milkweed plant with a caterpillar or chrysalis as well. Thanks for spreading the word!

As promised, here’s the conclusion to Coco’s story:



“Stretching… I think Coco might be a girl. She’s in a cage now so she doesn’t fly away before Millie gets to see her…”


“Coco’s empty cocoon.”


“Well, I was wrong. Coco is actually male after all. See those black spots on the lower wings? Females don’t have them.”


Video: “Taking Coco for a walk in the backyard.

And finally …

Bye bye butterfly!”



  1. […] “Metamorphosis, literally: How it ends” March 28, […]

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