With a few exceptions, chrysalides are designed to be overlooked, to allow the wondrous alchemy of metamorphosis to proceed undisturbed.

July 4, 2017 | | Notes from the Wild

Chrysalides are among nature’s most exquisite creations – biotic jewels brimming with promise. But theirs is a concealed beauty. With a few exceptions, chrysalides are designed to be overlooked, to allow the wondrous alchemy of metamorphosis to proceed undisturbed.

All of us know the beauty of monarch butterflies. Monarch chrysalides are equally striking. For two weeks or so they are bright green, flecked and beaded with gold. Then, just prior to emergence, the orange and black wings of the nascent butterflies shine through the chrysalid membranes.

Other chrysalides, like those of the mourning cloak or the question mark butterfly, are ornate creations, decorated with ridges and fins, contours and cambers, as if molded by the hands of a master sculptor— a sculptor who chooses to impart a touch of menace. The spikes on these chrysalides evoke the business ends of medieval maces.

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  • Some chrysalides are astonishingly deceptive. Giant swallowtail chrysalides look like broken twigs, complete with a patina of “lichen” to enhance the ruse. Tiger swallowtail chrysalides present a similar deadwood appearance.

    Chrysalides of other swallowtail species opt to camouflage among greenery. They are gorgeous objets d’art, rivalling the beauty of monarch chrysalides. Examples are those of spicebush swallowtail and of the summer generation of black swallowtails.

    Black swallowtail chrysalides formed in the autumn, however, are brown, testimony to nature’s attention to detail. These brown chrysalides persist through the winter – a time when brilliant green would be a beacon for predators.

    Baltimore checkerspot chrysalis black swallowtail chrysalis Giant swallowtail chrysalis monarch butterfly chrysalides monarch chrysalis just prior to emergence mourning cloak chrysalis Question mark chrysalis spicebush swallowtail chysalis Tiger swallowtail chrysalis
    Monarch chrysalis just prior to emergence

    Not all chrysalides are cryptic. The stunning white chrysalides of Baltimore checkerspots, flecked with orange and streaked with brown, stand out against green vegetation. Why? Some suggest the checkerspot chrysalides mimic bird droppings. Or the bright colours might advertise toxicity, warning potential predators away.

    Chrysalides are concealed gems. Finding them in the wild is astonishingly difficult. Easier is finding caterpillars and rearing them until the chrysalides are formed. My next blog will explain how I do this.

    About the Author More by Don Scallen

    Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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