A Monarch Chrysalis on the Cusp

Photographer Krista Schlyer held a 10-day stakeout to get the perfect shot of a pupating monarch preparing to emerge from its chrysalis

  • By Jennifer Wehunt // Photo by Krista Schlyer
  • PhotoZone
  • Sep 27, 2023

FOR MONARCH CATERPILLARS, forming a chrysalis is the fast part. Then the waiting starts.

Same goes for humans watching them. When Krista Schlyer first spotted a monarch caterpillar a few years back in early fall, the critter was so close to pupating, she didn’t have time to run inside and grab her camera. The conservation writer and photographer had just transformed her lawn in Mount Rainier, Maryland, into a native plant habitat for pollinators, “and all of a sudden, I was getting all of these surprises coming in.” Another surprise, she says, was noting that the caterpillar chose fleabane for its perch and learning that milkweed serves some, but not all, of a monarch’s needs.

Determined not to miss the butterfly’s emergence, “I cleared my schedule of all doings” and set up a stakeout, she says. In about 10 days, “I could see the palest outline of a wing inside the jade shell.” Within an hour, the chrysalis thinned to the perfect transparency to capture this image. “After all this time, it was like a snap of the fingers,” she says. “The covering tore very fast; there was a bit of a struggle; and the butterfly popped out. I had to remind myself to take photographs.” See more of Schlyer’s images of the Anacostia River watershed at kristaschlyer.com.

More from National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation:

Migrating Arts »
Pollinator gardens bring monarchs—and joy—to a Texas Town »
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