I recently moved next to a milkweed plant, the one plant that monarch caterpillars eat. I have had the opportunity to watch these caterpillars develop into butterflies several times and have been amazed by the miracles held within this process. The greatest beauty, however, is the symbolism in it all – and the endless possibilities that it could be translated into. The interpretation is infinite.
I took a caterpillar into my home and kept it in a special caterpillar contraption designed just for this purpose. I wanted my son to see the miraculous process to open his mind about the unlimited opportunities of life. However, by the end of it all, I realized I was the one who was enraptured and enlightened by this natural process. It was one of the most interesting and amazing things I’ve ever seen. It was even more mind blowing that it all happened within a few weeks.
These caterpillars start as eggs, almost invisible to the naked eye. Tiny dots are left on the plant to grow alone, without the direct guidance of any parents. Within a few weeks they grow over 2,000 times their original size. Sometimes there are many more caterpillars than leaves on the plant. In these instances, it becomes “every man for himself” and those that eat first are most likely to survive. They face not only starvation, but also predators such as cats and birds, falling down and getting stepped on, curious kids, and cold weather. If they make it past all of these obstacles, they reach a stage in which they eat incredibly large amounts of leaves for a few days to store food for their transformation. Then they climb into a spot the believe will be the most safe to enter a state similar to hibernation in which they are paralyzed for about ten days. First, they hang upside down for a day or so in a “J” shape. They attach with a piece of silk-looking string that appears to be extremely delicate. As they hang, they tear through their layer of skin that they have outgrown to uncover a light green milky substance, which hardens into a chrysalis. During the tearing, it looks as if something is eating them and they pulsate very strongly. Within a half hour the caterpillar has become a total different looking being.
This is the point when my caterpillar fell down from the top. He had just torn through his old caterpillar skin when he hit to floor. He was now unable to move and no longer hanging. I felt so helpless as I saw him fall to the ground, wondering what he must be feeling as he was unable to move. It was a big lesson for me to trust in the process. This has to happen all the time in nature, I thought. This must be why there are usually so many caterpillars so that some of them make it all the way. Still, my heart had grown attached to this little one and I wanted to see it through. Another amazing part of this process was realizing how one “small” circumstance could interrupt the development and bring it to a stop. Only the most determined caterpillars who are blessed with an alignment of all the right situations can make it through this metamorphosis.
I researched on the internet and it seemed that this was common. It said that the best opportunity for his full development was for me to re-hang him by tying a string around the old skin, which has now formed some kind of stump. It recommended that I should wait until the green casing had dried which would be the following day. In that time a small gold line and two gold dots appeared on the outside; they look like real gold. I can’t say I can recall ever being so terrified in my life. I didn’t realize I’d be so scared, but once I had this precious life in my hands (so literally), I felt a tremendous responsibility to do a great job. After patience, courage, and determination, the caterpillar was hanging again. For over a week it appeared as is nothing is happening, there was no noticeable change to this green hanging object. Then very quickly the casing seemed to turn clear, revealing black and orange butterfly wings inside! Looking closely, the pattern of the wings could be seen.
A day or so later this clear shell-like casing cracked open and a total different looking being came out! It is breathtaking to comprehend how much these cells have rearranged inside into a completely new form. I can’t explain the excitement and renewed energy I felt to see the butterfly! The body looks nothing like it did as a green and black striped caterpillar. It is now black with white dots with different antenna and legs all together. The wings came out wrinkled up at first. The butterfly had to crawl back up to the top where it fell from its cocoon. While hanging upside down, blood surged into the edges of the wings, allowing them to fully expand. He batted them back and forth, learning to use these large instruments of flight. I left him for several hours to ensure this part of the process was done properly as the capability to fly is so essential for butterflies.
After making it through all this, the butterfly now had the opportunity to fly. It had to learn how to maneuver with its huge wingspan. I opened up the door of it’s home and expected it to fly about, but he did not move for quite some time. A whole new stage of his life has just begun.
It was so hard to let this butterfly go once it was ready to fly. I missed him for several days, yet it was so freeing to give him his ultimate life – freedom to fulfill his life purpose and to roam Earth. In such a short period, I had grown very fond of my little beautiful friend.
Another interesting fact is that these butterflies only live an average of two to six weeks. However, the last generation born just before the winter lasts up to eight months and flies all the way to Mexico. This group finds its way there and connects with millions of others of its kind. So interesting that they have all of these instincts and capabilities within.
Now any time I see a butterfly flying through the air, it reminds me to pause and enjoy the miracle of their life, change, and flight. The beauty I saw in the transformation leaked into my view of everyone. I see the amazing beauty inside of each being, such as a three year old naturally sees. I have a new outlook on the world. I feel free to fly above it rather than being caught up in “busy-ness”. Underneath the brashness of others (a beautiful attribute of strength), I can see the pure child essence within them. I can see the hopes and dreams of this naturally loving being before reality has sucked them into their mundane and numb routines. I have found compassion and renewal.
It is not a coincidence that I learned of this quote shortly thereafter:
“If we could see the miracle in a single flower clearly, Our whole life would change.” ~Buddha Danielle Marie Crume