Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Time-Lapse Video Questions

Since posting the Monarch butterfly time-lapse video, I've received many questions from family, friends, and visitors. I was expecting the majority to be technical questions, but instead I received mostly questions about the butterfly and the "weird contraption".

So, here are a few of the questions received and my answers to them (thanks to Kevin for helping to answer some of them):

1. Was the butterfly a boy or a girl? The butterfly in the video was a male. One can tell the difference between male and female by looking at the tops of the two smaller rear wings -- a male will have what appears to be a black dot along the "vein" on both rear wings, while the female is missing this characteristic. Check out the pictures below for a comparison.

Male Monarch Butterfly
Male Monarch Butterfly

Female Monarch Butterfly
Female Monarch Butterfly

2. What is that weird contraption...? LOL! That "weird contraption" was built by Kevin to increase the success rate of releasing Monarchs. Kevin removes the chrysalis from the underside of a milkweed leaf from his backyard, attaches it to a piece of paper, and suspends it from the mesh wire enclosure. When the butterfly emerges, it first grabs on to the ridges of the chrysalis and then makes its way up to the mesh where it grasps the wires and hangs upside-down to allow the fluids from its abdomen to enter and fill the wings. In nature, the caterpillar lays a circle of silk a couple inches in diameter on the underside of a leaf, from the center of which it then suspends the chrysalis. When the butterfly emerges, it is then able to grasp onto the silk. Through careful observation, Kevin has determined that 1/4" mesh wire is ideal for the butterflies in that they are essentially forced to spread their legs farther apart to grasp the wires. By spreading their legs farther apart, their center of gravity is more centralized and reduces the risk of them falling which can be devastating or deadly if the wings become damaged, especially if they haven't dried completely.

3. How long does it take the butterfly to hatch? The butterfly takes about 8-14 days (depending on environmental conditions, particulary temperature) to mature enough for it to emerge from its chrysalis. The actual emergence out of the chrysalis takes 10-15 minutes.

4. What does your friend do with the chrysalises? Kevin sends the chrysalises to various organizations that request them for the purpose of public education.

5. How can you tell when a butterfly is ready to emerge? Check out the picture below -- it shows two chrysalis, one jade green and the other transparent. When the chrysalis appears slightly opaque, and the butterfly's colors are already showing through, that is a sure-fire indicator that the butterfly will emerge the following morning. In the picture, the chrysalis is completely transparent and about to emerge within minutes.

Chrysalis Suspended from Mesh
Chrysalises Suspended from Mesh Wire
(the butterfly on the right will emerge soon)

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