Garden Q&A: From chrysalis to Monarch butterfly

For The Baltimore Sun

I found this on butterfly weed that I planted to help Monarch butterflies. Lots of butterfly caterpillars have been munching on the leaves this summer. Is this what I hope it is — a cocoon soon to be a Monarch butterfly?

Yes. Congratulations. Soon an orange and black Monarch butterfly will be emerging and flying off on its incredible migration. However, the green case you see is actually a chrysalis. Though we tend to lump together moths and butterflies and assume they both emerge from cocoons, only moths spin cocoons. Butterflies, in an even more mind blowing performance over just a few hours, ooze a protein layer which hardens into a chrysalis that protects it while it transforms into a butterfly. The word chrysalis comes from the Greek word for gold. The shimmering dots on this Monarch chrysalis are not yellow or merely shiny, but appear as metallic as gold. The chrysalis of many butterfly species display the same gold.

Where is the Home and Garden Information Center that answers these questions?

We’re on the farm at the UMD Central Maryland Research & Education Center in Ellicott City. Come to its open house Oct. 6 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s free, with lots of animals, including cows, baby chicks and reptiles. Also wagon rides, fun activities, live music and educational displays including robotics. Entertainment for the whole family, with food and Maryland ice cream for purchase. Hope to see you there.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

A previous version of this story listed the incorrect date for the Home and Garden Information Center's open house. It will be held Oct. 6. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.
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