When Little Green Guests Took Over the Office

Molly de Aguiar, Program Associate

For the past few days, we have hosted these little guys at our office.


Do you recognize them?

That’s right! They are Monarch butterfly chrysalises.

At some point when we were young children, we all learned about the stages of the butterfly, right? And at the time we thought it was a really neat trick of nature for a caterpillar to turn itself into a butterfly. But that was…well, let’s just say that was a long time ago. If you’re like me, you’ve not given it very much thought since then.

But Erik Mollenhauer and Brian Hayes of the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) and 2,500+ teachers who have trained with EIRC’s Monarch Teacher Network workshops think about Monarch butterflies all the time. The Monarch Teacher Network is an ever expanding group of New Jersey teachers (preK to 12th grade) who use the butterflies to teach a wide variety of skills and concepts in the classroom – training which they received from EIRC.

Erik and Brian kindly delivered the chrysalises to us in the middle of last week along with some useful information about Monarchs, their migration, and the classroom curriculum. We have been captivated by them ever since.

When you see these chrysalises up close (they’re about an inch long), you cannot help but marvel at their petite beauty, and you cannot help but be completely fascinated by their transformation.



The little gold dots look like a tiny fairy came and painted them.


And can you see the outlines of the wings?

You know what else is amazing? The adult butterflies that emerge from these particular chrysalises (that is, eastern United States Monarchs) will migrate 2,000 miles south to the Mexican state of Michoacan, traveling up to 80 miles a day. Not only is it the longest migration of any insect in the world, they must also live 8 months to accomplish this. Typically a “summer” Monarch (who does not migrate and whose job is to reproduce as much as possible) lives only 2 to 5 weeks; a migrating Monarch living for 8 months is the equivalent of a human living for 1,000 years.

Once they reach Michoacan, they cluster by the millions in dense colonies and mate multiple times.

The scene can look something like this:

Monarchs by BBC Radio 4

When Erik and Brian brought the chrysalises to us, there was still one caterpillar which had not turned itself into a chrysalis. Sadly, with all of our running around in the office preparing for meetings, we missed the caterpillar performing his amazing trick literally by minutes. One minute he was a caterpillar, the next minute, he had shed his skin and transformed into a chrysalis. It happens that quickly.

Over the next few days, the green chrysalises will turn transparent, and we will be able to see the magical black and orange wings. Once they emerge and their wings dry off, we will set them free in our rooftop garden. Stay tuned. We hope to share more photos in the coming days.

Please do take a look at EIRC’s website, and learn about the Monarch Teacher Network. Also, please know that teachers, educators and butterfly enthusiasts from anywhere (not just NJ) are welcome to take part in the workshops. Special thanks to Erik and Brian for letting us witness this really mesmerizing process.

Photo of Monarchs in Mexico courtesy BBC Radio 4

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7 Responses to When Little Green Guests Took Over the Office

  1. Scott Olson says:

    I am sooooooo jealous! I want one of these – this is an incredibly cool piece of living art! Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Denny Stein says:

    Now there’s a writing cue if I ever saw one . . . .

  3. We were privileged to attend a Monarch Teacher Network workshop in New Jersey just over a year ago. It was one of the big events of my life and I am ever thankful to those who help made this happen.

    I am ever hopeful of bringing the MTN concept to New Zealand, although the financial crisis sure put paid to that happening this year or next.

    What a wonderful piece of living art you have there. It is gorgeous – and even as the chrysalides pupate and leave their sanctuary, it will still be beautiful.

  4. Michelle Knapik says:

    Molly is not kidding – Dodge staff is watching them with wrapt attention. We have five digital cameras on hand – and a flip camera should arrive today. It is great to feel the sense of awe and discovery rise-up in a group of adults — and it is interesting to think about this level of transformation as Dodge is working on language for revised guidelines and preparing for a leadership in mid-2010

  5. Cristina Loayza says:

    Another teacher and myself were also priviledged to attend the same workshop as Jacqui Knight over a year ago. I am amazed at the talent and dedication the MTN volunteers put into each workshop, to taking care of each person, of finding homes with such great persons, all with such clear purpose of saving this beautiful Jewel of Nature from extinction and making us better persons in the process. This to me is embodied by the Head of MTN, Erik Mollenhauer who is everyone’s inspiration in this process. Thank you Erik – for giving ME the strength to carry this out in PERU. We are getting there – and we are waiting for you and your wonderful people to come over.

  6. […] are the chrysalis pictures, in case you missed […]

  7. jeff hoagland says:

    Here in the “Nature Business” – we operate the Buttinger Nature Center and the Gorrie Butterfly House here in Pennington, New Jersey – we know all too well about the “power” of caterpillars and butterflies. Observing this magical transformation, or better yet, participating in it, is a critical part of sharing this planet. It is something I started doing over 40 years ago and today I share this with students, visitors and my own children. We are still tagging and releasing the last of our hatchlings at the Butterfly House.

    For more about the “power” of caterpillars and butterflies and their ability to change the world, see the blog Kids and Nature (http://www.packetinsider.com/blog/kids_nature/), the September 28 entry.

    Glad you embraced the wonder of this experience.
    jeff hoagland

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