Tag Archives: Tigerwing Butterfly chysalis

Wonderful press for “Beauty on the Wing” from Pennsylvania! From the Ground Up: Preserving beauty on the wing

Recently I had the joy to present a screening of Beauty on the Wing to the Pennsylvania Bucks County Audubon, in collaboration with several conservation and environmental organizations. It was a fantastically engaged audience and one of the attendees wrote to the region’s nature reporter, Pam Baxter, where the story appeared in a number of Pennsylvania newspapers.

From the Ground Up: Preserving beauty on the wing

By Pam Baxter For MediaNews Group

I want to share with you an email that I received in response to my column last week in which I reviewed a new book, by Sara Dykman, titled “Bicycling with Butterflies.” (2021, Timber Press)

The reader wrote:

“I read your article today about monarchs. My wife and I recently saw a film created over a several year period by Kim Smith. It has won many awards as listed on her website. It was sponsored by local environmental groups and others for a local showing via Zoom. I thought I knew everything about the monarch, but her video of the life cycle was amazing, with incredible detail.” (The film is tentatively scheduled to air on PBS in February 2022.)

I clicked on the website link provided (see below), and discovered that it contains a short, free video designed for children, titled, “The Marvelous Magnificent Migrating Monarch.” The detail of the close-ups of the various stages of the monarch’s life-cycle is captivating, and a young child featured in the video demonstrates how easy it is to make a monarch habitat to be able to observe and help restore the number of monarchs in the wild. The message is that anyone can raise monarchs, even pre-schoolers.

As I mentioned in my previous column, helping monarchs is really as simple as planting monarch-sustaining milkweed plants, along with other native, nectar plants. Milkweed is the only plant that monarchs feed on. There are many species, and it’s important to plant the ones suited to this area. The best ones for the Delaware Valley are Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Swamp Milkweed has lavender-pink flowers and a lovely evening fragrance. It can grow fairly large, and works well in a stand-alone planting bed or in a naturalized border. With its bright orange or yellow flowers and more refined habit, Butterfly Weed is a knockout in any flower bed or container.

Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

A monarch “habitat” only really needs to comes into play if you want to go the next step — and if you want to get up close to nature. All that is required — in addition to some care and curiosity — is a large aquarium with a screen cover, some cheesecloth, a glass jar with a lid (make holes in the lid), and water. When you find monarch caterpillars on your milkweed, cut the stem they are on, and place it through the holes in the jar lid, so that the stem is in the water. Cover the aquarium with the cheesecloth and then the screen. Caterpillars can eat a huge amount for their size, so be prepared to add/replace milkweed stems as needed.

In his email, the reader also explained that donations are needed to enable Kim Smith’s film, “Beauty on the Wing,” to appear on PBS:

“[The film] has been accepted by PBS, but requires a fee for distribution to get it shown. She has a link for donations to reach the amount she needs. It is tentatively scheduled for February 2022. The web-site explains how to donate to get it on PBS. I recommend this highly and thought you might like to keep an eye out for it when hopefully it will appear on PBS. (https://monarchbutterflyfilm.com/)”

Last week, I discovered that monarchs are at risk not just from habitat loss in their breeding and over-wintering grounds, both here and in Mexico. The larvae are vulnerable to predation by stink bugs, both the nymphs and the adults. Sadly, we discovered this just last week in our own garden, with two of four monarch caterpillars killed by stink bugs. More incentive to “adopt” at least some of the monarch caterpillars, to keep them safe from these predators. I’ve done this with black swallowtails, and it’s a fascinating process.

Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to pamelacbaxter@gmail.com, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Share your gardening stories on Facebook at “Chester County Roots.” Pam’s book for children and families, Big Life Lessons from Nature’s Little Secrets, is available on Amazon.


Glimmering sparkly gold in the sunlight, a question often asked is why is the Monarch chrysalis adorned with metallic dots and dashes? The gold dots serve the function of oxygen exchange but that doesn’t answer how and why the dots are gold.

Since time immemorial people have noticed the brilliant golden dots, dashes, and gold leafing of many species of butterfly chrysalides. The word chrysalis originates from the Greek word “chrysos,” which means gold.

There are are several hypotheses. The two that make the most sense are deterrents to predators and camouflage.

For the same reason the iridescent scales of the Blue Morpho Butterfly flash light when the butterfly is in flight, the golden markings of the chrysalis catch light, confusing and deterring predators.

Butterfly pupae are protein-rich easy targets. They are too busy rearranging their insides while undergoing metamorphosis to fend off predators. For the most part, throughout a butterfly’s life cycle, from caterpillar to chrysalis to adult, each species has evolved with specific-to-that-species warning and/or camouflage markings.

The chrysalis of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly is a perfect example. When the butterfly pupates in the spring and summer, the chrysalis has a soft golden green hue, which blends beautifully with the lush green of summer foliage.

When the butterfly pupates late in the summer, the chrysalis turns woody brown, taking on the same hues of bare tree branches.

Golden studs, dashes, and leafing reflect the surrounding area, create flashes of light, look like drops of dew, shafts of light, and is some cases, such as that of the Tigerwing Butterfly, may frighten a predator when it sees its own reflection.

Tigerwing Butterfly (Tithorea harmonia) Photo by Desus Mortus

How the gold is formed is easier to pinpoint. Metallic and iridescent markings in butterflies are created when both pigmented cells (in this case yellow carotenoids) and structural cells are present. You see carotenoids present when trees turn yellow, gold, and orange in autumn. The Monarch caterpillar gets its carotenoids from the plant it eats, milkweed.

The crown of the Monarch pupa is called a diadem. If you look closely at the diadem, it’s a raised structure, a line of tiny hills. The combination of the raised hills and carotenoids present both absorb and reflects the light, creating the appearance of shiny gold.

Please consider making a tax deductible donation, or becoming an underwriter, to bring our Monarch Butterfly documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly to American Public Television. To Learn More go here and to DONATE go hereThank you!