Monarch Butterfly Metamorphosis

From California to Manitoba, I have photographed monarch butterflies in their caterpillar and adult butterfly forms over the years. I had yet to photograph a Danaus plexippus chrysalis, and was hopeful that this year I’d get the chance to do some macro nature photography of a chrysalis.

Luckily, 2023 turned out to be a banner year for butterflies in the garden. The milkweed was covered in voracious caterpillars as adult butterflies danced through the flower beds.

Finding a chrysalis can be difficult, as their jewel-like and gold-flecked forms disappear into the foliage, tucked under branches or overhanging ledges. I was lucky to spot a monarch chrysalis on an old window screen, providing an opportunity to get extra close with a macro lens.

It was very difficult to balance the focus across the textural details I wanted to photograph. The green structural “plates” of the chrysalis, raindrops, and iridescent gold spots all felt important to include in the composition. This image took several attempts, crouched in a shaded corner of the garden to take advantage of the soft, indirect light.

A couple weeks later, I noticed monarch butterflies appearing several times a day on the arching stems of the milkweed and sedum. These newly hatched adults hung upside down, turning gently in the warm breeze as their wings unfurled. Their colourful wing scales, sensory body hairs, antennae and proboscis all appear in delicate detail.

To view these images in larger detail, check out my full gallery of monarch butterfly photography. Prints available upon request.