Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis: What Does It Look Like?

Written by Heather Ross
Updated: September 18, 2022
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Key Points:

  • Chrysalis, the pupa stage of a monarch butterfly’s life cycle, begins during summertime. The caterpillar spins a silk matt before shedding its skin and beginning the process.
  • Depending on the stage, the pupa will be different colors. At first, it will be a bright green. Just before emergence, the butterfly’s wing pigmentation shows through.
  • The process of chrysalis is lengthy because the caterpillar eats nutrients from its own body. It can 14- 21 days.

The monarch butterfly is a beautiful and colorful creature, but it takes a while to reach that part of its adult life. Understanding a few facts about the process lets you observe it in nature with ease, though some people raise monarch butterflies of their own. Read on to learn a few facts about how to identify the monarch butterfly chrysalis, where it can be found, and what goes on inside before the butterfly emerges.


The chrysalis is the pupa stage of the monarch butterfly’s life cycle. The larvae, known as a caterpillar, use the time before they pupate to spin a silk matt. They use their prolegs to hang from it, shedding their skin immediately before for the last time. Proper identification of the chrysalis at the different stages of its life cycle helps you to see how the pupa is progressing.

You’re more likely to see this part of the butterfly’s life cycle during the summertime, as they require warmer conditions to pupate. The easiest identification method of the monarch butterflies chrysalis is to understand the facts about different colors and changes that it goes through while the caterpillar is becoming the adult monarch butterfly it is meant to be.

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How It Looks

A chrysalis goes through multiple changes during the brief time that a monarch butterfly is inside. Initially, the pupa is bright green, slowly covering up the rings of green, yellow, and black of the caterpillar’s body. Before the butterfly emerges, you’re able to see the orange, black, and white colors on their wings through the pupa covering. The chrysalis has not become transparent suddenly, though some people believe it does. Instead, the colors of the butterfly’s wings have only just developed the pigment, which is why it is suddenly able to be seen.

The monarch butterfly chrysalis can likely be seen during the summer because of the warm temperatures needed to pupate.


Where They Are Found

If you’re looking for monarch eggs, look along with milkweed. Currently, there is no other plant that monarchs will lay their eggs on, but they may be hard to spot. If you find plenty of milkweed with seemingly no eggs, look on the underside of the leaves. The eggs may also appear on the stems and flower buds.

Always be careful when handling milkweed because the monarch’s eggs are very delicate. Do not shake the plant. If you aren’t sure if a monarch has been on the plant, check for chewed spots or insect droppings.

Stages of Growth Timeline

Every part of the growth timeline of a monarch butterfly is a sensitive time in their chrysalis. Before they ever enter the chrysalis, the caterpillar has to spin their silk mat, giving them a place to hang from. Once they have shed their skin, they can start to form the chrysalis.

The entire process is rather lengthy. The caterpillar needs nutrients to process, so it digests its own body, launching an attack with the very same compounds that were used to digest food in its larvae state. All tissues do not survive this process, but some of them go into the new body of the monarch butterfly. Different disks through the body become the wings, antennae, legs, etc.

As the digestion commences, this process takes about three to four days of the timeline. The chrysalis is filled with fluid, and the cells are broken down so substantially that they can end up being anything once the butterfly is formed. Since the process involves a lot of energy, the chrysalis’ weight will be reduced by about 50% by the end of the process. All of the waste products accumulate within it.

Towards the end of the process, the wings of the butterfly can be seen from the outside of the chrysalis. Only after this stage is the butterfly able to emerge and fly away. Overall, the chrysalis stage can last up to 21 days.

OE is a parasitic condition monarch butterflies can have if they fall out of the chrysalis.


Potential Issues While Inside

Though the life cycle of the monarch butterfly can easily go on without any supervision, they need enough room to thrive. A butterfly requires enough space to hang upside down from the moment they emerge, which is even more important while they are still in the chrysalis. If they fall down while inside, they need to be put back up to prevent the wings from being deformed as they grow.

If the butterfly manages to completely fall out of its chrysalis, there is a chance that it is suffering from OE parasites. This type of infection could spread to other insects, so it should be euthanized. These parasites can also prevent the butterfly from emerging. The chrysalis should not be transparent for more than 72 hours; otherwise, it is an indication that the butterfly is sick or deceased.

Signs of Emergence

While it may take up to 14 days to finally emerge, one of the final stages is easy to identify. The chrysalis starts to become transparent, and you’ll be able to see the butterfly through the surface. The transparency is an indication that you’re less than 24 hours from seeing the beautiful insect come out.

The vibrant orange color becomes visible through the pupa covering. You will see the intricate white and black designs on the wings. The pigmentation and scales develop during the last stage. Once you see the colors, you know it is only a matter of days.

The pleats of the chrysalis will start to expand to make room for the butterfly to come out. The separation takes time, so you might be waiting up to an hour to emerge. If you have been raising your butterflies in a dark or cold room, it could take days before they come out. When the butterfly emerges, the wings will take several hours before they are the majestic and colorful display that you might be familiar with.

Up Next…

Now that you’re a monarch chrysalis expert, peruse these links to learn more facts about this gorgeous creature.

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

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About the Author

Heather Ross is a secondary English teacher and mother of 2 humans, 2 tuxedo cats, and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading papers, she enjoys reading and writing about all the animals!

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