I learned about monarch life-cycles mostly from Mary Lehman Yoder, who every summer had a few caterpillars she tended on her back porch. One memorable Sunday, she brought a jar with a chrysalis to church and the butterfly emerged during the service.
For years I'd look for a caterpillar of my own and didn't find any. Somewhere along the way, I learned to recognize the signs -- a monarch on a blooming milkweed, the tiny ribbed cream-colored egg, the telltale holes in milkweed leaves, the teeny caterpillars in first or second instar (of 5 stages the caterpillar goes through, shedding its skin and getting bigger), the frass (poop) produced by the large 5th instar caterpillar.
A couple of years ago was the "summer of the monarchs," as we found, raised, and released a dozen monarchs. Last year I didn't see even one. This year I have been seeing butterflies or caterpillars every day -- they have been thriving on the milkweed in our backyard. We've tended 5 on our back porch but have been leaving the rest in place. Some day I hope to find a chrysalis in the wild.
I continue to learn from Mary. This post is in honor of Mary and her family, and the life cycle realities they are in the midst of these days.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"