Monarch Butterflies – Rebirth, Renewal, Change


Monarch Butterfly

Kenneth Dwain Harrelson

My third novel takes place in Pacific Grove, California, otherwise known as “Butterfly Town U.S.A.”  And, you guessed it, monarch butterflies weave their way into the  theme of the story as symbols of rebirth, renewal, and change.


Resistance is futile.  Miracles happen when we go with the flow.

Look at the caterpillar:

  • A single female monarch lays up to four hundred eggs.
  • The eggs are tough enough to withstand pelting rain and scouring winds.
  • The larva that hatches is barely visible to the eye.
  • The grayish white larva munches day and night on the only food monarch caterpillars eat – poisonous milkweed.
  • The poisons that accumulate in the caterpillar’s body and later the butterfly provide defense against predators.
  • During three days of nonstop eating, the caterpillar fastens itself to a leaf and then sheds its skin (molts) five times over the next two weeks, adding yellow and black stripes to its body.
  • After two weeks of eating, the caterpillar is 2,700 times its original weight (if a six-pound baby grew that fast, it would weigh eights tons in twelve days).
  • The caterpillar stops eating, attaches itself to a twig, and prepares for a final molt.
  • The skin splits off and the bands of yellow and black dissolve into a chrysalis.
  • The caterpillar melts away into a solution of transforming cells and tissues.
  • METAMORPHOSIS.  MYSTERY. The caterpillar turns into a butterfly.
  • The new monarch hatches and pumps fluid from its body into its wings.
  • Within an hour, it flies away.
  • The butterfly begins its migration south to a place it has never been to thousands of miles away.

Talk about impermanence.  Talk about mystery.  From egg (four days) to caterpillar (two weeks) to chrysalis (ten days) to adult (two to six weeks) to death, a total life cycle of less than ten weeks.

Can you imagine the result if the caterpillar were resistant to change?

The protagonist of my four novels learns the hard way that she must die to her old self to give birth to the new, and she isn’t happy about it.  But so it is.  Life’s lessons don’t come easily. By the end of her journey, she learns to fly – though on wobbly wings.

The transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly is a reminder that life is full of mystery and that we must be forever open to its messages.   As one of my characters says midway through my third novel, “In parts of Mexico, people believe that the spirits of departed loved ones come on the wings of monarch butterflies and the special places they gather are called sacred circles.”

Sacred circles. Umm. The subject of another post. Stay tuned.

For more about monarch butterflies:

When the Heart Waits, Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions:  Sue Monk Kidd uses a caterpillar spinning a cocoon and transitioning into a butterfly as a symbol for her own spiritual journey.

Flight of the Butterflies:  a video that peeks into one of life’s mysteries.

Dancing in the Shadows of the Dead: Suspenseful (visionary) novel that takes place in Pacific Grove – and, of course, includes scenes with monarch butterflies.