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How to identify a chrysalis or cocoon

Updated February 21, 2017

So, you've found little sacs of something hanging from leaves or branches and wonder if it could be caterpillars' shelters for moths and butterflies, webs or even curled-up dead leaves. You need only to examine them closely if you want to know what they are. Just as there are physical differences between moths and butterflies, there are certain indicators that will help you to identify a butterfly's chrysalis or a moth's cocoon.

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  1. Examine the suspended object visually. On close visual inspection, you should be able to tell if it is just a curled leaf. Moth and butterfly cocoons hang from branches or appear to rest on a leaf, attached to the surface through silk spun by the caterpillar.

  2. Lift the leaf or branch gently to examine the object further. Structures that appear to have a wrapping of a thin silk material are cocoons or chrysalises. The chrysalis of some butterflies, such as the monarch butterfly, appears to be see-through, in which you can sometimes view the wings of the butterfly through the underside of the chrysalis. Moth caterpillars tend to camouflage their cocoons by incorporating parts of the leaves or branches into the structures.

  3. Touch the structure lightly. If it is hard and tough-feeling, it is generally a butterfly chrysalis. If the structure feels soft to the touch, it is likely to be a moth's protective cocoon.

  4. Inspect the area around a cocoon for any other cocoons. Sometimes, caterpillars will create a little colony of cocoons, resting inside a large silk-spun structure in trees. If one of these is close by, the odds of your object being a cocoon are good.

  5. Tip

    Use care when you touch the cocoon or chrysalis to prevent damage to the structure. They are the protective coverings that help in the transformation of the insects.

    The cocoons can remain on the branch or leaf anywhere from a few days to a few months while the insect transforms itself.

    Ask your local garden centre about local butterflies for more information about the particular chrysalis.

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About the Author

After attending the University of Missouri St. Louis, Stephanie Rempe worked as a documentation manager in the finance industry 10 years before turning to her first love, writing, which she's been doing professionally since 2008. She currently divides her time between Missouri and her fiance's hometown in Oregon. In addition to her freelance writing, Rempe is working on a romance novel and short stories.

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