Monthly Archives: May 2015

Ask Dr. Universe – What Happens in a Chrysalis?

Dear Dr. Universe, I saw a caterpillar and a butterfly in the neighbor’s yard. So my question is, what exactly happens inside the little sack they’re in while they transform into a butterfly and HOW exactly do they do it? -Eston

Dear Eston,

Springtime sets the stage for one of the greatest transformations in the natural world.

“It’s the construction of a butterfly or moth from caterpillar soup,” said my friend David James, an entomologist at Washington State University. James studies the science behind metamorphosis, or how a creature transforms.

Before becoming butterflies, caterpillars enter the pupa stage, where they build that little sack, or chrysalis. The chrysalis protects the caterpillar as it begins to turn itself into a liquid, soupy substance.

Caterpillars are born with everything they need to become butterflies. Some of these parts develop over time and are visible, like wing buds. The others can’t be seen. But the information for these parts is stored in the caterpillar’s cells, waiting to be unlocked. The caterpillar is also born with the ability to make a substance called an enzyme. The enzyme is a key to unlocking the butterfly from the chrysalis.

During the first couple days of living in the chrysalis, the caterpillar’s enzymes will eat the caterpillar itself. Bit-by-bit, they unlock the information from the caterpillar’s cells. The new butterfly’s organs, wings, antennae, and legs form inside the chrysalis.

With new technology, scientists can peer into the chrysalis. They can see that the pupa is breathing through small tubes and actually watch the different parts start to grow.

It all happens very quickly, sometimes in just a week, James said. A few days before the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, its parts finish forming. Then, the chrysalis turns a very a dark color. About 24 hours before the butterfly comes out of the chrysalis, colors and patterns start to develop on the wing cases that cover the forming wings.

“The butterfly begins pushing with its feet against the shell covering its legs, antennae and proboscis,” James said. The proboscis is the long coiled mouth-trunk it will use to drink nectar.

Butterflies come out very soft, so their wings are pretty droopy. Blood goes out their body and starts circulating up through their wing veins. This helps their wings stand up.

“After another hour or so the wings are dry and the butterfly or moth can take its maiden flight,” James said.

While scientists are discovering more about what goes on inside the chrysalis and how it happens, they are still eager to discover exactly why it happens at all.

James suspects it has to do with how they evolved. Caterpillars and butterflies eat different parts of plants. Caterpillars like leaves and butterflies like to drink nectar. Since they don’t have to compete for the same food, it makes it easier to survive. Metamorphosis also helps the insect make new colonies and reproduce, James adds.

While it’s possible to do this when inching around, species can go faster and further when they spread their wings and fly.


Dr. Universe

Got a question? Ask Dr. Universe. You can send her an e-mail or visit her website at

Vintage Garden and Car Show July 11 in Downtown Muskegon

Muskegon, MI—Muskegon’s second annual Heritage Village Neighborhood Garden and Car Show will take place Saturday, July 11, 2015. The event will run from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Clay Avenue, between Fourth and Seventh Streets in downtown Muskegon, Michigan.

The purpose of the Garden and Car Show is to raise funds to re-light the vintage street lights in Heritage Village neighborhood and to raise awareness of this unique and historic area. The Village encompasses an area between Second and Ninth Streets, bordered by Muskegon and Clay Avenues. As part of an earlier restoration of the neighborhood, twenty-eight ornamental street lamps were installed with funding from the Muskegon Heritage Association in the mid-1970s. With support from the City of Muskegon, the lights were an integral part of the village street lighting for decades. With funding no longer available, the lights have been dark for the past three years. Sponsors of the Garden and Car Show hope to “light up Heritage Village” with the proceeds from the Garden and Car Show event.

Features of the Heritage Village Neighborhood Garden and Car Show

  • A display of vintage cars and other vehicles, including campers
  • Private and public garden tours
  • Musical entertainment in the gardens
  • Food and non-alcoholic beverage tents will offer sandwiches, popcorn, ice cream, water, and soft drinks
  • Life-size human foosball tournament
  • Discounted tours of the Hackley House at the Lakeshore Museum Center’s Hackley Hume historic site.
  • Super Saturday free family fun activities at the Muskegon Museum of Art
  • Downtown Muskegon merchandise coupon book sale

Event tickets can be purchased at the gate for $10 per person or $20 per family. Tickets include admittance to all the garden tours and other activities, Hackley House tour discount, and a free bag of popcorn.

For more information, visit To ask about sponsorship opportunities, e-mail For car show registration information, e-mail

Michigan Author Wins Top Prize

3d-cover-06---awardWriter’s Digest, one of the nation’s prestigious national literary organizations, has awarded its 2015 Grand Prize to a first-time fiction author, Steve LeBel of Muskegon, MI.

LeBel received the honor for his novel, a humorous fantasy and science fiction work entitled The Universe Builders: Bernie and the Putty.

The book, which LeBel began in 2012 and published last year through Argon Press, not only received the Writer’s Digest grand prize, but took the top honor for the year in the young adult category.

The Universe Builders is a whimsical tale of Bernie, a fresh graduate of God School, who has landed a probationary job in which he must create his first universe.

The young god has talent, intelligence and an enemy who threatens his future by secretively sabotaging Bernie’s work at every opportunity. LeBel says the plot focuses on the struggle between good and evil with many twists and built-in smiles and chuckles.

The grand prize, which includes a $3,000 award and an interview in the May edition of Writer’s Digest magazine, comes as shock since it is his first work of fiction.

Speaking with readers at several book-signings events in West Michigan, LeBel said he knew readers enjoyed the book. “But this award exceeded my fondest hopes,” he said. “We’re thrilled with the reception the book has received. Wonderful reviews have been coming in ever since it was published. Everyone tells me I need to write more stories about the universe builders.”

The Universe Builders appeared in ebook and print form last year, attaining best-seller status on Amazon and ranks as one of Amazon’s top-rated books in both the fantasy and science fiction genres.

LeBel holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology and counseling from Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. He began his career counseling youngsters who were sabotaging their own lives with drugs. He went on to spend 17 years as president of a psychiatric hospital. He retired from that occupation to found an internet company which he sold after 11 years, beginning a second retirement.

That was seven years ago. LeBel and his wife, Marge, now live in Muskegon with their two cats. He spends his time writing, petting cats, grousing at the stock market, and trying to make sure the 44 years he has invested in his marriage continues.