Monday, December 21, 2009

Diseases, Defects, and Injuries of Butterflies

In nature, butterflies with defects soon become part of the food chain. When raising caterpillars and butterflies inside an enclosed area, injuries and disease can be observed first hand.  Some of the problems a caterpillar may encounter are bacterial diseases, defects during development, or falling before the butterflies wings are completely dry. Watching a butterfly struggle as it tries to overcome its impairment is saddening. I have also learned that in the wild the survival rate of an egg making it to a butterfly is less than 10%! By rearing caterpillars in captivity this can be reversed so that up to 90% can survive to be butterflies. 

Bacterial Infections

Dented chrysalis Active caterpillars crawled over my soft chrysalises causing punctures.

Raising caterpillars in captivity has many benefits, but it has disadvantages as well.  I have had as many as forty caterpillars in one container. The result was that the active caterpillars began to crawl over the soft chrysalises before they hardened resulting in damage. Some chrysalises became disfigured or got punctured allowing unwanted bacteria to enter. Also, the abundance of waste was difficult to manage. One way to overcome this problem is to gently remove the caterpillars before they make a chrysalis. The finding of this experiment was that the maximum of 20 caterpillars per my 12” x 8” container is the most effective way to prevent overcrowding problems.

White Peacock bacteria

For the sake of my readers and completion of my research on defects, I decided to open one of the punctured chrysalis effected by overcrowding. With the help of tweezers, I gently removed the thin chrysalis covering. My discovery was that bacteria had entered and began to eat away at the once developing butterfly. The butterfly was dark brown, and mushy. Its antennae, eyes, proboscis, wings, and abdomen were packed neatly inside. It proboscis was still two separate pieces instead of one long tube. Looking inside was unpleasant, but I learned what the effect is of bacteria attacking a chrysalis.

Monarch bacteria 

Finding bacterial infections in chrysalises is an unpleasant subject, but it is part of raising butterflies. The Monarch above did not have a puncture in the chrysalis. The bacteria must of been acquired as a caterpillar. Rain and damp weather can have this effect and result in a black mushy chrysalis. Infected chrysalises should be removed and disposed of properly. I put mine in a sealed container and put it inside the freezer before getting rid of it.

Wing Damage of Fallen Butterflies

IMG_1733 

Butterflies have soft wings when they first emerge. Loosing their grip as they are hanging to dry can be fatal. They quickly are snatched by a lizard, bird, or other creatures. Raising butterflies in an enclosed area gives you more control. If the fallen butterfly has minimal damage, it can be safely transferred to an object to finish drying. Most of the time the butterfly is found too late. This Gulf Fritillary above fell resulting in damaged wings.

ed the butterfly

This is my first deformed Monarch butterfly we named “Ed”. It emerged April 16, 2009 when my journey with butterflies was just beginning. In my journal, I found the pages where I logged its life.  I fed it banana, pineapple, and honey water. “Ed” lived one week because I fed and cared for him. “Ed” was unable to fly because of its injury. Even though a butterfly is damaged, my experiment shows that a damaged butterfly can survive at least a week in captivity.

Defects During Development

antannae and proboscis deformed

Some deformities are genetic. They take place inside the chrysalis during it’s development. This Gulf Fritillary butterfly emerged with one deformed antennae and a short split proboscis.

IMG_2085

 

This Polydamas Swallowtail’s wings did not develop correctly. Its hindwings and forewings are too small for flight.  It will not survive.

deformity for blog

Problems can arise as the caterpillar is going through its last molt to become a chrysalis. This Gulf Fritillary caterpillar head capsule did not shed off during the molting process. It died at this stage.

These are just some of the defects I have observed while raising butterflies.

My Costa Rica tour is in 22 days.

19 comments:

  1. You're post is a fascinating look at the fragility of butterflies. In the fall of this year I had a monarch with a damaged wing living in the garden. It was sad to see it struggling to fly. It lived more than a week feeding on nasturtium blossoms before a hard frost took its life.

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  2. Elizabeth,
    That was great info. Most times it is easy to rear a few monarchs but when folks get too many in an enclosed container things can go very bad. Here are a few links I refer to for more information like you offer. http://www.butterflyfunfacts.com/butterflydisease.php

    http://www.butterflyfunfacts.com/oe.php

    Thanks

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  3. 10/23/10
    I have found a Monarch Butterfly on the bottom of my swimming pool. My husband said it has been there since Monday. I said please take it out so I can dry it n frame it, so I dried it. So I thought on Saturday it would be ready for framing, but to my surprise it was moved from the napkin I had placed it on. When I went to pick it up it started to move it's wings. We were shocked needless to say, so now it's in a plastic tupperware with some leafs from my butterfly bush n flowers so it can eat n heal. This will be my second butterfly that I have rescued.. No picture frame for this Butterfly....Audrey Silva

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  4. That is great that the Monarch is recovering! If Monarchs are knocked under water, they can rise back up to the surface and then fly away. This is just another amazing feature God has provided for the Monarch. There is more information about Monarchs flying out of water at the Shady Oaks Butterfly Farm website. http://www.butterflyfunfacts.com/monarchunderwater.php

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  5. well, i found a caterpillar, and i put him in a plastic container of dirt, and leaves. but he continued burying himself. this morning when i was looking for him, he was in a chrysalis. i did not know it at the time, and accidentally poked a hole in the chrysalis. luckily though, i did not harm the caterpillar inside. will this affect the growth and development of the caterpillar?

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  6. Depends upon the depth of the whole and its location. Thanks for asking!

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  7. well, i think he is fine. that afternoon, i saw that the hole has sealed up! he is a dingy cutworm moth caterpillar. i looked him up. ;)

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  8. ooh, once i found a butterfly with damaged wings. :( but luckily, i care for it too, and it lived 10 days! :)

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  9. I had a cutworm caterpillar as well that accidentally got punctured. It "bled" a bit on a napkin but I saved in a cup. The cut is on top near the head and its been 48 hours now since it happened and the caterpillar is still alive and wiggles when disturbed. I am hoping it is still going to survive. Can anyone tell me the likely hood and what is the best conditions I can put it in to better his chances?

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  10. Cutworms are usually a gardeners worst enemy. They have a habit of eating vegetables. They love to eat tomato plants. The survival depends on how bad the wound is.

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  11. I raise monarchs every year and when i have one that its wings didnt dry properly i hand feed it with sugar water, i have one now that was released but returned and couldnt fly, she is over 4 weeks old and is a happy butterfly. So far this season i have released over 200 healthy monarchs :)

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    1. Congratulations on releasing 200 healthy Monarchs! I take cuttings from my own milkweeds and start new plants to increase my Monarch population.

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  12. How often should I feed my deformed Monarch who has damaged wings, only 3 working legs, no antenna, and a damaged proboscis? An accident during the chrysalis phase created these tragic deformities.

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    1. When feeding my Monarch "Ed", I fed him fresh food every morning. This could be a small piece of pineapple, watermelon, banana, or honey water. I had to "train" Ed how to feed by gentling taking its proboscis and placing it on the fruit. The butterfly may be unable to feed though if the proboscis is damaged.

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  13. I prematurely transferred a newly formed monarch chrysalis from the caterpillar container to my "chrysalis tree" and it leaked some liquid when it inadvertently touched a hard surface as I was transferring it. It's been about 10 hours now and the chrysalis is still mushy. Did this chrysalis fail to form properly or could I have damaged it? It is still bright green and has the right shape, but just mushy. I have never had one take that long to harden. Can this little one survive?

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    1. If it is mushy it is most likely dead. It is hard when those things happen, but I hope you will be encouraged to keeping raising Monarchs. For the many that survive through raising in captivity it is worth it though some do not make it.

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  14. This was great info and congrats to you on taking care of Ed. I am currently caring for a deformed butterfly and feeding him banana and sugar water everyday. 3 days strong thus far.

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  15. I just found a female yellow butterfly it has several broken appendages including legs and the left antennae. How do I help this creature?

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    1. Keep it in an enclosed area and feed it watermelon, old bananas, or sweet juices. It will die out in the wild.

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