Friday, July 31, 2009

Didn't become a full chrysalis; what happened?

deformed monarch butterfly chrysalis pupa part caterpillar

"I'm raising Monarch caterpillars inside, and the last two times the caterpillars formed a J and went to shed their last skin, the skin did not fully come off, and the chrysalis did not fully emerge, only the very bottom of it, and they both died before the skin fully came off. Only the very tip of the green chrysalis could be seen, with the dead caterpillar was dangling there with most of his skin on."

I assume your caterpillar/pupa looked somewhat like the first photo. Several things can cause this. According to Dr. Urqhart, a silk strand caught around the J'ing caterpillar can cause it. Sometimes it is simply too weak or it may have other problems. This is common. It is heartbreaking, but it happens a lot.

deformed monarch butterfly chrysalis pupa part caterpillar

"Underneath one of them was a little puddle of green fluid, and the other one's abdomen seemed very squishy and liquidy, like there wasn't a chrysalis to come out, only liquid there."

Look at the second photo. The green fluid is blood. Another caterpillar crawled on this one and tore the skin slightly before it pupated. When it was pupating, it pupated at the tear which resulted in a deformed pupa.

It IS squishy. This is normal! When it first pupates, it is basically gel with a cuticle. This gel is already preformed in some ways - you can see the antennae, legs, proboscis, wings, and more. Note the photo with these parts labeled. After an hour, it will have slowly reshaped into the classic Monarch chrysalis shape.

monarch pupa chrysalis cocoon parts antennae legs wings proboscis

"I had touched both of them one time to get them back into the cage because they wandered off, but just by letting them crawl on a piece of paper and putting them in there. What do you think happened?"

It is safe to touch caterpillars if YOU ARE GENTLE. If one has started laying a silk mat, it should be left alone. If one leaves the plant in a rearing container and has not escaped the container, it should be left alone. They leave to molt (and should be left alone) and they leave the plant to pupate (and should be left alone). They can find their way back as long as they are inside the container with the plant.

"I'm very upset and I've been doing everything I can to keep these caterpillars healthy!!! Any suggestions you have would be really appreciated."

First, realize that butterflies have a rough time in nature. Most likely the problem is NOT your fault.

Nature is deadly. Only 1 or 2 out of 100 eggs will become an adult butterfly. Disease is a serious issue in nature. Between predators, parasitoids, disease, windshields, weather, and more ... very few become adult butterflies.

Because of the prevalence of disease in nature, ALWAYS disinfect a rearing container between batches of caterpillars. If your last batch of caterpillars did fine, still disinfect the containers and everything else that you touch or touches caterpillars. It is safest.

Enjoy and please let us know if we can do anything to help you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Proper Environment for Butterflies on a Deck or Enclosure

"Can I some how adopt butterflies and you would be able to give me the proper living environment as well as ingredients that will fill them properly? Deck(from the sides)."

First, remember that their average life as an adult is only two weeks. Don't expect them to live for a long time.

Adult butterflies need several things:

  • Light; if the light is too bright on one side of the screened deck, they will fly to that side and sit, not feeding or flying. Light should be equal from more than one side or that side should have shade added. Without adequate light, they will just sit and roost - doing nothing. If they sit all day, they need more light.

  • Warmth; butterflies are cold blooded and need temperatures in the upper sixties to the eighties to fly. Too hot and they'll simply sit. Too cold and they'll simply sit. Too extremely hot or cold and they may die.

  • Food; flower nectar is excellent. If enough flowers cannot be maintained on the deck, add fruit and/or sugar water or Gatorade. If the butterflies do not eat themselves, it may be necessary to start them eating by handfeeding them.

  • Humidity; dry air kills butterflies. A humidifier, fogger, or little fountain adds moisture to the air.

  • NO pesticides; butterflies are insects and pesticides kill them.

  • Predators; ants, roaches, spiders, and other predators ride in flower pots and on plants and will be delighted with the meal you provide. Monitor carefully for predators.

  • Enjoy!

    Tuesday, July 21, 2009

    Wriggling Butterfly Chrysalids

    "Our Painted Lady caterpillars made chrysalises yesterday. Today one of them was wiggling like crazy for a little more than a minute. Could you tell us why?"

    Many butterfly and moth chrysalises (pupae) wriggle in response to touch or movement. It is assumed that this is a natural instinctive response that discourages predators and parasitoids.

    Some butterfly chrysalises do not have a jointed abdominal segment. Monarch and Queen chrysalises are not jointed and cannot move. Species that are jointed often move.

    Click here to see Painted Lady chrysalises wiggle, hundreds of them! Other butterfly species like Julia, Gulf Fritillary, Tawny Emperor, Hackberry Emperor, American Lady, and especially Red Admiral chrysalises are extremely active when touched by anything. A Red Admiral chrysalis that has been laid on a table will often wiggle for minutes, often working itself off the table and falling to the floor.

    People often think that this wiggling is a sign that that the adult butterfly is about to emerge. This is is an understandable misconception.

    If you are in an area of the world where you can raise Julia butterflies, listen to their chrysalises when they move. They squeak!

    Monday, July 20, 2009

    What Instar is a Monarch Caterpillar In?

    monarch caterpillar larva head capsule remove
    monarch butterfly head capsule"I was looking for information on what monarch "instar" stages are? How you tell what stage they are in etc.?"

    When a caterpillar outgrows its skin, it crawls out of it, called molting. An 'instar' is the time period between molts. Caterpillar age is usually referred to as 'instars' while people age is referred to in 'years'.

    The instar of a caterpillar is determined by measuring the head capsule. The head capsule is on the 'face' of the caterpillar and it never grows. When a caterpillar molts, it removes the old head capsule and has a new larger one in place of it.

    1st instar – 0.6mm; 2nd instar – 0.8mm; 3rd instar – 0.9mm (some sources state 1.5mm); 4th instar – 2.2mm; 5th instar – 3.5mm

    Newsletter Subscription and 100th Subscriber Gift

    butterfly newsletter online>>>Re: every 100th subscriber AND the person who recommends Butterflies! to that subscriber receives a gift from Shady Oak Butterfly Farm.<<<

    "How do you know when a person recommends someone to your newsletter? There is no link in the newsletter for us to recommend someone."

    Each time we email the 100th subscriber to ask who recommended that they subscribe to the newsletter. We then ship a gift to both the subscriber and the person who recommended the newsletter.

    I'll include a link in the next newsletter. It's something I hadn't thought about, I'm sorry. A page about the newsletter with a link to subscribe is located here.

    Sunday, July 19, 2009

    OE in Monarch Caterpillars

    Monarch butterfly pupa chrysalis infected with OE ophryocystis elektroschiiha disease"I live just outside of Orlando and have been a butterfly garden enthusiast for a few years. This year I have collecting cats from my and a relatives butterfly gardens' milkweed plants and raising them in butterfly pavilions. I feed them milkweed from my yard and that I purchase from a local nursery. I have had some issues with OE and need some advise. My wish is to contribute to the Monarch conservation movement and want to make sure I have proper information. Is there any way to tell if a cat I collect has OE? I've read info about testing adult butterflies and of the bleach solution for eggs but little about the cats themselves which is usually when I get them. Any help you could provide would be greatly appreciated."

    There isn’t a way to tell definitely if a cat has OE or not without killing it and checking it through a high powered microscope. Some people report that OE in cats will cause splotching but we found that other things also cause the same type of splotching. We did isolation tests with spotted/splotched larvae. This was during a time of feeding larvae milkweed infected with plant pests like thrips. The Monarchs with spots and splotches emerged without OE. Out of the thousands we raised each week, none had OE.

    (OE is the abbreviation for Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, a protozoa disease that affects Monarch, Queen, and Soldier butterflies and other butterflies in the Danaus family. OE is MUCH easier to say than Ophyrocystis elektroscirrha!)

    It is the cats that contract the disease – the cat has to eat spores to become infected. One cat can’t give it to another cat – the spores are only transferable from adult butterflies to another butterfly or object – as surface contamination. When a cat EATS the spore, it contracts OE. A pupa or adult cannot contract the disease although an adult can become surface contaminated by mating with an infected adult butterfly. Somewhat like touching a door handle after someone with cold pathogens on their hands touch it – the pathogens can contaminate surfaces such as bodies and plant leaves. Spores fall off like pixie dust when infected adult butterflies fly.

    You can tell, sometimes, if a pupa is heavily infected. It does show splotching that I’ve not seen otherwise. Any I’ve had with these splotches (pupae) were OE infected.

    The photo above is OE infected. Notice the splotching?

    The photo below is of pupae that are not infected. Notice the smoother green color near the cremaster area?
    monarch butterfly pupa chrysalis color preparing to emerge as adult butterflies

    Of course, a light infection won’t show so it always pays to check adults to be sure.

    On the encouraging side, it is reported that in the southern tip of Florida, 85% of all Monarchs are reported to be OE infected. If it was as deadly in the wild as we are often led to believe, the population in southern Florida should be extinct by now. BUT it is deadly in nature … we’ve seen milkweed gardens in Florida that were full of dead pupae – from OE. We know it is deadly and in a rearing operation where Monarch butterflies are kept together and bred together, infection can build up if it is not eliminated. That’s why it’s so important for those who raise Monarchs and Queens and mate captive breeding stock to check for OE and to disinfect eggs. We don’t raise them like nature with a 98% death rate BEFORE they become adults – we raise them to have a high survival ratio!

    I imagine you already do this but just in case, remember to always disinfect a pavilion after one set of cats are raised in it. OE is only one disease and is one of the least dangerous dangerous. Some other diseases are far worse than OE and they can be transferred from cat to cat.

    You can wash milkweed with a light bleach solution and rinse thoroughly before putting cats on it. That will help with surface contamination of milkweed leaves – one of the primary sources of infection. The other source is spores on the eggs themselves. When the cat eats its way out of the egg, it eats spores that the adult female Monarch butterfly left on the egg surface when she laid the egg.

    The same goes for Queens too. Queen cats are so cool – one of my very favorite larvae.

    Friday, July 17, 2009

    Orange-barred Sulphur caterpillar

    orange barred sulphur caterpillar larvae worm green on cassia senna plant"After visiting your farm last summer, we came home and planted a cassia tree in our back yard. About 2 weeks ago we noticed some very small catapillars, green, long and slim. We brought them in and now two weeks later they are over two inches long. They have been feeding on cassia leaves all this time. Using the internet and books we have identified them as the larva of the Orange-barred sulphur.
    Do you agree??"

    Absolutely! It makes a huge yellow butterfly with orange spots on the topside of its wings.

    Also using cassia plants are Cloudless Sulphur and Sleepy Orange caterpillars.

    orange barred sulphur large yellow butterfly

    Luna Moth

    adult luna moth green moth with tails and eyes on its wings on the lunesta commercial"I am from Minnesota and look what showed up at one of our bonfires a few weeks ago. I did a search for green moth with eyes on wings and I got you. How about that, I love the web! Can you tell me some things about this moth. I would like to share it with all the people that saw it that night."

    It is a Luna moth and a beauty, isn’t it?

    It never eats as an adult – it has NO mouth parts. It hatches and eats one of several plants. I use Sweet Gum to feed the caterpillars. They can’t hurt you. They make a cocoon and pupate into a pupa inside the cocoon. They then emerge as adults with no mouthparts, pair and then die in about one week.

    They are one of the most recognized moths – used in the Lunesta commercials.

    Although silk moth cocoons are used to make silk thread, Luna moth cocoon silk is too fine for use for that purpose.

    Snout caterpillar on hackberry tree


    american snout butterfly caterpillar eats hackberry leaves

    You have found an American Snout caterpillar. Congratulations!

    It's an unusual butterfly, with long beaklike palpi on either side of its proboscis, creating a snout look.

    Found a Giant Swallowtail caterpillar

    giant swallowtail butterfly caterpillar larvae worm on citrus orange tree
    "Hi I found a giant swallowtail caterpillar and I brought it home with me. I would like to know which would be an appropriate host plant so it could survive and I could see it turn into a butterfly."

    Giant Swallowtail caterpillars are called 'Orange Dogs' because they eat citrus trees. They also eat other plants in the citrus family.
    They will also eat rue. Normally, they won't easily change from other plants to rue so if you find one on a citrus tree, it is best to keep feeding it leaves from the same tree.

    Learn more at Giant Swallowtail Butterfly.


    enemy predator spider eats a sleepy orange butterfly

    If you include its life as a 'child' butterfly and 'teenager' butterfly (caterpillar and chrysalis) it lives from five to eight weeks.

    An adult butterfly lives an average of two weeks in the summer. In cool spring and fall temperatures, they may average a slightly longer life. Adult butterflies in diapause (overwintering as an adult) may live for months. The length of time may vary slightly from species to species. Zebra Longwing adults live for several months.

    Caterpillar on milkweed with extra antennae?

    queen butterfly caterpillar
    "I have found on my milkweed, among "normal" monarch cats, a caterpillar with a slightly different color pattern and an extra set of antennae about mid-back. Please forgive my ignorance, but what is this?"

    You have found a Queen butterfly caterpillar. Queen butterflies are also in the Danaus family, like Monarch butterflies. In the extreme south, Soldier butterflies can also be found.

    Learn more about Queen butterflies!

    Friday, July 10, 2009

    Why hasn't my swallowtail emerged from its chrysalis?

    Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly Chrysalis Pupa Cocoon
    "Why hasn't my swallowtail butterfly emerged from its chrysalis (pupa - cocoon)?

    This question is difficult to answer as it is asked. First, there are a few questions that need to be answered.
    1. What species of butterfly?
    2. How long has it been since it pupated?
    3. Where has it been held since it pupated? (Indoors, garage, etc)
    4. What type of humidity is near the chrysalis? (living plant, spraying it with water, etc)
    5. The chrysalis is in how many hours of light?
    6. Does the segmented abdomen move it you apply GENTLE pressure to the side of the abdomen?
    7. If so, does the abdomen move back after you apply pressure?
    8. Does the chrysalis feel like it weighs normal or is it super light?
    9. Is there a tiny hole in the chrysalis? Have you seen small 'gnats' near it?

    So ... why these questions? Let's take them one by one.

    1. Generally, it helps us understand more about the butterfly if we know which species we are discussing.

    2. If it pupated last week, it could simply be taking a while. Swallowtails are not known for their emergence to be as predictable as other species of butterflies. If it has been a month or more, we need to look further into the situation.

    3. If it has been in an air conditioned or heated building or in an area without humidity, it may have dehydrated. If it is in direct sun or a in a bright window, it may become LITERALLY cooked due to the heat from direct sun, especially through glass. (See next answer.)

    4. Assuming it is where it could become dehydrated, we need to know if a source of humidity is near the chrysalis. If you has a living plant with the chrysalis, the plant will probably add the needed humidity to the air. If you are spraying it with water two times a day, it should not dehydrate. If a wet sponge or other source of evaporating water is with the chrysalis, it should not be dehydrated.

    5. If a chrysalis is in less than 14 hours of light, it may still be in diapause. Swallowtail butterflies spend the winter as a chrysalis and can stay a chrysalis for 9 months and more if the day length where the chrysalis is located isn't 14 hours or more.

    DO NOT put it in direct sun. It should be in bright light but NEVER direct sun. It can be kept on a table NEAR a window IF the table receives 14 hours or more light. Artificial light is adequate. Our farm's swallowtail pupae are never placed in sunlight but are kept in a lab with ONLY fluorescent lighting. NOTE: diapause is determined by the length of daylight or night, NOT by temperature.

    6. A dead swallowtail chrysalis' abdomen will be frozen in place and cannot be moved when GENTLE pressure is applied at the jointed part of the chrysalis. If it moves, the tissue between the segments should be light in color. (See #9)

    7. If it does move, it should move back to it's normal position after pressure is released. (See #9)

    8. If the chrysalis is dehydrated, it will feel as light as a feather or cotton ball. The butterfly inside will be totally dehydrated.

    9. Chalcid wasps are parasitoids. They lay eggs inside a soft chrysalis and eat the chrysalis from the inside out. If a chrysalis is infected with chalcid wasps that have not yet emerged, the tissue between the abdominal segments will lose the normal light color and will become dark.

    Mature chalcid wasps eat a tiny hole in the chrysalis and emerge. A tiny hole in a chrysalis is a sign that the maturing butterfly inside was food for maturing chalcid wasps and they have emerged.

    If a chrysalis is infected with chalcid wasps, it is NOT a butterfly chrysalis any longer. It is a shell for chalcid wasp larvae or pupae.

    Side note: A butterfly does not make a cocoon. Some moths make cocoons. Learn more about cocoons here.

    If the above doesn't help with your question about your chrysalis, please feel free to write to with your questions about your chrysalis or any other butterfly question.