Live Monarch Foundation advanced care Q&A

Advanced Caterpilar and Butterfly Care Information

Our answers to your important questions.

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As a Foundation with our mission to keep our skies filled with Nature's color we are very sympathetic to all the email we get asking for help with your home gardens and your class projects. Butterflies are a joy! however their predators and parasites are a real pain and require constant vigilance. Please use the following information to help keep your caterpillars safe and your butterflies flying!

My Butterflies are dying!!! While there are many possible reasons, these are the most common problems and solutions...a little effort on your part will keep these miracles alive and help them thrive. Please keep in mind that in Nature only 2-3% reach adulthood so any assistance you can give will make a big difference these are Naturally occurring problems and as such require constant vigilance. Please take the time to read through our Free Adopt a Monarch program, it will cover the information you will need to eliminate most of the basic problems you will encounter. Everyone who raises Butterflies will eventually have a suituation where disease or predation will harm your butterflies this information will save you lots of upset and hopefully save many of your caterpillars too.

Eggs turned black but no caterpillars came out. You may have a paracitic wasp, it is tiny... looking like a winged ant with pointed abdomen. You must protect new laid eggs from this pest, the "caterpillar keeper" a mesh sock works quite well and will protect from other predators as well. You can tell if your eggs were paracitized if they turned black within two days and look dirty inside or if they have hairs or holes in them, use a magnifying glass or a microscope. One problem egg can release a dozen more wasps which continue to kill every egg they find...and they find them all. If you collect from the wild please inspect for this pest. Note: this wasp is used by farmers to keep their plants caterpillar free. Wasps will wipe out any egg it find regardless of type. Wasps are attracted to light and are slow enough to let you easily catch with your hand and remove it to a more suitable location... wasp heaven. They will not hurt you, just squish them with your fingers.

Caterpillars did not hatch from eggs. There are two reasons that this happened one is that they were not fertile eggs, which means that the female could not find a suitable mate <sometimes common if genetically diverse males are not present> and these eggs may be carriers of Nosema which is a paracite carried inside the Female Monarch. There is no cure for Nosema but our sanitizer can help to supress some of the more harmful effects. Nosema is a complicated problem and elimination from your colony should be a goal. We remove any suspect butterflies from our breeding colonies and raise them seperately. It is always best to seperate any suspect caterpillars and butterflies to ensure that you are not cross contaminating other healthy butterflies.

Small caterpillars disappeared. They have most likely become food for any number of predators, other larger wasps, ants, spiders, assasin bugs, misc bugs. The little ones are tasty treats for a great number of hungry bugs. You must protect new babies or they may be abducted. DO NOT WAIT TILL IT IS TOO LATE! The "caterpillar castle" a mesh enclosure works quite well and will protect from other suituations as well. I can not stress enough about being prepared for these bandits like ants who can travel across long distances and silently eat hundreds of just emerged caterpillars. This has happened to us several times...all it takes is one mistake or one path to the little cats. We now use a water moat to stop them from reaching the helpless babies. Larger caterpillars will wander off from their food plant to hide and inspect their area so a mesh enclosure of some kind is a good idea. If there is a hole anywhere they or their predators will find it, YES, even inside your home.

Caterpillar will not eat. Wait one day and see what happens, sometimes the caterpillar will rest for up to a day before it molts one of 5 times <sheds its skin to grow larger>. This lack of appetite can be one or more of several possible problems...Is your plant pesticide free? if not they wont eat. Are you using an artificial diet? if raising monarchs they are pretty picky and count on losing at least 50% of your caterpillars. We suggest fresh milkweed leaves only....please raise plenty! Did you change plant types? some milkweed is more toxic than others and will cause problems. Old milkweed plants may have higher toxins as well. Use fresh cuttings! wilted or bug infested cuttings may kill your caterpillars. If you would not pick it at a salad bar dont force them to. All caterpillars are eating machines as long as they are clean, calm and have fresh air and stable temps all should be AOK. Seperate any caterpillars that look or act differently.

Caterpillars melted into a black foul smelling goo. Well, you have a bacteria problem! either you are not sanitizing and removing frasse <poop> from your supplies and containers or your air supply is not adequate. Caterpillars want to be clean and dry and away from their frasse. One sick caterpillar will walk around and infect all the others. Please plan ahead and make sure your caterpillars are living in the lap of luxury not a cess pool. Sanitizing everything and good air flow will prevent this problem unless you are overcrowding. Remember "Lap of luxury" that is your goal. High humidity and low air flow will create mold and fungus within hours. Our sanitizer will help if used as a preventative measure and will greatly reduce this problem.

Pupae did not form correctly You most likely have an OE outbreak...it is a protozoa that is only killed by freezing or bleaching. It leaves its egg cases everywhere and attaches itself to the Monarch abdomen during pupation where it continues to spread as it contacts other butterflies and their plant hosts. its eggs are ingested by the caterpillars and continues its destructive cycle. You must bleach all your supplies and plants and eggs. Infected cats must be removed from your sanitized stock. Use a 10% bleach water solution to sanitize everything then soak in clean water for several minutes to remove bleach salts. You must even dip the eggs for several seconds then soak in clean water. Once this problem is visible it is very far advanced and requires a thorough effort to eliminate the problem. We consider it butterfly AIDS. It is readily visible under a microscope just use a piece of clear tape pressed against the bottom of the abdomen to gather a specimin. Next to the scales which cover a butterfly body the OE looks like a small brown football much smaller than the scale.

Butterfly did not emerge On occassion a caterpillar will be sick but still makes a chrysalis. All monarchs hatch out, called eclosing, within 8-14 days unless your temps are cold <below 70 F>. If you are waiting more than 14 days get worried. Monarchs always emerge within a day after turning black <you should be able to see the colored wings through the clear pupae case>. Any other colors are not good....brow, tan, splotched all are signs of problems. If you see hairs or brown /tan milky coloration within, flush the pupae as it has either bigger wasps within it or a nasty stinky bacteria. Use care when disposing of the pupae as they will readily break open and are really nasty to look at or smell. Do not keep old pupae hanging around as if they have wasps in it say goodbye to many more if you missed this warning. The newly emerged tachnid wasp lays eggs on pupating caterpillars and has no remorse. Send it to wasp heaven.

Butterfly emerged with crumpled wings You most likely have an OE outbreak read above paragraph. Or your pupae was very stressed during the pupation process. While we ship many pupae without concern there are some areas with poor mail service. We do our best to ensure the viability of all our offerings and will work with you to reach our common goal of helping restore butterfly habitat.

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