Posted in Conservation, Creatures, Oh noes!

Guardianship update: 23rd August 2018 #1

Last Saturday was a sad day for us. One unexpected development with a malformed chrysalis led to mistakes that could have caused the loss of up to all six chrysalises we had at the time if I had done things in a different order and/or way.

I was at a loss as to what to do when I saw this.
This is a malformed chrysalis which can happen for a number of reasons. Depending on the cause, they can still develop into a healthy butterfly.

This image was the sight that greeted me when I awoke and checked the keeper, and my brain hurled into panic mode.  What followed was a series of frustrations, second guesses and regrets.

That day, I was very reactive, and hurried to both minimize possible damage to all our monarchs as well as remedy what I could.  That hurry may have prevented two possible problems, but caused others.

Unfortunately, my lack of calm and experience led to further problems I then needed to solve.  All was not lost, however, though it certainly felt like it was at the time.

Now that I know a lot more then I knew that day, I want to share what I learned, as well as what I could/should have done better to prevent the overall waterfall of “oh noes!”  I’m going to break this report into four parts:

  • the initial problem (this post),
  • why my rush to amend what I could might have been/was too hasty (#2).
  • the related problem that happened as a result of my haste (#3),
  • and the longer term results of that day and what I plan to change moving forward (#4).

When I saw this, logic went out the window in my still half asleep mind as I immediately assumed this must be disease or parasite related, and I had to get it out of the tank ASAP.  Despite this gut reaction, some part of my brain said to research this first, so I ran to my computer and started searching for results to “malformed chrysalis”.

You might be wondering why I didn’t immediately pick up the phone to call my local monarch expert even though she’s made it clear that is ok to do.  I didn’t for reasons that now makes me cringe: I didn’t want to be a bother, I know she’s mentor to many people and I’ve written to her a few times about things I later realized I could have learned on my own had I bothered to look them up, and I was certain I could figure it out from the web.  So I started an e-mail instead, thinking at least she could answer at her leisure.  There was a small part of my brain that kept thinking, “there’s probably nothing I can really do anyhoo.”  In my haste of switching between research and my e-mail to her, I forgot to send it out before I left my office and started trying a plan of action.  I realized this after all hell broke lose and I was going to ask her my next question about the problems that had developed.

I regret not being more level headed.  I feel like a dolt, actually, each time I think back on this.  Would have, could have, should have, but no longer can fix my mistakes made back then.  My embarrassment over losing my head is part of why I didn’t write about this at the time.  I desperately wanted to have something positive to report when I admitted to my mistakes, which is why I waited to write another report as I did when one of the “could have died monarchs” didn’t.  I’m not proud of the fact that I waited to reveal my mistakes and failed to share information sooner so others could learn from my mishaps.

I am admitting everything now in the hopes that others will learn from me, and they won’t make the same missteps.  I hope that I myself have both learned to do better in the future, and so will not repeat the avoidable mistakes I made that day due to panic that resulted in flawed decision making.  Having said that…let’s get to the information sharing now.

My initial findings were that this was likely due to a tachnid fly parasite, meaning a tachnid fly had laid its eggs in the original monarch egg, and its young developed there and in the larvae (caterpillar) which stressed and weakened it, causing the malformation. The link goes to one site that discusses this in depth.   One thing I want to point out about tachnid flies is they do not specifically target only monarchs.  They parasitize many bugs and caterpillars, and the bulk of them are pests to most gardeners.  So you don’t want to eliminate them because they do more good than harm overall.  This one of those tricky Nature’s Balance issues.

OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) was another common possible parasite, but due to the lack of typical coloration of that, much less likely. (You can see a lot of helpful images following that link.)  Either way, I read that it would be wisest to get it out of the keeper to either prevent further spread of OE or at least get it out before the parasites hatched.  Quarantine or outright euthanizing the chrysalis was commonly recommended, and I was bracing myself for the latter, but wanted to try quarantine first.  I knew to also rule out “Black Death”, or NPV,  that I mentioned in a past report which I have since updated with more info about that.

Further reading yielded one site, that unlike the rest, had a success story where the monarch developed into what seemed a perfectly healthy butterfly.  (Look for the pics that suddenly pop up in Karen Essig’s comment to read the story there.)  That pushed me to further reading where I found out sometimes these malformed chrysalis are due to environmental stressors like too much sun; the keeper was too hot (a more common problem with glass sided containers); they didn’t eat enough when young; or a long list of possibles if the caterpillar had been brought in rather than an egg.

There are arguments on both sides of the fence about whether only taking in eggs lessens the chance of problems down the line.  Statistically, the younger you bring them in, the less chance they have been attacked by disease or parasites.  So some don’t bring in caterpillars, only eggs.  For me, I’ve only ever brought in eggs because even when I know there are caterpillars, I can’t find them to bring them in, so my odds were bettered by my lack of successfully findings cats.

For a general overview of information about monarch diseases and rearing problems, I found this site has a good overall summation.  This site also has the only image of unhealthily black (as opposed to when they appear black as they are turning transparent) or severely discolored chrysalis I found, and his post discusses the variety of possible causes he too learned about when that happened to his monarchs.

If anything, what I tell myself now is if anything like this happens again in the future, first remember the golden rule: DON’T PANIC.  Then remember that there is a chance that no matter what I do I may lose a monarch (or more), but my efforts are still helping them recover despite the odds they face so I shouldn’t easily throw in the towel either.  Lastly, I need to make sure I am calm and rational before moving forward because I have made this decision to take them in, so they deserve my best mindset moving forward to help however I can when trouble arises.

Next post, I’ll talk about what happened after my research.

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