Posted in Conservation, Creatures, Oh noes!

Guardianship update: 23rd August 2018 #2

This post picks up where #1 left off.  Here I’ll talk about both mistakes and best case scenario based decisions that were made about the malformed chrysalis.

If you look closely at the malformed chrysalis image below, the obvious signs of illness or parasitoids do not seem apparent.  The fact that it is malformed does point to the obvious that something went awry, whether the cause is detectable or not.

You might also know from looking at it that the green part is likely not yet fully hardened, due to the texture of the surface and the sheen overall.

Also worth noting is the cremaster (the tiny stalk/stem that normally connects the chrysalis to the plant vein or mesh) isn’t the usual prominent black stem that is partially reinforced with the last stage of shedding the last instar chitin when it does that odd twirly dance to shed the chitin, leaving the tightest wrapped bit behind before the rest falls down and away from the chrysalis.

There is no noticeable darkening of the caterpillar (cat/larva) at all.  That was an immediate eliminator for black death, whether by NPV which I’ve mentioned before or Pseudomonas.

What might be obvious is that this was not a case where the caterpillar got skinnier, as happens with OE and the tachnid parasite.

What I can’t recall is if this is the cat that seemed to have scraped its 5th instar chitin.  There were teeny spots where you could see the bright green of the chrysalis peek out between the ribbing.  They didn’t go all the way around the body–just a small part.  My brain says “yes, it was this one”, but I didn’t record it, and can’t say it was with 100% certainty.  I read that day that if they do damage the chitin, whether from rubbing against something rough or even possibly from another cat being angry they’re too close to the spot they’re feeding on, that can also cause a malformed chrysalis. [Later Edit: this may also be why they so soundly rejected the small branch I had originally put in the keeper hoping they would J there.  Though the bark wasn’t terribly rough textured, it was definitely rougher than any surface on a milkweed plant.  Monarchs are more likely to J on smoother surfaces where their chitin will be safe.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that you won’t still find some chrysalis in odd places like a shingle on the side of your home, which I did find this year where one milkweed plant grew up right against our house.]

So in my panicked state of mind, I had visually eliminated all possible transferable problems, therefore this one still had a chance to live a normal adult life and might have only malformed due to stressors that could not transfer to the others.  I wanted to try to give it that chance, but I also didn’t want to be wrong and harm the other five.  I needed a sick bay.

I was at a loss as to what to do when I saw this.
Here’s a larger version of the image to help you look for potential problems beyond the obvious.

One thing was made clear from all the sites claiming this was likely to be a result of disease or parasite: either could spread to any nearby monarchs in the same keeper, so at the very least separating it would be the smart thing to do as soon as possible.

The ASAP part is what had me running about the house trying to find something suitable to use as a sort of sick bay.  All I could think of at that moment was “quarantine and observe”.  Although I knew I might have to euthanize it, I was determined to do whatever I could to not have to go that route too soon as I had read about someone else doing on the one site I mentioned in my last update.

I found a lot of containers that would have worked just fine for a cat, but were not tall enough for a chrysalis once the butterfly eclosed (emerged from its chrysalis), as the lack of height might prevent it from properly unfurling and thus forming its wings after eclosing.

The soon to be in sick bay chrysalis was the last cat to form that was in the keeper, and one of the other five in there was on the very same plant.  The now troubled cat had chewed all but the chrysalis and that wee bit of vein on that leaf the former had formed upon.

What to do?

Trying to cut it off to tape that to the lid was going to be risky because it was so short.  I had read about tying off the cremaster with floss or string to move a chrysalis, but that terrified me which I had already posted about before when the first monarch decided one of the plants in the water containers was a fine place to be (reminder image here.)  Since the malformed one had formed under a full leaf, that seemed a wiser choice for a cut and tape method–more mass for the tape to stick to in my mind.

The closest thing I had in terms of easy to see through plus height to allow any possible butterfly that might hatch was a clear plastic animal cracker jar in the shape of a bear.  Everything else clear was too short, and I did not want to go through all this trouble only to have a flightless butterfly.  I rinsed and towel dried the jar out, setting it on the table before proceeding.

With the sick bay jar on the table nearby, I then proceeded to clean out the keeper.  If this was caused by disease or parasite, I wanted to get rid of any possible trace of it in the keeper.  Fortunately, at that time, the younger instar in the incubator were all too small to justify moving over.  All the other larger ones had long been in chrysalis by now.  So in my head, this was the best time to do this.

I took the keeper lid off, and rested it as I normally do between the dining room table and the keeper itself so the chrysalis can hang normally, then one at a time lifted out all three canning jars holding milkweed plants, and placed them on the table while I cleaned out the frass (poop) by pulling up the old paper towels, and setting down new ones.

In my head, I wanted to get that done as quickly as possible so I could focus on the malformed chrysalis, and let the other ones continue doing their thing.  Despite my fear that they might somehow fall off the lid, I’d never had an issue with their cremaster snapping, so I just did as I normally did.  I do want to point out that this is one reason why using as a tank as I have this year is not ideal.  A keeper that has a side opening is best because there is less chance of disturbing the chrysalis at the top.

Fortunately, I still had a large enough scrap of screen handy which I quickly cut down to size that I could use to tape the leaf to.   I then cut the leaf the malformed chrysalis was on off of the stem of that milkweed plant.

That’s when I realized that unlike my canning jars, I’d have to saw through the plastic lid to do the same effect or no air would circulate in the sick bay.  So being really grateful that I hadn’t trimmed the full leaf down yet, I then draped that over the top of the jar and went to find string or some extra large rubber bands I have to hold the screen in place.  I was also thinking even duct tape could work temporarily for the screen.  Remember, I was in panic mode at the time and not thinking very clearly or orderly.

Jute and large rubber bands in hand, I went back to the table and pulled the leaf off the top of the jar so I could cut down the leaf to tape it directly to the screen.  I cut generously around it, taped it to the screen, making sure it was firmly stuck to the screen, and then as I turned the screen back over to place it on top, the chrysalis plunged downwards.  The leaf was still firmly taped to the screening.  Down it fell towards the hard plastic “floor” of the jar that I hadn’t even remembered to put a paper towel in, let alone a nice soft cushy towel should the cremaster fail.  Which it did at that moment.

What I haven’t yet mentioned at this point is where was the keeper lid at this moment.  You may have realized I didn’t mention putting it back on top.  Welp, just as I went to grab the falling chrysalis (which was impossible since I cannot freeze nor slow time), I bumped the table.  And that leads us to the next post which relates to an awful big Oh noes!  The lid, holding three other chrysalis flipped as it fell to the floor, and one of the chrysalis rolled away from the lid.

Why hadn’t I put the lid back on?  I can only blame my panicked state of mind.  There was no reason by that point to not put two of the jars back in, and the lid on.  I know during all this that my plan had been to cut both the chrysalis still on a plant to tape them to the lid.  My rationale, especially for the one on the same plant as the deformed chrysalis, was if the problem had to do with the plants currently in there, I wanted as little of them as possible to remain after cleaning.  Yet I had forgotten all about the lid while looking for a way to secure the mesh, and…the lid fell.

The one take away I still can’t decide on with the sick bay transfer: since there were no obvious signs of disease or parasites, should I have waited for the chrysalis portion to harden first?

So now we come to our third segment, the aftermath of that moment when all hell broke loose.

You can read about various chrysalis moving methods here.

Care to share thoughts on this?