Posted in Conservation, Creatures, Oh noes!

We are both so tired.

I put her near the window hoping the soft warm breeze would help.
Poor thing looks as tired as I feel.

I knew one of the nine chrysalides in the “eclosurie”1 would likely open this morning as the chrysalis was a shade of transparent I’ve come to know fairly well.

The question–as always–was…when?

Even with this being my second year as a guardian, I still love watching eclosure.  This is also the first eclosure from the eggs I brought in from outside.  The last (first release of the season) butterfly was the caterpillar I found in fifth instar.  I still feel like it was a gimme, despite my mentor reminding me how vulnerable they are when in chrysalis, and as such it’s still considered a rescue. [Edit: I just realized I never finished the post about the first release, just mentioned it in the count soon after.]

So like the crazy fool that I am, I stayed up all night rather than miss it.

Sure enough, not long after dawn when I had taken the towel off of the enclosurie (this helps keep their light based directional orientation from getting confused by artificial light at night), I noticed the tell tale crack starting to separate the ribbed ringed top and the lower smoother gold dotted portion of the chrysalis.  This tends to mean the butterfly could eclose in an hour if all is going well.  (Sometimes, it does not.)

We had a bit of an incident with this eclosure.  I played a game with short turns to distract myself in between looking over at the eclosurie so I wasn’t staring for a straight hour (as I have done before.)  When I got bored of that and turned to reading news, I wasn’t looking as often.  Then when I looked and noticed it was completely empty, I jumped up to see it was flailing about on its back at the bottom of the eclosurie.  I cursed my impatience, but was also really grateful I had stayed up because if I hadn’t, who knows what would have transpired?

I carefully opened the lid (with 7 other chrysalis hanging–one has a broken cremaster and is at the bottom nestled in a towel.  When I finish the post about the day that happened, it will be linked).

I stretched out my finger, and it was desperate to grab hold, but in a way too frantic to realize when it had, and kept overreaching with its middle legs (the top most are folded against the body and not used for attaching itself to things).  When it finally realized it was indeed secure and relaxed a bit, I lifted it up to see the crumpled discarded former skin of a recent chrysalis not far over from where it had fallen.  I had failed to pick it up, and that apparently was making it even more difficult for it to even try to get upright, as it had wedged on top of the tiny bundle which was preventing it from even trying to rock to one side to be on its legs.

Things like this really make you realize yet again the odds of recovery and why we do this guardianship thing, especially for something so seemingly insignificant having such an impact despite being so small.

After a few anxious moments of me gently lifting upwards, and seeing how the wings were likely not inflated at all yet, I cupped my other hand under the Monarch and started to head to the hanger bay.

That’s when the sort of fluid they expel after inflating their wings came out a bit, and it was tough not to panic.   I tried to soothe myself and it by starting to talk softly and encouragingly while I tried to make the few steps back to my desk to grab a tissue to cushion in case it fell into my hand again and get it properly oriented for gravity to work.

Not long after, I was feeling relieved except for the sight of one wing part that was behind in progress of the rest, and so I gently helped pull the outer edge of that wing portion a bit in the wild hope there was still enough fluid left to catch that part up and finish the inflation successfully.  This scared me to pieces because I was worried I would tear it or something.  (Though I do know how to help Monarchs with broken or misshapen wings now, I do not have spare wings laying about, so…still not a perfect situation despite the knowledge.)

Then the finger cramp game started and by then it seemed the wings would be 99% perfect save one only noticeable because I’d been scrutinizing so much 1/64th of an inch difference between the upper wing sides which was a huge relief.  So I grabbed my pen holder and an easier for the butterfly to grip pen to put in it, encouraged it over to the pen and then could get my fingers back to normal while it hung there, looking very tuckered out as I felt myself.

Shortly after, I took the image above.  She (now that I could confirm) is still hanging out, drying a bit, had an almost fall flapping a bit in the method of trying flight, and back to resting.

We have thunderstorms storms predicted sporadically for both today and tomorrow, so I’ll have to wait and see how long it will be before she starts trying to fly in earnest.  Then I’ll make the decision to keep her in the hanger until there’s a break in the weather, or get her out into the sun and hopefully soon flying free so I can get some sleep.

Oh, and if anyone is wondering why I didn’t take a picture of her stuck on her back, I wasn’t being helicopter guardian then.  The time just after an eclose is crucial to wing formation.  The longer she spent not being in a proper gravity assisted position (abdomen up, wings hanging freely below) that helps her pump the fluids from her abdomen into her wings, the less chance she had of ever being able to fly.  You can take care of flightless butterflies and they can live a happy (?) but handicapped life as a sort of pet/rescue in a different form, but it’s really not going to help the population rebound.  There is still a chance that she may not be able to really fly, and can only flap about, like a bird with a broken wing.  I will not know that until who knows when.  Normally, she’d be flitting about a lot by now, but given the stress it could take her as much as a day to recover her strength.

Since I didn’t see it happen, I don’t know if a leg got caught on the way out and struggling to free it cause the fall, or this butterfly is weak from an as yet unidentified disease or parasite (former more likely).  Some diseases like OE are not always evident in a miscoloration of the chrysalis.  The butterfly could be loaded with it, and the only way to be sure is by testing it.  This is a step I’m not yet fully equipped to do, but I am planning on trying the abdomen tape method and saving the sample in case I can later get my hands on a microscope.

Also, if I had done such a bone headed thing and still managed to get her in the proper position and settled before she dumped all her fluid from the stress of the situation, I seriously doubt her wings would look anything like the image above because of the time wasted getting a “rarely seen” shot just so folks could see exactly what I was at that time.  Seconds matter.  Much like when you have to administer CPR.

1. If oranges can be grow in an orangerie, then Monarchs can have a keeper called an eclosurie because Monarchie just doesn’t quite work since we have different names for all the stages (incubator, nursery, keeper, eclosurie, hanger), and they’re always Monarchs in each of them regardless of age.

Care to share thoughts on this?