Raising Monarchs Vignette: Little insect predators

Ladybug nymph going after a monarch egg.

Green lacewing larva, aka aphid lion, ignoring the aphids to eat a 1st instar monarch caterpillar.

Unknown insect sucking on a 3rd instar monarch caterpillar.

It was a windy evening. I had to take many pictures to get a clear one. Must have disturbed the insect. It used its proboscis to drag the caterpillar away.

Monarch caterpillars might be safe from many birds, but they are not safe from insects and arachnids.

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Raising Monarchs Vignette: Habitat – Improved

Around the end of the 2014 monarch butterfly season, I saw a collapsible, lidded, meshed laundry container at IKEA. I bought one. It was a suitable container as habitat.

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When there are ready to pupate 5th instars:

When I remember to secure the lid

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When I forget to secure the lid,

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What I learned raising black swallowtail butterflies in 2016

At the end of May, I bought a large pot of curly parsley, transferred it to a larger container, added some sweet basil, then put it on the no-vehicle part of the driveway.

Didn’t see an egg or caterpillar until suddenly this one showed up on June 18th.

first

It was the beginning.

On the 19th, 2 eggs.

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Eggs every week until mid August.

Both black and tiger swallowtail caterpillars don’t eat nearly as much as monarch caterpillars. Still, by late-July, I became concerned about the parsley supply. Adding a new smaller pot of parsley wasn’t enough. (Females deposited eggs on it as well.) Our CSA’s occasional bunch of parsley wasn’t enough. So… Supermarket organic parsley, but it wasn’t always available.

August 18th

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A few years ago, when I raised 5 or 6 black swallowtail caterpillars on parsley and Queen Anne’s Lace side by side, each stuck to the plant it was “born” on. I wondered whether they would switch food anyway.

One day, our CSA gave us a small bunch of dill (and we don’t like dill), I gave it to the caterpillars. Some switched!

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Food supply became less of an issue with a new option. Of course I couldn’t determine whether the switching would be one-way, from parsley to dill, or could be both ways.

By the end of August, a total of 26 black swallowtail butterflies enclosed. I took a picture of each. There were more obvious wing marking variations than monarch butterflies.

More eggs were collected. A few eggs and small caterpillars were given away to someone who was totally bored by the lack of monarch caterpillars to raise. A couple caterpillar fatalities. I’m reasonably certain I didn’t do it.

After August, knowing I had one tiger swallowtail chrysalis that was probably hibernating and perhaps one black swallowtail chrysalis camouflaged somewhere, the “chrysalis habitat” was kept undisturbed. Indefinitely.

On May 3rd, 2017, a male tiger swallowtail butterfly enclosed.

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On May 16th, 2017, a (I’m almost sure) female black swallowtail butterfly enclosed.

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What about 2017? I planted more parsley in spring. Besides the ones I released, as of July 27th, haven’t seen any black or tiger swallowtail egg/caterpillar/butterfly. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ On the other hand, the supply of monarch eggs and caterpillars is relatively steady in the backyard. And, the quantity is not overwhelming like in 2015 😅

 

One more thing. I handle monarch and ready-to-pupate tiger swallowtail caterpillars with bare hands. Both have been quite docile. I did the same to ready-to-pupate black swallowtail caterpillars- relocating them to the “chrysalis habitat”. None appreciated being grabbed so osmeterium came out. Initially I thought “It only stinks. So what?” Some days later itchy and irritating blisters showed up on my hands, more on fingers and fewer on palms. Took a while before I made the connection and started wearing gloves. The blisters lasted several weeks.

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Black Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail and Monarch Caterpillars

black swallowtail, monarch, tiger swallowtail caterpillars

This summer is the first time I run into all three caterpillars in the backyard.

A couple hundred milkweeds means monarch eggs and caterpillars are somewhere out there. Seemed like I was tripping over them in July. Hope this is reflected in the monarch butterfly population.

Finding black and tiger swallowtail eggs or caterpillars is iffy. I didn’t find any eggs. These swallowtail caterpillars just showed up! A second instar tiger swallowtail caterpillar sat out in the open on a weed wild cherry. A new fifth instar black swallowtail caterpillar sat on a large Queen Anne’s Lace while I was cutting off seed heads.

It’s August 29th. Monarch butterflies won’t stick around. My guess is the swallowtail caterpillars will hibernate as chrysalises until spring, 2016.

black swallowtail, monarch, and tiger swallowtail caterpillars

Update: The tiger swallowtail caterpillar became a butterfly in Sep 2015. The black swallowtail caterpillar became a female butter on April 12, 2016.

Additional 2016 Images

Younger black and tiger swallowtail caterpillars

2nd and 3rd instar black swallowtail caterpillars circles in red. 3rd and 4th instar monarch caterpillars circled in black.

Younger black swallowtail and monarch caterpillars

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Can butterflies (and moths) other than monarchs be infected with OE?

I’ve noticed that whenever a butterfly, monarch or not, is deformed, people think OE is likely the cause. I raised plenty of “bad” monarch butterflies but there were other factors that made me seriously doubt they were infected with OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha).

Last year, I joined Monarch Health, run by the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA, to see whether the monarch butterflies that I raised were infected with OE. Thirty were tested, including two that were deformed/malformed. All were clean!

When the question about the link between any butterfly/moth deformity and OE infection came up again a few days ago, I emailed the researchers at Monarch Health. Here is the reply:

Hi,

There are a couple other species (I know the Queen Butterfly is one) in the same genus as the monarch that we think are susceptible to OE, however work going on in our lab at the moment suggests the possibility that its a different “strain” or type of OE. I believe its only three species including the monarch.

As for other butterflies, there are numerous types of pathogens they can get that can cause physical deformities.

Hope this helps!

Cheers,

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