In Dec. 2013 Monarchs still laying eggs OE problems

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In Dec. 2013 Monarchs still laying eggs OE problems

Postby hills_dells_flowers » Tue Dec 10, 2013 4:35 am

Hi, I live in a large city in so. Calif. In November I took in about 50-60 Monarch caterpillars and eggs. It's been a harrowing experience. The native milkweed in my yard is A. fascicularis, (narrow leaves) and for the past few months the milkweed has had a lot of black mildewed leaves so I picked them off, I didn't know if they would harm the larvae?

I cleaned the leaves in diluted bleach/water before use. Container rearing led to black death so I went with stems in water which worked well. I disinfected surfaces and my hands all the time. To my dismay but not to my surprise, the pupae are emerging almost 100% OE diseased. They look anywhere from beautiful and spunky to shriveled-winged and weak, but what they have in common is testing positive for OE, thanks to the kind laboratory staff at the local veterinarian for checking my slides with their microscope. When looking close-up at a photo I took in Nov. of a Monarch in my yard, I saw her gray abdomen with blurry, powdery white markings.

My question is, when growing (native or otherwise) milkweed in a city where non-native milkweed is the norm, and migration may have ceased or has been greatly lessened, when the wild butterflies look diseased, aren't I actually contributing to the spread of disease among Monarchs that will weaken the population? Even if I had washed the eggs exactly right (I didn't disinfect the eggs) and had reared OE free insects, they would be released into a diseased population. Does that do any good? Or just supply more bodies to host the OE spore? In retrospect, the Monarchs that I released earlier this season all had questionable looking abdomens. It's heartbreaking to have to freeze the poor creatures who I feel that I know after caring for them so long, and who HAVE such an intense desire to fly off into the sunshine.

Is it of any benefit to growing milkweed in a non-migratory area having many diseased insects?? What does research say about this?
Does anyone know of a decent affordable microscope? Thanks.
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Re: In Dec. 2013 Monarchs still laying eggs OE problems

Postby blazing star » Thu Dec 12, 2013 6:26 pm

I am not an expert but have been on this forum for a couple years during which time there has been varied opinion on the release of OE monarchs. The latest was that if the OE population was under a certain percentage of the overall population raised, you should release them. I'm unable to locate this information on the internet and this website states that any OE infected butterflies should be euthanized. http://www.monarchparasites.org/

Here is a guide to common milkweed leaf problems. It does say that if you feed your cats bad leaves, it can make them sick so you probably did the right thing disposing of the black leaves. http://www.mymonarchguide.com/2007/08/m ... blems.html

I'm unclear about your question about growing milkweed in a non-migratory area. Are you saying that you're not in the migration path of monarchs? If so, how do you get your eggs and into what location do you release them?

Black death can be caused by overcrowding and poor air circulation. If you don't overcrowd the containers, and you sterilize between broods, you should be OK avoiding this. At least that's my understanding.
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Re: In Dec. 2013 Monarchs still laying eggs OE problems

Postby hills_dells_flowers » Fri Dec 13, 2013 3:07 am

Thanks for the links you gave.

quoting your reply: "I'm unclear about your question about growing milkweed in a non-migratory area. Are you saying that you're not in the migration path of monarchs?"

I didn't explain the situation well, sorry. There are many wild Monarchs that lay eggs on the native milkweed in my yard. The problem is that far more non native (tropical milkweed) is being grown all around me, as a trendy and pretty landscaping plant. I can't find any native milkweed growing anywhere. I have it because the roots were there when the house was built . Tropical is what the nurseries and home improvement stores sell, and the nurserymen (usually) or customers (almost always) don't know the difference between native and non native milkweeds, or aren't concerned, and likely don't know the consequences of growing tropical milkweed. I didn't know the consequences until I realized in late November that diseased butterflies were laying eggs on my plants, and were still laying eggs a week ago--in December. I had been releasing untested butterflies all season. I do remember their questionable looking abdomens--I suspected OE infection, but rationalized it away since it was early in the season. I began having all my eclosees tested, thanks to the local vet who graciously used their microscope and time to check them. Out of 40 eclosees the last several weeks, only 2 have been OE free.

Bottom line, the growing of Tropical milkweed instead of the native milkweed which dies back, means that a certain population of monarchs in this area have stopped migrating, since the flowery Tropical milkweed is all around in the winter. We do get random warm days in December, and the monarchs are right there laying eggs. I had encouraged new growth on my native plants to ensure food for the eggs and cats I had brought into the house in November. This area has a percentage of non-migrating monarchs, and they are predominantly diseased. I think the figure of 30% of Calif. monarchs being OE infected is way too low. Maybe this statistic was correct 5-10 years ago. To continue to grow milkweed in my yard, means (to me) that I am contributing to the diseased population and contributing to the Monarch plight. Even if I raised disease-free monarchs, they would be released into a diseased environment. My conclusion is to remove the plants, or cover them with fine hardware cloth next spring and grow them for seeds only. Planting native milkweed is GREAT, but I don't think it's great growing any kind of milkweed within cities in warm climates that have a percentage of non-migrating monarchs due to the abundance of tropical milkweed. Such cities are OE factories. If I moved to a small town, I would definitely grown native milkweed. There needs to be WAY more education to Nurserymen and the public about the direct correlation between Tropical milkweed, non-migratory butterflies, and the prevalence of OE in non-migrators. That Tropical milkweed has become a naturalized and invasive species in several U.S. states is also of concern. So is GMO crops, loss of habitat, loss of their overwintering site, climate change...sounds like "the perfect storm" for the monarchs, sad to say.

Not meaning to come off as if on a soapbox, or fanatical, but there's something devastating about having to euthanize 40 Monarchs, many of which are beautiful, spunky and eager to fly off and live the life programmed in them to live. It's heart breaking.

Thanks for the tips on container raising. I think the problem was mostly my ignorance, and the narrow thin leaves of A. fascicularis, in trying to keep them moist I was growing bacteria...maybe mold and other things too.
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Re: In Dec. 2013 Monarchs still laying eggs OE problems

Postby blazing star » Fri Dec 13, 2013 12:07 pm

Oh, I see. Very interesting perspective. Maybe there's something to this but on the other hand, one thing to consider is that I'm involved with providing habitat for much wildlife and have always been told that the migration of critters does not stop just because there's a food source around. For instance, I keep my hummingbird feeder out well into October but the Summer visitors don't stay here just because there's a feeder out. That's just one example. Contrarily, migration patterns can erupt due to food source so the Red Breasted Nuthatch will come further South in search of food when their native trees don't bare as much seed. This is a natural pattern. The nuthatch didn't come here just because I have a feeder out. They're acting in accordance with normal patterns. Are you in an area to which monarchs go to overwinter? That would make more sense to me as I've read that even in Mexico on warm days, they are out and about feeding, etc.

I had found a citizen science link where you can actually report such data on disease. I think this may be a better answer for you rather than eliminate habitat for the monarch butterfly. I know it's sad, what you experienced, but you did release a couple healthy butterflies and who knows how many young those butterflies generated.

Also, in raising monarchs for a few years I learned I cannot look at one year and transfer my experience to the next. New problems surface and old problems abate. Much like the land restoration I engage, I was told humans cannot look at a one year cycle for answers but rather decades out. If we don't look decades out, we are then acting from a human perspective and wildlife, and nature, knows no such thing and doesn't act in accordance with such boundaries. Maybe next year will be better for your monarchs and at that point, you'd be eliminating their habitat.

I do not think you're fanatical. Maybe that's because I'm the same way. I ripped out all non native plantings in my yard except for my crab apple. I replaced everything with native plantings and have hundreds of different species I planted. I do engage catastrophic thinking, especially about GMO crops and climate change. But, if you throw your hands up, eliminate your breeding habitat, you are one less link monarchs have in the web of life and one less person acting to try to improve things. I'm hoping you find a beneficial answer that works for you while supporting monarchs.

Yes, container rearing and moisture and stagnant circulation don't mix. Also, the frass should be changed out daily. I put a paper towel on the bottom of the container to catch it and switch out to a new paper towel daily. This helps, too.
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Re: In Dec. 2013 Monarchs still laying eggs OE problems

Postby hills_dells_flowers » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:21 am

I'm a catastrophic thinker too, glad to hear I'm not the only one! No I'm not in an overwintering area. But am a few hours from some on the Calif Coast.The heavy planting in my area of tropical milkweed has caused the monarchs to stick around and breed into the winter, and not migrate to the coast anymore as they used to. I had OE trouble last season too on any caterpillar I took in November-December. This year I just took in more. It was constant work that sadly was in vain.

My reply shows the danger of my posting when tired, concise goes out the window. I wasn't sure about the posting rules either, so I re-read them, and will put a link that will explain so nicely what I was stumbling around trying to say. Great article on monarchs from the Univ. Florida: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw311


I am still wondering [b] is there any benefit to growing milkweed and thereby increasing the wild monarch numbers, in a heavily OE infested M. population? This is the most important question to me.[/b]

-In the history of the monarch, was there any disease as virulent as OE?

-What caused OE to co-evolve with the monarch in the 60's?

-Does OE/Monarch co-evolution coincide with the introduction of "Tropical milkweed" into North America?

-What is the relationship of the OE spore to the milkweed plant and it's toxin?

-If Tropical milkweed helps Monarchs against the spore due to it's higher toxicity, why is greater disease associated with Tropical MW simultaneously?

-Has any research been done to develop a rootstock that could be grafted onto native milkweed that would kill OE and not harm the monarch? (similar to how certain plants will be resistant to nematodes if grafted onto certain rootstock)

-Has any substance besides bleach been found to kill the spore?

-If a monarch abdomen is tested too often with tape, could that individual come up with a false negative for OE? (One butterfly got tested many times by accident and I'm wondering if I could have removed all the spores?
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Re: In Dec. 2013 Monarchs still laying eggs OE problems

Postby blazing star » Tue Dec 17, 2013 11:15 am

I don't know answers to all of your questions except for this site says it's thought OE coevolved with Monarchs and was simply discovered in the 60's. I posted another link in another thread about someone who studied OE in Monarchs in year round populations and it seems that the infection rate varied with the month. It seems it varied quite a bit. So maybe that may bring you comfort knowing that you'll probably have less infection rate depending on the time of year.
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