OE affects monarch butterflies
In the monarch enclosure and in the wild, we have come across monarch butterflies that hatch with crumpled wings.
That is a sign that the butterfly is infected with ophyrocystis elektroscirrha, or OE. As if these butterflies didn't have enough to deal with --- like excessive pesticide use, their lack of habitat and native food sources, including their host plant milkweed --- OE is a debilitating parasite that was first found to infect monarch populations in the 1960s.
OE begins as a spore found on a butterfly's scales. It could be born with it if its parent was infected or a butterfly could pick up a spore on milkweed that was scattered by another infected butterfly. An uninfected caterpillar could also eat spores on milkweed that were left by an infected butterfly.
If an infected monarch lays an egg, it will distribute OE spores on that egg and the surrounding milkweed. Then when the caterpillar hatches and eats its eggshell and the surrounding milkweed, it ingests spores that begin to replicate when the caterpillar goes into chrysalis. That butterfly will emerge from chrysalis covered in spores that will then continue the cycle.
Monarchs affected by OE may not be able to emerge from chrysalis or may emerge with damaged wings, so they will not survive. Even if they do emerge, these monarchs tend to be smaller and weaker so they may have a shorter lifespan, or if they are the generation that migrates to overwinter in Mexico they will most likely not have the endurance to be able to make it the entire distance and will die along the way.
OE affects not only monarch butterflies but also queen and lesser wanderer butterflies.
The main, eastern population of monarch butterflies in North America have the lowest level of infection of OE, at about 8 percent. The western migratory population that overwinters in California has an infection rate of about 30 percent, and the non-migratory southern Florida population is heavily infected, at about 70 percent.
If you rear monarch caterpillars, the University of Kansas Monarch Watch program has guidelines of what to look for and how to help keep OE from contaminating your populations. Click here to access its page.
10 monarch butterfly questions answered
We get a lot of questions at the Dickinson County Nature Center, and a lot of them have to do with butterflies and bees. Let’s take a look at some of our most commonly asked questions about monarch butterflies. How long do monarch butterflies live? A monarch is in the egg stage for three-five days, Read More »Read More
The majestic monarch’s magnificent life cycle
A few more weeks and the monarch butterflies that are overwintering in Mexico will start making their way north. Once coming out of hibernation, a female monarch will find a male with which to reproduce. Around the Texas/Mexico border, the female monarch will find milkweed plants on which to lay her eggs. She can lay Read More »Read More
Test your monarch knowledge
Find out if you are a monarch scholar, monarch intellectual, monarch student or monarch newbie with this quiz!Read More
Five decorative milkweeds to beautify your yard and help monarchs
It seems a little premature since there is snow on the ground and more in the forecast, but it’s the time of year that I start to think about planting my garden. One thing I’m really excited to plant in our landscaping are some native pollinator plants. When we moved to our house, it had Read More »Read More
How do monarch butterflies find their way south?
Those wonderful orange-and-black butterflies that we love so much. They fly overhead this time of year, and we know they are headed to their overwintering sites outside of Mexico City. But how do they get there? Plenty of studies have been done throughout the years to try to figure out how a brain the size Read More »Read More