New Butterflies Unsteady

by Cheryl
(Wesley Chapel, Florida)

We are having an unusually cold Winter here in Central Florida, so we took in a few Monarchs: a newly emerged butterfly, a chrysalis from which a butterfly emerged yesterday and a caterpillar which has turned into a chrysalis. We don't have a butterfly tent but have them in our kitchen in the open. The first two butterflies look fine but don't fly very much and the newest one sometimes falls over on its side when it does fly for a bit, although it seems to enjoy walking over our hands. We have been feeding them sugar water and providing small vases of fresh Pentas, Petunias and Impatiens from our potted plants on our lanai (the only area plants undamaged by frost). We are hoping to release them in two days when the weather warms up, but fear their seeming inability to fly may make them easy prey. Do you have any insight or is there anything we can do to help them? Thank you for any advice you can offer.

Karen says:
Cheryl, I wonder if the butterflies possibly have a parasite problem called OE or Ophryocystis elektroscirrha. It is spread by spores on the milkweed through the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. Monarchs that emerge with OE many times cannot fly (the wings don't properly form) and can have other problems.

Here is a link about OE:

Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

If you suspect that this is the problem, make sure and sterilize (with a bleach and water solution) anything you would use again that might come in contact with future butterflies that you raise. This is very contagious. I hope this helps.

Comments for New Butterflies Unsteady

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Butterfly wing repair (with video)
by: Jana Sheeder

In the past, I successfully unfolded and ironed a monarch butterfly's crumpled wing, and he flew again, good as new! We have OE here in Miami, FL, so I didn't think would work, but it did. I brought him in the house (hold him by the wings, up near the "shoulders," and try to stay firm (not jiggle) the wings so that you don't wear off the cells on his wings), put him on a towel on the ironing board (with his body in the middle, wings spread out to the sides), straightened out the crumpled wing, put wax paper over it, and had heated the iron to a warm setting only. I carefully used just the tip of the iron to warm the wing in place (and didn't put the iron anywhere near his body). It took less than 15 seconds, and when I'd finished ironing the wing, it was as straight as his other one.

I just found a website that is a butterfly hospital and shows how to repair butterfly wings! Great video on the page. They use contact cement and pieces of skinny cardboard/cardstock.

GLUE -- I often use a glue gun to put a TEENY drip of glue on the very end of the cremaster (the black tip of a chrysalis) in order to glue a pupa that has fallen into the dirt, etc. back onto a branch. Do not get the glue on the green pupa, itself. Do not ever pick up a "mushy" pupa (let it harden first). Make sure that the pupa (chrysalis) is hanging down so that the butterfly can form normally. I like the contact cement idea better, though, as hot glue tends to pull like melted cheese or angel hair or a thick spider web, so contact cement seems much easier. (Learn something new every day!)

Repair a butterfly wing.

Butterfly care
by: Jana Sheeder

Everyone's comments and questions are so wonderful to hear. It's so special that so many care about butterflies. Butterflies are "solar-powered," so they need sunlight to "charge." They will flap their wings as they are "energizing." When it rains, they usually tuck underneath hanging leaves, etc, and when the sun comes out, they recharge and fly off. If you have a lethargic butterfly, possibly he just needs sunlight for energy. If it's a cloudy day, you can use a heatlamp (or a light that gives off heat) just to keep them healthy. It's usually not enough (in my experience) to get them to flap their wings and fly, but until you have sunlight again, the light and heat keeps them healthier. Do not give up if you see a butterfly who isn't moving much. Sometimes they just don't have enough energy to move or are cold. Just today, we saved a giant swallowtail who'd been born and was in shade and barely moving. We used a mixture of powdered sugar and water on a cut up washcloth on a plate. He didn't seem to drink any, but we made sure his feet and proboscis (coiled "nose") were in it. We put him in the little cage on a nectar plant (ruby red/blood red Penta) in bright sunlight. He charged on the side of the screen, and when we opened it an hour later, he flew off!

Cats Dying
by: Kim

At first I thought it was just one plant that may have been sprayed by pest control that killed 5 of my cats after moving them in the garden. Now I have one on an eslablished plant dying and two black Chrysalis and think it might be OE? How on earth do I stop this from spreading in a large outdoor yard? How can I sterilize a garden?

Crumpled Monarch Wings
by: Nakisha

I have never attempted to care for or raise a butterfly. My brother found a monarch that he thought was dead. It was cold and there was a freeze the night before. What made him cup the little butterfly and blow warm air on it, i have no idea but it turned out the little thing was alive...just very cold i guess. So he brought it in and we fixed it a makeshift home where our cats can't get it and placed it under our turtles heat lamp to get it warm. By the way its wings looked, i thought it had just hatched...after reading your page and having the butterfly for several days it seems to be this OE mentioned. I was wondering what the mixture for the sugar water is that you feed your butterflies. I had found a 4 parts water to 1 part sugar recipe on another site...and it seems to like it enough...but I wanted to make sure it was good enough for it. Will appreciate any help or suggestions. Please and Thank you.

Karen says:
Yes, 4 parts water to 1 part sugar is good (boil water and then add sugar and cool). Also, Gaterade and Juicy Juice are possibilities. Make sure you sterilize any "equipment" that you might use again to raise butterflies (in case the butterfly does have OE) with a 20% bleach solution.

Monarch can't fly
by: Brenda

I also have a monarch that came out of the crystalis about 5-6 days ago. I found him several times...fluttering nearby, but not taking off. Then I didn't see him, it got pretty cool in the evening, and some rain. All of a sudden, he's here again, fluttering on the grass. I put him on a sedum flower, and he stayed there. I'm sure he can't fly, but flutters a lot. I finally brought him inside, in a cage with a sedum flower plant and sugar water (which he drank graciously). Any ideas on what I should do now?

Folded wing
by: Christopher

Dear Karen,
My butterfly came out of its chrysalis today, July 1, 2010, however, I found it on the platform when I came home with meconium surrounding it. I thought at first that it had died, but then quickly noticed the moving antennae. I carefully lifted up the monarch by sliding a piece of paper underneath it and thank God, it slowly opened its wings. I observed a part of one wing being folded over so the butterfly cannot pump fluid into this area to be able to fly. Five hours has gone by and the butterfly is still not flying, just walking. I am concerned that possibly when the butterfly fell, the fold in the wing. The butterfly was immobilized and lying flat on one side and I think stuck on top of its meconium. I don't know how long it may have been in this position as I was not home. To complicate things, I had built a little net that hung underneath the chyrsalis because it formed underdeath a milkweed leaf; the leaf was quickly dying and I was afraid the chrysalis would not survive on it. I made the small net with tissue paper and taped it onto a few tiny branches that I inserted in my vase to hold the net in place. I'm worried that the butterfly fell when it was climbing out of the net and possibly stepped onto a taped area where it could not stick its feet and then fell onto the platform. I am very sad about this whole situation and especially concerned that I caused this problem. I need help to hear your thoughts on all this. I don't know that I can do anything to help "unfold" the folded area of the wing. How can I help my butterfly survive indoors if it cannot fly? Seeking your wisdom!
Thank you in advance for all your time.

Karen says:
Christopher it sounds like your butterfly has OE, the virus that monarch butterflies can get. You didn't do anything wrong. If the butterfly was healthy when it emerged it would have been just fine - you were just trying to help. You can try and feed the butterfly as described in the "Flightless Butterflies" comment on this page.

Make sure and sterilize with a bleach solution any items that you might use again to raise butterflies so that the virus is not passed on to other butterflies.

I hope this helps.

Flightless Butterflies
by: Anonymous

I just have to say it's so nice to see other people such as you that genuinely care about the life of these creatures.

I too had a large number of Monarchs that looked fine but didn't fly. Sad because I could tell some of them really wanted to and would flutter and try so hard. Breaks my heart.
I did get in touch with , and
It was suggested this could be caused by OE but also from local spraying --such as for mosquitoes or gypsy moths etc. as symptoms similar to what could be neurological damage.

Since I couldn't kill them, I ended up feeding them as you.....I used sugar water, liquefied banana etc. and fed them by a cotton swab soaked in the mixture, then tickling their proboscis until they would unroll their proboscis Due to their balance problem I also had to support and tip their bodies forward. Once 'contact' and interest had been shown, I had to very slowly pull the swab away with the proboscis staying connected until their proboscis was fully extended. I'm certainly no authority and not sure this is a good thing to do or not. I just know I had to do something rather than just watch them dehydrate and starve.

Now's the really corny part------I'm such a softie I had these 'special needs' butterflies ride around on my shoulder as I'd go about my gardening, walks with my dog,or even driving and going shopping. Seems to me that any living creature requires some variety in experience and environment . They were free to leave anytime. if I sensed they wanted to, I helped them perch on a plant, but most seemed content as they didn't leave their 'perch' throughout a whole day.

At nightfall, I placed them on plants safely inside the house. It was surprising that they would always cooperate, grab the perch and rarely move the whole nite through...sleeping.? And the next morning they'd be ready to go again. Nursing home residents loved my visits at this time.
Actually these served as perfect messengers of
their plight! I had many opportunities to tell people all about their struggles and the cause of these.

Sadly, most lived only 3-5 days. I'd like to think I somehow helped them enjoy their short time among us a little bit more than would have otherwise occurred. Who knows.

Monarchs with probable OE
by: Karen

I am not aware that there is any danger to humans or other animals from OE.

I would think if you kept the monarchs inside and cared for them they would live longer.

I was wondering if you could share your experience of caring for and feeding the monarchs inside. What is your method of feeding them the sugar water nectar and are they feeding on the pentas, etc.?

Also, when I have had monarchs inside (only for very short amount time) they don't just fly around peacefully, but "flutter" up and toward light or windows. I suppose your butterflies aren't flying much so this isn't an issue.

Thanks for sharing.

by: Cheryl

Is there anything else which might cause them not to be able to fly well or much? Also, there is no danger to humans or other animals is there?
Thanks again.

I would say that this is the most likely cause for the Monarchs' difficulty in flying....especially with the fact that it is multiple Monarchs from the same area.

Sick Monarchs
by: Cheryl

Thanks for your info. I fear our butterflies may indeed be afflicted with this parasite. Do you think we should keep our two Monarchs "safely" indoors for the remainder of their lifecycle since they cannot fly much, or release them anyway as soon as it warms up? We have had the first one inside for a week now. I just wonder what's best/most comfortable for them.

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