A disease called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha or Oe has been observed in Monarchs here in Russell this season; Perhaps this is not the first time it has affected my Monarchs, and I’ve been playing with them for 30 or 40 years, maybe longer, and have noticed similar symptoms before.
However, I have never identified Oe for sure before – always been too reluctant to do so. This year have a microscope and found a scientist who did say emphatically it’s Oe.
Oe infects the Monachs in various ways, reducing the "success rate" or emergence. They often "get stuck" in their pupae, the pupae are often discoloured with black spots. I also have some pupae that go very brown and smelly and die – and suspect that this is caused by really bad Oe.
Anyway with Oe, it’s not something that the typical Monarch butterfly lover will be affected by.
I know that my Monarchs were relatively clean until the wasps died off at the end of the summer. Then we had hundreds of Monarch larvae downtown – and instead of farming them out all over the district (which would have been a more natural way of doing it) I brought them all home to my butterfly house, and brought lots of plant matter in too. And of course the disease would have spread like wildfire.
You can see more about Oe here:
If we don’t want to get into farming butterflies (as you’ll see in the pictures on that site) there are other ways we can address the problem.
Reminds me of when I was farming organically. My farm was only ten acres, but I had cows, sheep, horse and a pig and chooks running around everywhere. I didn’t mind weeds as what one animal didn’t eat, another one did. The chooks and pig also spread the piles of dung left by the horse and cows – so that worms that affected my cows and sheep had a reduced chance of emerging.
In my book although there were lots of good grasses and clovers, other "weeds" like blackberry, plantain, thistles, dandelion etc gave the added variety to their diet. It was all in balance.
My neighbour, a dairyfarmer, only wanted to keep cows to produce heaps of milk, so he sprayed to get rid of his broadleaf weeds. He sowed clover and rye grass seed. Then he had a clover flea problem – this little flea was eating his clover, so he had to spray for that. So much clover would produce milk, but it also meant the cows would be more susceptible to bloat in the spring when the clover really took off – so the vet and he injected these huge plastic bullets down their gut, the bullets were loaded with a slow release anti-acid to prevent bloat. Even so he still lost a few cows to bloat, and these were expensve well-bred, well-fed Friesians.
Did I say well-fed? Well, they were, if you wanted machines to produce milk. But to the cows it was probably like a diet of McDonalds day-in, day-out. All these expenses (seed, spray, vet’s expenses) must have affected my friend’s profitability of course.
We were discussing this over a cup of tea one day – he’d been out spraying for clover-flea and I told him I didn’t know if I had it, so we went and looked. We found a healthy clover plant, he rustled the leaves, and then caught a handful of air just above the plant. He brought his closed fist in front of our faces, and opened it, and all these little mites jumped out. Yes I had it too! But it wasn’t a problem – because that clover plant was surrounded by a good variety of other plant matter and it was hard for the flea to have a population explosion – whereas on his farm the clover flea was in paradise!
What I SHOULD have done when we had that outbreak of caterpillars downtown, was take twenty or so to this large healthy plant in someone’s garden, and another twenty there further up the road and so on. Instead I brought them home and by bringing in more plant when needed, and leaving it in buckets of water, I created a paradise for Oe. I didn’t keep the place sterilised (as commercial operations would) and just left the frass and rotten stems behind.
Oe is all part of Nature’s way of controlling populations – as are the wasps. If we want more Monarchs we have to take the good with the bad. Sure we can help things along by planting more milkweed, but we’re going to have to accept that by having more Monarchs we’re going to have more feed for wasps, praying mantides, and we’re going to give butterfly diseases more chance to take hold. Best to plant our milkweed in smaller, more removed areas, than in huge "plantations". Better to have three or four plants in three or four sections of the garden, than all in one place.
We live and learn.
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