Caterpillars failing to J

This topic contains 21 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  rob cooper 1 year, 5 months ago.

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  • #52120

    ggh
    Participant

    Hi, I’ve planted milkweed before, but this is my first time raising monarchs indoors. My five-year-old found some caterpillars on the footpath abandoning a stripped-bare swan plant bush, and we took them home, buying a couple of little plants at Bunnings, which they immediately devoured. A few of them died not long after we brought them home (it was hot, and I wasn’t especially surprised – they’d been through a lot) but one formed a chrysalis within a day or two, and two others were eating well. A fourth fell off its leaf and lay in the dirt, looking like it was trying to do crunches. I hoped it was pupating, but eventually it just had an anal prolapse and died.

    Time went on with more plants we bought from Moore’s Valley, and a beautiful butterfly emerged from our chrysalis, six eggs that were on the plants we bought hatched, and are eating away, and a couple of days ago, Spoon, one of the original ones, and a real sweetheart, got restless, stopped eating and started looking around for something. We discovered him a little later, not J-ing, but strapped underneath a leaf by silk on several sets of feet. I freed his middle feet so he could hang (by a single strand), but he still didn’t form a J – he just tried to do crunches constantly. He did them for two days, getting weaker and weaker until he died. There are more ugly details that I’ll spare you. I really wish I knew better what the range of normal caterpillar behaviour was – I would have euthanised him right away if I did.

    Today it was Littley’s turn. Instead of eating, she was looking around, so I tried to give her some options before we went out. When we left she had returned to the swan plant and was resting on a leaf. When we returned, she wasn’t in a J either. She was in a C, or practically an O with her back legs clamped to the side of the leaf and her head curled almost all the way to her feet, quivering.

    While we watched, she seemed to tire slightly and isn’t curled as tight. As I took pictures of her to see if I could find help, she became wet between her front legs (perhaps vomit? I don’t know. It could even be pee given the position she’s in.) In the time it’s taken me to write this post, she’s gotten a little looser, but it’s still like a C since her back legs are clinging to the leaf instead of her being attached to it by any silk. And it looks like she’s made a poop, but it’s dark – close to black – not the normal bright green colour. It’s at the edge of the leaf and she’s started doing crunches and practically touching it with her nose. Because of the way she’s positioned though, the crunches are more of a turn to her right than towards her belly.

    I should mention that both Spoon and Littley seemed the model of health just before they gave up eating to transition – each might have gotten to 5cm. They both seemed a bit smaller though after they stopped eating. I didn’t ask about pesticides on the plants, but I feel pretty sure that the nursery would know better than to spray them – and the eggs on those plants hatched into little caterpillars that are currently between 2 and 3 cm long.

    What can I do for her? Would it help to try to get her into a more textbook position somehow?

    And… Is it likely that all these caterpillars are going to die horrible deaths? Not only is it awful for them, but these are my daughter’s first “pets”….

    I have photos, but this is my first forum post, so I don’t see how to attach them….

    And now she’s twisted slightly so that she’s arching her back almost opposite of the way a J would be. She also looks like she’ll fall very soon. I’ve put some cotton wool underneath….

Viewing 21 replies - 1 through 21 (of 21 total)
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  • #52162

    rob cooper
    Participant

    i had some knocking at my door last night

    #52155

    ggh
    Participant

    Ha! I am guilty as charged: our caterpillars are totally pets! We were supposed to get guppies, and then my daughter saw these guys walking across the footpath heading towards the main shopping street in Kilbirnie, far from any food source…. But yes, I do feel a bit like a kid asking the Wool Growers Association what to do about her pet lamb who has a limp.

    I called Moores Valley, who grow their plants from plugs, and they are Asclepias Physocarpus – never sprayed. They lose a lot of stock to the caterpillars growing on the plants they’re supposed to be selling, but they can’t even bring themselves to squash eggs. I’ve always liked that nursery – really helpful and knowledgable, and I’ve had nothing but good experiences with them – so I believe them.

    So, we’ll see when Peanut Butter & Jelly tries to turn in a day or two. He’s always been on the Moores Valley plants. If he’s fine, then probably it’s either the different plant toxicity thing, or something happened to the others before we took them in. If he’s broken too, then it’s likely that I’m harbouring a disease or stressing them in some other way, like maybe the heat.

    Sorry if this sounds gross, but after Littley died last night, I peeled the rest of her skin off to see what was going on in there. Around the head area was large and hard, but just behind it, she was narrow and soft. I think she still had some feet in the middle too (hmm, I should have taken a picture). The region near the cremaster looks pretty normal for a chrysalis from what I’ve seen of transformation videos. It’s mainly the middle that’s sunken in. I suspect Spoon would have been the same – he had that corseted appearance as well.

    Anyways, the new plants from Palmers are also Asclepias Physocarpa. I’ve put them near the smaller caterpillars, because there won’t be enough of the last batch of plants to keep them all on there, and one has already moved over. We’ll see how that goes.
    Next year I’ll certainly be bulking up the plants ahead of time in preparation for the caterpillars!

    #52152

    Caryl
    Moderator

    Leslie and GGH
    I have a source of really good swan plants.Let me know if you want some. Some have 2 in pots others stand alone. I will try to get the approx heights for them.Totally never sprayed and home grown. Email me today please – catlovercaryl@gmail.com or txt on 027 8426773.Pick up either Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon in Seatoun.

    #52148

    LeslieD
    Moderator

    mmmm … well I can tell you I had caterpillars sneaking onto the plants I bought and the same thing happened to them … after about 36 hours they got sick and died. No doubt the chemical content is different for whatever reason. I will put my toxic plants in the garden I think and see what happens … a good suggestion thanks for that πŸ™‚

    And my big plants (about 8) are over 6 feet tall … they got totally done over and I had to turn to my what I thought was a plentiful supply (40 or more) of back up plants some of which were a decent size too. I never thought I would have to buy plants, gosh I was even giving home grown plants to the kids next door :).

    Its a learning experience.

    #52147

    Jacqui
    Keymaster

    Hello GGH

    So, here’s an interesting thing I was told at Palmers Garden Center in Miramar where I just bought more plants: I was told there that this happens because different batches of plants have a different natural internal toxicity, which had nothing to do with sprays or feeding. She said when caterpillars moved from a plant of a certain level of internal toxicity to a plant of a different one, it could kill them. But a caterpillar that grew from an egg on that plant could safely eat it without harm.

    This is basically true… There are many different species of milkweed, not so many in NZ, but the swan plant is one. I have only ever seen one or two for sale in shops… but I’m not shopping in Wellington, LOL.

    To expand on what she said, if you were to buy Gomphocarpus fruticosus (swan plant) and took it home to feed your caterpillars which were on G. physocarpus (giant swan plant) which had been grown in a different media as it/they came from a different grower, the caterpillars might well object to being moved to another plant. It is very hard to tell the difference between these two plants until you’ve seen the fruit (seed pod).

    It is therefore important to let the caterpillars migrate and not to get involved. Don’t handle them unless you really, REALLY have to – sometimes we can have products on our skin, sunscreen for example. Keep both plants well watered so there’s little opportunity for the cardenolides to be at different levels.

    Another plant which can be bought from time to time is Asclepias curassavica, tropical milkweed. Once again, the cardenolides inside those leaves is at a different level. But this plant will be labelled correctly and it looks a little different from the two African species mentioned above.

    But this is getting too technical and quite frankly, it’s a great excuse for garden centre staff to use when a customer suspects the plants may have been sprayed. Unless you followed a plant from seed to maturity you CANNOT guarantee that a plant is spray-free. Can you? We hope that we can trust growers, and garden centres, but they’re not with the plant 24/7 are they?

    And then there’s “withholding periods”. There is a time period were pesticide manufacturers say it will be safe for human consumption or use x days after it has been sprayed… Well, in the long term, who is to know that? When Coca Cola and cigarettes were first marketed, they were products good for our health. We don’t believe that any more, do we?

    Some years ago I saw evidence of hundreds – yes HUNDREDS – of monarchs dying from nerve damage because the plants that had been bought from an “organic” grower had been sprayed, not just by one but a cocktail of different pesticides. It was easy for the grower to say they hadn’t been sprayed but he knew full well that they might have been hit by overspray of different products. He was careless and deceitful and he was found out. The caterpillars looked fine, the pupae looked fine but when the beautiful butterflies emerged they could not fly and it was obvious they had extreme nerve damage.

    Part of the problem here is that you are dependent on bought plants. We can get too involved in the process of metamorphosis. It is a fantastic thing to watch and observe but we tend to get too involved, thinking of our caterpillars as pets.

    My recommendation would be to plant those plants in the garden, cover them with an old net curtain, and then take the covers off in about a month. If you are dependent on buying plants, then your plants are too small.

    You will still get to witness the delight of having monarch caterpillars and butterflies in your garden. There is still at least one more season of monarch butterflies laying eggs and going through the process. Very soon the wasps will have finished their diet of protein (caterpillars). Both the parent and the juvenile wasps will be feeding on nectar so will not be a threat to your monarch caterpillars.

    I hope this information and suggestions are helpful.

    #52145

    ggh
    Participant

    Thanks Rob! I’ll send you some pics once I get them downloaded off the camera.

    #52144

    rob cooper
    Participant

    my email is robincooper60@gmail.com if you want to send some pics this may help

    #52143

    rob cooper
    Participant

    garden centre

    #52142

    rob cooper
    Participant

    ok if it stated shedding its skin to go pupa and stopped yea sorry but its a gonnna i put my pillers through three diff plants in there life cycle never had a problem so not sure what that garden is on about ive got over 150 away now yes the odd lose did have one that did what you just said ok give jaqui a call see is real good on this stuff but dont give up cheers rob

    #52141

    ggh
    Participant

    I hope so, I’m trying my best to have faith that it will be fine. (It’s tough though – the pupation videos make it look so smooth.) When we got home (from buying more plants) a couple hours ago, Littley’s chrysalis head had broken through the caterpillar skin in the back, but the skin hasn’t split further in the last two hours. There’s less than a centimeter of green showing. Littley appears to be straining, but not in that productive crawl-out-of-the-skin kinda way I’ve seen on youtube videos. But yes, I’m trying to be patient.

    So, here’s an interesting thing I was told at Palmers Garden Center in Miramar where I just bought more plants: I was told there that this happens because different batches of plants have a different natural internal toxicity, which had nothing to do with sprays or feeding. She said when caterpillars moved from a plant of a certain level of internal toxicity to a plant of a different one, it could kill them. But a caterpillar that grew from an egg on that plant could safely eat it without harm.

    If this it true, it might explain why I’ve had these failed pupations, but it would also mean that it shouldn’t be a problem for the next few caterpillars, because they started as eggs on this batch of plants. (Though, as these plants get finished off, maybe it will happen again as I have to turn to the next batch. But at least the next couple caterpillars ought to finish on these plants.)

    #52140

    rob cooper
    Participant

    ok another comment if the plants were bad the pillers would be dead by now also when they do there pupa they dont look that nice for a good day so dont panic i think they are all good

    #52139

    rob cooper
    Participant

    just leave them alone they take well over a day when hanging dont panic think they will be ok

    #52130

    ggh
    Participant

    So later last night, I was happy to find that when Littley did let go of the leaf, she was attached by that black stuff I thought was poo. She was hanging and moving a bit and I started feeling optimistic. She didn’t get into a J position though, and by this morning she still hadn’t – she seems to be trying, but there’s only a little bend. It’s like her “neck” is stiff. Spoon seemed like that too. She’s started doing crunches. I’m waiting and watching.

    If these plants are mildly toxic… that’s a scary thought. Could be. That would mean I’m going to lose the rest of the batch no matter what I do. πŸ™ The remaining six caterpillars came from eggs on those plants and are now 1.5, 2, 2.25, 2.5, 2.75, and 3 cm long, so at the rates of growth I’ve been seeing, I’d expect the first to pupate in about 4 days, and then the other five to follow in the 4 days after that, probably eating another dozen plants along the way. With today being Sunday and Waitangi Day being this week, by the time I could get plants shipped to me from outside Wellington these guys will be knocking on the door of pupation.

    I might see if Bunnings has anything left. When I went in there when we first found the caterpillars, they had plants that were already stripped, with chrysalides hanging off them, so those plants must be fine. Failing that, I guess I just need to call around and hope for the best.

    Whatever happens, I want to say how grateful I am that you’re taking the time to read my long-winded post and offer your help – thank you!

    #52129

    LeslieD
    Moderator

    sorry to hear of the problems. I suspect the growers that are supplying some of the Welly garden centres are feeding the plants with something that makes them mildly toxic … well mildly in that the caterpillars survive in the short term until a buildup of the toxin gets them and they die in more or less the manner you describe.

    So when you ask if they are sprayed the garden centre says no and that’s what the grower has told them (in truth). I guess it solves the growers problems of keeping them caterpillar free and having the plant grow quickly (cynical I know).

    I have 12 plants I’m not sure how much longer to withhold that have produced much the same results. One had eggs on it so I’m pretty sure its not sprayed.

    No easy answer sorry except to grow your own plants if you can, but it does not solve your immediate problem. I got some plants sent from Jacqui, they will take a few days to recover from the journey, but that would be another tack you could consider.

    #52127

    rob cooper
    Participant

    very cool jaqui nose more than me she so cool yea i now no lots but dont give up if you get new plants water them very well first hope all goes well

    #52126

    ggh
    Participant

    Thanks so much Jacqui and Rob – I’ll try to be patient then… she just looked so uncomfortable, and it just all went so pear-shaped with the other two.

    She and three others are indoors, and there’s another three outside in a very small greenhouse with the swan plants that currently aren’t in use (either next in line or in recovery). It does have openings but I haven’t gotten many bugs in it so far. They definitely could get in if they wanted to though. I could bring those ones indoors. I was going to already, but after what happened to Spoon, I wondered if there was a caterpillar disease indoors that I should keep them far away from.

    Chemical-wise, I’m a bit of a hippy – I never use anything stronger than Castille soap to clean, and no pesticides or herbicides. Unless these guys end up in my dishwasher or washing machine, they’re pretty safe from chemicals I think.

    I will probably need to buy more plants tomorrow or the next day. I’ll make sure this time to ask about whether they were sprayed. πŸ™‚

    #52125

    Jacqui
    Keymaster

    Sorry GGH to hear what you’re going through.

    A few things you might not have considered – as well as the plants having been sprayed. (Believe it or not, yes, sometimes the growers/garden centres don’t tell you they’ve been sprayed unless you ask!)

    Are the plants in the garden or do you have them “indoors”. Caterpillars can be poisoned by such things as plug-in insect controls, flea collars on pets. Also, if you have the plants indoors and you had been using particularly toxic cleansers…

    Outdoors, there are a large range of predators and parasites which can attack your monarch caterpillars. Watch your plants well to see if there’s anything else active there.

    We have some very caring members from Wellington who are in here quite regularly – they will also be able to add other suggestions. Let’s hope we can get to the bottom of it, quickly.

    Jacqui

    #52124

    rob cooper
    Participant

    0274425873 if your still unsure cheers

    #52123

    rob cooper
    Participant

    its around 3days when they stop eating to go j

    #52122

    rob cooper
    Participant

    when the piller decides thats enough im off to do my stuff they wont eat walk arouond the plant looking for a spot to hang for over a day they find a spot muck around then shrink themselves that maybe well over a day the best thing to do is just leave them alone if they are gonna sort it they will hope that helps

    #52121

    ggh
    Participant

    Sorry – I forgot to mention, I’m in a suburb of Wellington.

    And I also forgot to add tags, so I’ll tag this reply hoping that that works as well.

    I should have read the forum rules first, but I’m afraid I was a bit upset and just wanted to reach out to hopefully learn if there was any way I can help this caterpillar as quickly as possible. Like a total noob, I forgot to look around this place first for the rules. Sorry.

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