The Pumpkin Tree

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  • #12823

    Shaun
    Participant

    Well, the pumpkin tree, as described in the thread "Monarch Census?" is going well despite the wild weather. I hope to get some fresh pics up tomorrow maybe. Yesterday I noticed that the chrysalis’ were getting smaller the longer the cats had been eating the pumpkin. Then I noticed a couple of small, distinctly yellow pupae. Since then I’ve been cutting a few big leaves from the recovering swan plants out the back of my house* and feeding them to the cats on the pumpkin tree. I’m wondering if there’s some specific milkweed alkaloid or plant compound that they need to have ingested within a few days of pupation to be healthy. If so I’m hoping that at least having it as a percentage of their diet may be enough to ensure successful metamorphosis. We shall see.

    There must be over 100 chrysalis’s on it now, as well as quite a few that I’ve pinned up from where cats ‘changed’ while on the pumpkin. I’ve had several butterflies emerge from pupae that were on the (skeletons of) the plants at the front of my house recently. That’s always nice, seeing the butterfly emerge and fly off. I hope they’ve sheltered from the recent high winds and heavy rain.

    * I’m trying to get some plants out the back of my house to recover and get plenty of growth on them as I have a gut feeling that it’s more likely to be late-season butterflies that overwinter and start the next season’s population of caterpillars. Anyway, after seeing some pretty tatty butterflies in the last week or so the theory makes sense to me. Therefore, as I’ve had such a huge population of monarchs so far I made the choice to ‘sacrifice’ some of these earlier ones so that there is food for later caterpillars. Thoughts anyone?

    Cheers,

    Shaun.

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  • #16202

    Shaun
    Participant

    Angie, thanks for the kind words. 🙂

    Jacqui, all the adults from the pumpkin tree have gone now. (Strange, not one in the garden today, yet even yesterday there were 8 – 10, with one pair mating).

    However, I would estimate the measurement you want to have been around 40 – 45mm on the later butterflies that came from the pumpkin tree. That compares with my estimation of 55 – 60mm for healthy butterflies around here. The size difference was very obvious when most of the butterflies in my garden were from the pumpkin tree. The few that had eaten swan plant right through were considerably bigger. Sorry that I didn’t think to measure them.

    Ash, it’s hard to know if the act of eating pumpkin is what causes the higher percentage of deformities or whether it’s just because the larvae are so crowded on the food that they cross-infect each other with O.e. Everything I’ve read and info I’ve got from emails between myself and Prof. Taylor at Monarchwatch.org point to the primary cause for the smaller size being higher infection load of O.e.

    Cheers,

    Shaun.

    #16193

    Jacqui
    Moderator

    Hi Shaun

    Interesting! Thanks for posting this.

    <<I now recognise the signs, most of the butterflies were light, I’d estimate down to 60% of normal adult monarch size and weight. (Hence I only tagged three, then decided that they couldn’t carry the weight of the tags.>>

    Could you take a measurement please of one of your smaller butterflies – from where the forewing joins the body to the outer/upper corner? I’d be interested in knowing what size they are/were – even an estimate would be good.

    My butterflies range between 42mm and 56mm, I consider anything under 50mm to be “small”. Would love to compare with someone else’s findings.

    Cheers

    Jacqui

    #16192

    Anonymous
    Inactive

    We have three areas at Drury where we have planted swan plants. One of these areas the caterpillars were fed on pumpkin as a supplement when food stocks ran low. I have noted three deformed butterflies hatch from this area. The other two plantings have produced no such problem. Is this just a coincidence?

    Ash

    #16190

    Reducing any amount of spores is a good thing, also sunlight is a good tool to keep things clean and sterile.
    I hope you do do a pumpkin type tree again, great images!.
    Angie

    #16189

    Shaun
    Participant

    Hi Angie,

    I thought long and hard about if there was anything that I could do. I’ve fought protozoa before, gill fluke in tropical fish. The cure for that ended up taking me many, many months to discover, even longer to source the chemical and then was complicated to administer.

    The problem with OE is that the adult protozoa are actually inside the caterpillar or butterfly. It’s only the spores that are on the outside. Removing the external spores would surely help but it’s only part of the battle. Once the animal is infected then there’s no (documented) way to clear it of OE. I’m sure that it would be possible but I don’t think anyone’s going to be spending the money researching it when the currently accepted method of destroying infected stock works. It’s not like my fish, where they were $250+ each to replace. (I was breeding them too.)

    The only time that washing (with a formaldehyde solution, or maybe bleach) would work completely is at the ova stage. Eggs are the only time, from what I can tell, when the OE is only present as external spores.

    That said, washing them gently could well help reduce the spread of the disease.

    I wonder if anyone’s doing research into non-lethal eradication of OE infestation in caterpillars (should be the easiest as trans-dermal absorption of a control agent should work well with larvae) or butterflies?

    Thanks for your thought-provoking input. 🙂

    Shaun.

    #16186

    If I have several catapillers in a small area I wash them daily with a spray bottle of rain water and put them outsied in the sunlight. It works well to keep them clean – its not scientific but just seems like I have less chryslis deformities.
    Angie

    #16117

    Shaun
    Participant

    Well, today I added four more pics to the album. (Just click the link above).

    All-in-all I’m happy with the results. Over 160 empty pupae husks counted this afternoon. However, since reading the links in Jacqui’s thread “Curled Wings” I realised that, in making the pumpkin tree, I’d created a perfect environment for OE to spread and increase it’s effect on the animals. I now recognise the signs, most of the butterflies were light, I’d estimate down to 60% of normal adult monarch size and weight. (Hence I only tagged three, then decided that they couldn’t carry the weight of the tags. A normal, healthy butterfly might have no trouble but these guys weren’t of normal size, or vigour.

    Quite a few got ‘caught’ in their pupa, I helped some out but it was too late for most, their wings had ‘set’ at the size they were in the pupa for a couple of them. Rather disheartening but just one of those things. None of them would have made it if I hadn’t set the tree up.

    After some plants had recovered and I’d bought another dozen in I took the remaining larvae off the tree (pic of handful in album) and put them back onto swan plants. There were perhaps 100 I moved back to plant. They pupated and have now started to emerge also and they show the same signs as the ones that pupated on the tree. This says to me that the problem was definitely OE and not a problem caused by them eating pumpkin.

    Now that they’ve all flown I have the luxury of hindsight. I don’t think I’d do this again, the crowding and cross-infection of OE is just too much. That said, I estimate 50%+ will breed or maybe even overwinter and I’m a softie so if I am ever to find myself in a position of having lots of larvae and no food you never know…

    Oh well, that’s it for the pumpkin tree. I’ll un-pot it tomorrow. I’ve learned a lot from the experience. 🙂

    #16088

    Shaun
    Participant

    Well, so far perhaps 60 butterflies have emerged on the ‘tree’. They seem to be quite small though. I’m not sure if this is normal for late-emerging butterflies but I suspect not. They seem very frail, I’ve tagged a couple but they don’t seem to carry the tags well.

    Yesterday I was mowing my lawn and had to stop suddenly. At the end of the deck where the ‘tree’ is there were four butterflies on the lawn with ‘broken’ fore-wing tips. They obviously were lacking in rigidity and were flapping, making it impossible for the butterflies to fly properly. I’ve also had two that haven’t pumped up their wings completely and two that got stuck in their pupa. I aided them to get out when I noticed them but it was too late, their wings are more like a beetle’s carapace than butterfly wings.

    It’s sad really but, as Jacqui says, less than 5% make it without help. So far well over 50% from the pumpkin tree have been fine, if a little light. However, a lot of the pupae left are deformed so there may come a time when it’s best to put it in the paddock over the back fence and not spend so much time looking at it. 🙁

    I’ll get a few more pics over the next few days before updating the photographic record.

    #16045

    Jacqui
    Moderator

    Great work Shaun!

    J.

    #16042

    Shaun
    Participant

    Hehee! Thank you Gilly. 🙂

    It was fairly fine this morning but none have emerged so far today. There are a couple that are soooo close, maybe later this afternoon. I fear that most of the later pupae won’t make it, the ratio of deformities went up exponentially with time eating pumpkin. Also, a lot of the later ones have gone black and/or fallen. However, like I said, each one that does emerge is a triumph.

    #16038

    Gilly
    Participant

    Haven’t you done well!!!

    #16037

    Shaun
    Participant

    Well, so far the first of the monarchs have emerged. These are from the cats that had less pumpkin and ‘turned’ early on. Maybe 20 butterflies so far, 9 at once at one stage today, all hanging from their empty cases, then hanging off the ‘tree’. It will be interesting to see how the ones who ate more of the pumpkin do, the pupa are smaller, with a much higher percentage of deformities. Still, every one that survives is a triumph. I’ve been taking some pics and will post back when I’ve added some more to the album.

    Cheers,

    Shaun.

    #15965

    Shaun
    Participant

    I have put up a new photo album as a progress report of the pumpkin tree so far. It can be found at:

    http://community.webshots.com/album/558195930XrlTDW

    I made all the pics except one lower res this time. 🙂

    Cheers,

    Shaun.

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