Dying cats turning to black gunk

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  • #53386


    I hope someone can help me diagnose what’s going on with my caterpillars. I’m in the U.S. (florida) but this seemed like a good monarch forum so I’ll give it a shot! I have several milkweed plants out in the garden and am mostly letting nature take it’s course, just trimming back or removing pests as needed. We do not use any sprays or chemicals in the yard. On Sunday, I saw four large, thriving cats on my plants and a few little guys. Today I walked out to find 2-3 blackened remains of caterpillars laying on the leaves. I have links to some pictures below.

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=1T_h4fjh11FUk_1Z2TvqKJXro7-U2apIg –> This cat was large. As you can see, part of his body appears to be lower on the leaf (head?). The skin is falling off and everything inside just looks like droppings.

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=1JkBTO8uKaQDs5E19_M_HluT819G1iABZ –> This is a leaf or two above the first photo, and I’m not sure if this is another caterpillar, or part of the big guy’s skin. It looks like just skin remains.

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=1yEUOeSQtj4yHgMOy8xhT1xjiwsXCNZwY –> This was a little one, on a different plant about 6-8 feet away. Maybe half an inch long. You can see half of him is starting to turn a bit black.

    A week or two ago, I had found another dead caterpillar with a similar presentation to the first, kind of a crumpled up black thing with the skin fallen off. I had this happen a couple times last summer too, and usually would find the head somewhere nearby and again, just a black thing that barely looked like a caterpillar anymore except some skin fragments hanging on. I would assume it was bird poop if it weren’t for the little bits of monarch skin/head usually nearby. Perhaps something is going wrong when they molt? It does not look like black death to me and is not confined to a particular stage of development.

    I had the same plants last year, but I did trim them back at the end of the season and they went through a couple of hard freezes over winter (I actually lost about half the plants as we forgot to turn off our sprinklers once and iced over our whole garden accidentally). I had some problems like this when I first got the milkweed last spring and it was in pots, but after I planted it in the yard last year I had dozens of caterpillars that seemed to do quite well. I’m not sure what to do now besides trim all the plants back and hope for the best. Any ideas what I might be looking at?

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  • Author
  • #53389


    Hi there

    Sorry to be so slow in getting back to you… busy times here! That’s sad to hear what’s happening to your caterpillars.

    What part of the US are you in? I suggest that you post on Facebook, THE BEAUTIFUL MONARCH, as there are many people there from Florida who will probably best know what you’re dealing with.

    Sorry I can’t be of any more help and hope you get to the bottom of it.


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