Saving our Monarch Butterflies

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    If YOU love monarch butterflies we’re hoping you won’t “love them to death” this summer.

    Thanks to an excellent study at the School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, members of the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust are better equipped to help monarch butterflies this summer. The results are in our Spring magazine, out now.

    Dr Phil Lester and Mariana Bulgarella were investigating how many monarch butterflies in NZ carried the parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, commonly referred to as Oe. This parasite infects monarch butterflies and while it can kill or weaken monarchs it does no harm to anything else. Samples were taken from 408 adult monarchs from locations between Otago and the Far North. This did not hurt the butterflies.

    “Surprisingly, almost all butterflies from warmer areas of the country, such as Northland, Auckland, Bay of Plenty and Nelson, carried the parasite Oe,” said Mariana Bulgarella. “This parasite is absolutely natural. It’s as much a part of the monarch’s environment as fleas are to a dog.”

    However, the results from the research has raised one very big concern: people trying to ‘save’ sick monarchs, butterflies heavily infested with Oe, or kept in crowded containers or on unhealthy plants.

    We urge people who love monarchs to remember they’re wildlife, and not pets. They are cold-blooded and do not ‘suffer’ in the cold. Their wings are waterproof and they can cope with rain.

    Caterpillars and butterflies know what to do when it’s raining or windy. They don’t need to be raised indoors or kept warm through the winter. They should be left to do what comes naturally.

    We are concerned that by saving unhealthy butterflies people are loving monarchs to death. The fittest will survive and go on to reproduce. It is important that unhealthy butterflies do not reproduce.

    Could the monarch become a plague?

    A female monarch lays on average 300-500 eggs. One laid 1179!

    Using a conservative value of 300 eggs, and if 150 females resulted from those eggs, with no monarch pests and plenty of milkweed there would be 22,500 monarchs at the end of the first generation, 3,375,000 by the end of the second generation.
    That would mean 1,012,500,000 monarchs by the end of the third generation… all from just 150 females!

    Predators and parasites are Nature’s way of keeping the population in balance.

    The monarchs have been doing just fine without our help for millions of years. While it’s useful to offer some protection against wasps and other predators the current advice, based on scientific evidence, is to raise monarchs in ways that mimic their natural environment. Overcrowded conditions are not seen in nature.

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