So Confused

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  • #46729


    I’m having trouble with my caterpillars. They start off great, get bigger and bigger, and then just when they get to a certain stage they fall off the tree, throw up green and writhe around in the soil before dying.
    I don’t know what’s happening.
    The little ones are doing great, but when they get to the stage just before changing they seem to become suicidal and plunge to their doom.
    My plants aren’t sprayed, I grew them from seeds and they seem very healthy (always fighting off the aphids). I also live in an area where no one has gardens, so I eliminated possible spray from neighbors.
    I really don’t know what’s happening.
    I’ve only successfully got one to chrysalis stage, but he formed half of it and then gave up and died.
    I’ve bought the remaining caterpillars inside and have them in little tubs with meshing, separated.
    What shall I do?
    Also, I’m having problems with my caterpillars eating their way into the swans on my plant and then getting stuck inside of them. Anyone else have that problem?

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  • #46859


    As an update, that first lot of pillars all died. But the second lot that hatched after the others are all alive and doing great. I have absolutely no idea why. They are even making their chrysalis now.
    I haven’t changed anything, but they all seem healthy. Is it possible that the first ones were infected by something from the get-go? From their parent butterfly?



    Hi ephiny – I had a similar problem, posted and got a reply from Norm the keymaster. He thought it might be poisoning with mine, either spray drift or systemic pesticide in the plant (half of mine are new this season). But I also read about the plant toxins being more concentrated if they’re dehydrated or the leaves are all new. Yours might be a different problem to mine, I think mine was that caterpillars that were fine on one plant got a sap overload when I moved them to a different plant, one that still had foliage.

    Sorry to hear about all your caterpillars, it’s a dreadful thing to see. Good luck narrowing it down.



    So now I’m thinking that it is parasites as I stumbled across this picture here which is the exact same thing that happened to my one caterpillar that made it to the chrysalis stage. Has anyone else had this happen before?



    Hello, yes poor wee monarchs.
    So far I’ve had every single one of my caterpillars die, which is about 20-30. None of them make it to the next stage.
    I’m in the Christchurch area. My friend who is also in the area has a great abundance of chrysalises.
    The plants are in big pots at the moment, but they are quite young plants. These are their first year with caterpillars and swans and I was quite excited that they would be big enough so fast. We have no pets so no flea collars, no insect control. We did have our house fumigated for ants at the end of last year, but the plants were well out the way for that.
    I don’t like handling the caterpillars, I prefer to nudge them onto a leaf and move them that way, and I always make sure there is nothing on my hands before hand.
    Everything seems to point to poison, but I just don’t understand where they are getting it from, or why it is only effecting them when they are a certain stage (there are still eggs, tiny ones and medium ones roaming around the plants at the moment, alive and well).
    The ones I bought inside are the same. I separated them into small and big. The big ones all died within 2 days (green liquid, rolling around), whereas all of the small ones are still doing well and munching away on the very same leaves.
    Would this point to maybe a virus or disease instead?



    Hi Ephiny
    I have had a lot of this type of thing this year. I have put it down to 2 mature plants that have possibly been sprayed (without our knowledge) and / or wasps. I have read that wasps can lay their own eggs inside caterpillars causing this type of death.
    That or that horrid disease I have read about (can’t remember the name off-hand) but I have ruled that out as some of mine have made it.
    I am now migrating all new hatchlings to other plants and covering plants to keep wasps away.
    All the rest of our plants were grown by us with our seeds and even though those 2 plants were grown by us, it was last year and we are wondering if something happened to them over winter.
    Good luck, it is so awful to watch that happen.
    Cheers Liz



    Wow! My heart goes out to you, Ephiny.

    Firstly, I presume we’re talking about monarchs here?

    What number are we talking about? And whereabouts are you – there may be someone in your neighbourhood who could visit. For instance the Waitakere Butterfly Connection in the west of Auckland.

    How long have you been doing the ‘remaining caterpillars’ inside?

    Are your plants planted, or in pots?

    Did you know that even a flea collar on pets or a plug-in insect control will kill the caterpillars? Have you had any furniture, carpets, decks etc treated against insects?

    How much are you handling your caterpillars and do you wear any products like sunscreen?

    These are just my first ideas – I hope things are looking better today.

    I have never heard of caterpillars getting into the seed heads and getting stuck. It is fine for them to eat the seed heads so perhaps stand back and let them sort it out for themselves. Sometimes we get too involved, we interfere too much with our caterpillars and this can affect them. They’ve survived for years without too much interference or help from ourselves. For example, if you move a caterpillar that is shedding its skin, we can kill them!


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