I'm losing the desire to rear BSTs...

tracey_nj6(6)September 16, 2009

I've had plenty of heartache this year, especially losing about 20 cats due to newly purchased/obviously treated plants back in August. Now I'm experiencing alot of parasitized chrysalids. I had 2 over the weekend and 1 last night. Those probably bring me up to 10 skunked chrysalids. I open the cage to check on my 9 caterpillars only to find those gnatty sob's exiting another chrysalid. Unfortunately I got to it too late and there were only a few left, as opposed to the hundred (it seems) that come out. Normally when I find one it's pretty early on and I'm able to pull the chrysalid off, get it into a baggy & freeze the sobs before they get to infect another caterpillar. My cage is pretty secure, but I've found that those parasitic gnats fit thru the screen (normal window screen; fiberglass if I'm not mistaken). Normally when I do find a gnatty sob on a cat that's getting ready to pupate I shoo it off by blowing it off and squishing it. It also helps to have the scotch tape handy so I can blot the gnat if it's too quick. Unless I can find something that'll allow good air circulation to cover the screen with, I just might give up and stick to monarchs, which are reared indoors in containers as opposed to outdoors in a cage. I can't imagine rearing them indoors; I had ALOT of cats this year and DH will throw me out if I dare bring them into the house too. I've had an nearly flawless monarch year, thankfully (only one 1st or 2nd instar just died and I nipped one with a scissor), with no black death or unexplained behaviors.

I guess what I needs is:

-ideas? Tulle circles (alot) might help?



-a stiff drink?

Thanks for letting me sob & vent.

I know I should be considering how many I successfully released, but it's tough when I think of how many parasites I also released :(


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Chalcid wasps, egad! These are hard to deal with because they are so small. In addition, once you have them, they probably breed and infect other chrysalises. You might consider removing each chrysalis and putting it into something contained. I know it's a pain but that way, if one is infected, it won't infect another (if infect is the right word for parasitoids). You can use jars that are tall enough to let the butterflies stretch their wings. Place a paper towel and a stick (that measures the whole length) in the jar. Place the chrysalis on the bottom (on top of the paper towel) and seal the jar. There is enough oxygen but if you are worried you can open it once in a while. Just make sure it is somewhere cool and shaded so it doesn't over heat. The only way to exclude these wasps is with fine mesh. They are a real problem.

Good luck,

Here is a link that might be useful: chalcid wasps

    Bookmark   September 16, 2009 at 2:18PM
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Thanks Elisabeth for giving them a name. Chalcid wasps. Grrrrrrrr. From what I've been reading, it seems like the eggs are parasitized, but I'm thinking it's when the caterpillar pupates. Once the harness has been spun, I find one on it, like it's waiting for it to pupate. I never did witness a caterpillar pupating so I can't say if the parasite stings it, or lays it's eggs, or if it's like a kamakazi thing and pupates itself with the caterpillar. Beats me at this point; I'm going to continue to research them, because it's driving me crazy! It's so hard to figure out what to do since they overwinter in my cage, and who knows which ones will overwinter and which will eclose that same year. I guess I could take them out when they're wandering and put them in a container and at least keep them isolated. Maybe a few layers of tulle as a cover. It would have to be outside though, since they'd overwinter. I do have 9 caterpillars at the moment. I have lots to think about and figure out where to overwinter them. Garage really isn't an option; it's so musty. Shed might work but DH does alot of work in there, plus there's the gas smell. No place cool enough inside. Oh brother, what to do...

    Bookmark   September 16, 2009 at 3:59PM
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Chalcids do both, parasitize the egg and the pupa. The egg parasites pupate in the egg, so the caterpillar never hatches. I assume it is different species of Chalcids. Parasitoids are highly evolved and tend to be specialists for the most part, each one using a specific species of host at a specific stage.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2009 at 6:58PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

How I HATE those !%#*@^! parasitic wasps! You can put that on my grave! I've lost many red admirals to them, so I can sure sympathize!
Please don't give up! You've been successful with your monarchs and many others - the butterflies need you. They'd be worse off without you!

    Bookmark   September 16, 2009 at 8:03PM
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I'm so sorry for your losses, Tracey. Dag nab it and those nasty critters. I have yet to see them but instead get those that eat the cats insides and pop up as little white cocoons on the cats.....grrrrrr! I opened my bag with my Gray Hairstreak cocoon and found...tiny white cocoons in the darned bag...now how did that happen? So, I feel your frustration. Some years are worse than others and I've had many more predators this year than ever before for some reason.

For gosh sakes, I don't want all my efforts to go into raising Chalcids and other predators! This is a really good place to vent, thank goodness cuz we all can relate.


    Bookmark   September 16, 2009 at 8:38PM
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I'm so sorry for you losses. That's so heartbreaking. But as you determined, it probably came from purchased plants. I planted my own parsley and fennel and so far have successfully raised 11 BST. I bring them inside and raise them in small containers until they are ready to pupate...then they get moved to my 10 gallon fish tank. The season is quickly winding down here in New England and I am eagerly awaiting next year.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2009 at 7:13AM
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Thanks everybody; I'd be lost without you all!
And yes, another parasitized chrysalid last night, practically empty. Sigh...
I'm guessing my 9 caterpillars in the cage will be infected as well. I don't know what I'm going to do.

For those of you that raise BST's indoors, how the heck to you do it? Monarchs are soooo easy because all they do is eat, eat, rest a bit, eat, eat...the BST's take their time. You rip off some (or a bunch) of milkweed leaves, most of which get eaten by the caterpillars, except when they're molting, clean out their container, and repeat until they pupate. Sooooo simple. That's probably the only time milkweed is wasted. But BST's take their sweet time, and it doesn't appear that they eat alot. I fear too much would get wasted, and I'd run out of fresh food for them. So tell me, how exactly do you do it? I've been begging DH to build me a greenhouse shed for years and I'm hoping I'll be able to talk him into it soon, but I won't hold my breath. I'd much rather have an enclosed place to raise them rather than my cage. Although I'm still debating if I'll cover the screen on my cage with tulle, and if it'll even help...

On another note, DH is always complaining about how much time I spend in my garden and fussing over my caterpillars. Yet, when people come over, even his friends, he's bragging about my caterpillar/butterfly raising and has me further explain the process (like his friends even care, lol). I called him on that and kind of left him speechless ;)

    Bookmark   September 17, 2009 at 2:45PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

My husband does the same thing! He complains that the reason I hurt my ankle and poked the stick in my eye and had inner ear caused dizziness for so long and have asthma and COPD and all my other myriad ailments is because I work too hard in the garden and at feeding the cats, cleaning their cages, etc. It's not true, but he blames any problem I have on the things I enjoy, not cooking and cleaning up the kitchen and other housework, which is actually much more exhausting. Then he gets me to give everybody a tour of the garden and tell them all about caterpillar/butterfly life cycles, and he even asks for my pictures so he can send them to his many ham radio friends!
I don't pay any attention to him, I just do what I want. Hehehe....:) !

    Bookmark   September 17, 2009 at 5:10PM
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jrcagle(z7 MD)

Here's how I do it, but no guarantees ...

I snarf the eggs off of dill and fennel in my garden. They're not too hard to spot: little white pearls, usually on the top half of the plant.

Then I keep them in plastic containers until they hit the black-and-white instar.

Then I move them to a cage with plants similar to yours -- instead of potted plants I use a Glad lunchmeat container filled with water, and stick plant stalks (fennel works best I think, or Queen Anne's lace) into it.

I don't know if that would work for you, but collecting eggs seems like a good way to avoid the Chalcids.

Sorry. It's yucky to have so much investment turn into wasps.


    Bookmark   September 17, 2009 at 7:58PM
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I just keep a patch of fennel and parsley outside for the BST's. Monarchs I'll raise inside too. This year I was horrified to see what I think are Cicada Killer wasps carrying off full grown BST cats. I went after them and managed to rescue a couple cats that I did put in a cage in the greenhouse but the others got away. I've seen the parasitic wasps before which is bad enough but never a giant wasp carrying a grown caterpillar away. It was awful.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2009 at 10:15AM
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mary_littlerockar(8a-7b mid Arkansas)


I was just studying the photos you've included. Does the floor area of your cage have screening over it? It looks like the cage is sitting on bare deck boards. If so, could these predators be coming in through the cracks in the decking?

I like your outside rearing cage and just wish it was more secure for you.


    Bookmark   September 18, 2009 at 12:23PM
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I grow fennel in a large pot outside. I grow parsley in the ground, but it can be grown in a large pot also. I snag the eggs and bring them inside and poke the stems through a plastic lid into its matching plastic deli container filled with water.
The first pic is that setup, where I have 4 BST cats right now.
When they get bigger, I move them to my 10 gallon fish tank that has a metal mesh cover. I used to put sticks in a small flower pot filled with dirt, but out of 11 BST cats so far this year, only 2 made their chrysalis on the sticks. LOL. So when them make them on the sides of the glass, I tape some mesh netting along side it so they can hang from that when they eclose.
I'll remove the towel at the bottom. It's only there now because I have a deformed BST in there now.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2009 at 1:06PM
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Mary: there's no cracks or openings in our deck floorboards; they're butted together (Timbertech or something like that).

Today I took the day off of work for a sanity break, something my boss told me I needed and deserved ;)
I saw a battered and beaten BST and right before my eyes, she oviposted on my dahlia. Yup, dahlia, ignoring the many fennel & parsley plants only a foot or two away. I figured she was just going thru the motions, but sure enough, she laid an egg. Without even hesitating, I snagged it and put it into a container. God only knows where else she left eggs; I did see her on one of my milkweeds and laying on a creeping phlox. I also found another tiny cat yesterday and off it went to a container as well, with a snip of fennel. I have a few small plants that I could bring inside for them and can put in a mesh hamper that I recently purchased at The Container Store. I need only to worry about transferring them outside after they pupate to overwinter. I might be able to manage to clear a space in my florida room, since it's unheated and does occasionally get below freezing.

One more question; do those wasps attack/inject/infect the chyrsalids once formed, or do they just parasitize the egg or caterpillar?

    Bookmark   September 18, 2009 at 3:32PM
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Okay, one more time, :)...actually I love talking about wasps. I know most of you will be horrified, but I am becoming enamored of them for different reasons. To start with, I used to think there was just the paper wasp and the yellow jacket. Since starting to study parasitoids, I have learned that there are thousands (probaby millions) of different wasps. Most of these have highly specific lifecycles. Some are really beautiful, like the blue winged wasp. It uses the green junebug larva as a host. The green junebug larva does major damage to your lawn and these wasps help control it.

However, Chalcid is short for the superfamily Chalcidoidea. It is a group of wasps, not one specific species of wasp. Chalcidoidea is one of if not the largest group of parasitoid wasps, with estimations of around 400,000 species in the world. These wasps are not only parasitoids, but depending on the species, may eat seeds, utilize flowers, or are gall formers in plants. Parasitoid Chalcids may use eggs, larva, or pupas. These wasps are generally small, and metallic colored. However, there is a lot of variety. So, one Chalcid is not parasitizing all the butterflies, a variety are.

Parasitoid is different from parasitic. Parasitoid means that the host is eventually killed by the parasitoid. As opposed to a parasite that depends on the hosts survival. Wikipedia lists 12 different parasitoid superfamilies. This is probably changing day to day. Again, depending on the species, they will use different immature stages of the insect. Many different insect species are used as hosts. Including many agricultural and garden pests, such as aphids, beetles, and grasshoppers. This is a major part of nature's pest control. In the butterfly house we cannot control all butterfly predators, just some, and the caterpillars still strip bushes and trees bare. I imagine a world without parasitoids as a world devoid of green.

This does not include a description of the Aculeata(?) the infraorder that includes paper wasps, yellow jackets, and the like. These are the wasps that eat caterpillars and feed them to their young. They do not use them as hosts.

So, that being said, bringing the butterfly eggs into the house as soon as you see them laid, is the best strategy. Which is why so many of us are considered goofy, as we follow mom around the yard trying to talk her into laying eggs! That is no guarantee as I have found parasitoid wasps on my window sill and wonder "hmmm, where did that come from?" However, it will help a bunch. Otherwise, you have to use fine screening mesh to exclude them. Once you have the problem in your yard, it may be difficult to eradicate it. I know someone who brought chrysalis home and transferred the chalcid problem to her yard.


    Bookmark   September 19, 2009 at 10:35AM
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Elisabeth; I can't thank you enough for the details you've given. I tried my best to research these wasps on my own, but the sites & info I had found were kind of vague, hence my questions. It's just heartbreaking knowing that my 9 caterpillars and 6 chrysalids may indeed be skunked. I do currently have one baby caterpillar and the egg indoors, and in separate containers. The bulk of the cats in the cage should be getting ready to pupate, and I might isolate them and put them in containers as well, once they start wandering. At least I'll be able to control the situation with the fine mesh tulle atop the containers. If wasps emerge, they're going to the freezer, period. I'll be able to put them in a finer mesh hamper to overwinter. But as for next year, unless I come up with something safer, I won't be raising BST's. But I wouldn't bet money on that anyway, because how on earth can I resist going to the nursery, looking at host plants searching for baby cats, and just leaving them be?!?!? Nah, don't see that happening...

    Bookmark   September 20, 2009 at 12:30PM
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LOL, welcome to the world of butterfly addiction! You will find lots of support for your addiction here...

    Bookmark   September 20, 2009 at 4:53PM
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My wife and I collect the bst cats in mason jars. One to a small jar, several in quart size jars. We then stretch a small piece of old panty hose over the top and hold it in place with a rubber band. A stick measured to fit the jar, a little fennel in the bottom and we are all set.We then gift the jars to schools and sunday school classes. The kids love them. For ourselves we raise them in plastic "Lizard Boxes" purchased at Russell Feeds here in the DFW area. We haven't had wasp problems as yet but have noticed that eggs would sometimes disappear from our fennel plants,it seems to be a problem with spiders as they are present when the eggs start to vanish!

    Bookmark   October 3, 2009 at 2:38PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

That is an excellent writeup on the parasitoids.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 2:34AM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

I think this is a very interesting parasite story. The parasite gets the host to defend the parasite.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wasps Turn Ladybugs Into Flailing

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 12:06AM
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