OE Ophryocystis elektroscirrha in Monarch Butterfly Pupae

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OE Ophryocystis elektroscirrha in Monarch Pupae Danaus plexippus
OE Ophryocystis elektroscirrha is a protozoan parasite that is often referred to as a disease. In actual fact, it is a parasite, not a disease. OE can weaken, cripple, or kill Monarch pupae (chrysalises) and adults. When a Monarch emerges and has crumpled wings when the wings dry, people often wonder if the butterfly they raised has OE. Below are photos of pupae with OE. The dark spots you see in the pupae below are maturing OE spores. The spores are on the outside of the butterfly that is maturing inside the chrysalis. A pupa that has a light infection will be less spotty than these pupae that have a heavy OE load. If you would like for us to tell you whether your Monarch has OE, look at the last two photos and read the end of this webpage.
Monarch butterfly pupa chrysalis cocoon with OE ophryocystis elektroscirrha a protozoan disease
Monarch butterfly pupa chrysalis cocoon with OE ophryocystis elektroscirrha a protozoan disease
Monarch butterfly pupa chrysalis cocoon with OE ophryocystis elektroscirrha a protozoan disease
The tiny black spots on the outside of the chrysalis are simply damage to the outside of the chrysalis. They do not harm the butterfly inside. But the dark inside ...
The irregular dark splotches inside the chrysalis that you can see through the shell are OE spores.
When a chrysalis matures without OE, it will turn dark in a regular pattern. These irregular patches of black indicate a bad infection of OE.
Monarch butterfly pupa chrysalis cocoon with OE ophryocystis elektroscirrha a protozoan disease
Monarch butterfly pupa chrysalis cocoon with OE ophryocystis elektroscirrha a protozoan disease
Monarch butterfly pupa chrysalis cocoon with OE ophryocystis elektroscirrha a protozoan disease
OE is found over most of the butterfly's body. The abdomen, thorax, back, and head will have spores.
Note that the body is turning black yet the orange wings are not showing color. Normally the wings will turn orange first. If the body turns black before the wings turn orange, chances are that the butterfly has OE.
The wings of the butterfly will not be covered with spores. The wing pads will turn orange as normal.
Monarch butterfly pupa chrysalis cocoon with OE ophryocystis elektroscirrha a protozoan disease
Monarch butterfly pupa chrysalis cocoon with OE ophryocystis elektroscirrha a protozoan disease
Monarch butterfly pupa chrysalis cocoon with OE ophryocystis elektroscirrha a protozoan disease
This view is the top of the abdomen of the Monarch. Black spots showing through the pupa shell are maturing OE spores.
This pupa is beginning to show signs of OE. The dark patches are irregular and the orange in the wings isn't visible yet.

The yellow/brown stripe between the head and the abdomen often indicates that the butterfly is dying.
*** Click to enlarge image then see note below.

Monarch butterfly pupa chrysalis cocoon with OE ophryocystis elektroscirrha a protozoan disease
Taping a Monarch butterfly to check for OE ophryocystis elektroscirrha a protozoan disease
Taping a Monarch butterfly to check for OE ophryocystis elektroscirrha a protozoan disease
The dark marks on the outside of the pupa are usually spots of dried blood or damage to the cuticle (skin), not OE spores.
Take a piece of CLEAR (NOT 'invisible') tape and touch it to the butterfly's abdomen. It will not harm it. We will check the tape and respond privately.
Fold the tape back on itself so that no side is left sticky. Send the tape to: OE Check, 12876 SW CR 231, Brooker, FL 32622 and include your email address.

*** A brown band on the chrysalis between the two red arrows often indicates that the chrysalis is dying or dead. Brown on a Monarch chrysalis is never good news.

We will be more than glad to check your butterfly for OE. We know how disappointing and heartbreaking it is to raise a butterfly only to have it emerge sickly or to die soon after it emerges. It helps to understand why this happens. Do NOT blame yourself if it happens to your butterfly! If you collect eggs from the wild, you can disinfect the eggs before they hatch. This reduces the chance of the caterpillar eating spores as it eats its eggshell. Many people cringe at the idea of using bleach (recipe here) to disinfect a butterfly egg. Truth is, we like our children to be born in a disinfected room and their food to be free of pathogens. We can give our caterpillars the same protection that we give our own children. We have bleached over a half-million eggs in the last ten years and can assure you that carefully following the directions in this video will not harm your caterpillars.

Simply tape the abdomen as shown above, fold the tape over itself, and mail it to us. We will email you with the results. We will NOT share any information about anything you send except with you. Taping the Monarch butterfly will NOT harm or hurt it. If your butterfly emerged and died, you can still tape it and send us the tape.

In the wild, Monarch butterflies are often infected with OE. Spores are not attached to the body of the butterfly; they are loose. As the butterfly flies, spores fall off like glitter. The spores stick to eggs when they are laid.

Over 100 spores will fit on one butterfly scale. The spores cannot be seen without a microscope.

The spores fall off adult butterflies when they land on milkweed plants as the adult drinks nectar and lays eggs. A caterpillar eats its eggshell or a leaf with one or more spores and sadly, it is now infected with OE. One spore is all it takes to infect a caterpillar. The younger the caterpillar when it ingests a spore and/or the more spores it eats, the worse the infection will be.

Remember: Spots on the outside of the chrysalises are not OE spores. OE spores form INSIDE the chrysalis shells, on the outside of the maturing Monarch butterflies. When adults emerge, the spores are on the outside of the adult Monarch butterflies bodies. Dark black spots on the outside of the chrysalises are simply either damage to the chrysalis shells or tiny bits of blood that leaked out and dried to become black 'scabs'.

Finally, only butterflies that eat milkweed (Monarch, Queen, and Soldier) can become infected with OE. It cannot infect butterfly species that do not eat milkweed.