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Old 09-06-2011, 08:53 PM   #1
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Default Massacre of the Swallowtails

Not sure if a massacre is the correct word to use to describe what happened in my house on Monday. I had gone to PA for my niece's 6th birthday party. I was only gone overnight, so I only took the monarch caterpillars with me and left the tower with the swallowtails. I had 7 chrysalides and one caterpillar when I left.

I walked in the door and noticed something wrong. The tower was FILLED with tiny flying insects, fruit fly sized. Oh no! I know what these are!
Braconid wasps were covering the swallowtail chrysalides, repeatedly stinging and stinging and stinging. The chrysalides were squirming and writhing in what appeared to be agony. I took the tower outside, being careful not to release any of the tiny wasps into the house. I opened the flaps of the tomato cage tower and released the wasps. There were still several wasps attached to each chrysalis.

I am so upset as I had planned on starting the school year with three different Lepidoptera caterpillars. The chrysalides are still in the tower, on my porch. I don't know if I should cut them off the tulle and put them in the garden or freeze them to euthanize the chrysalides and the wasp larvae. I don't know if the swallowtails are slowly suffering or feeling pain!

The good news is a teacher friend of mine raises them as well and brought me four new swallowtails tonight.
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Old 09-06-2011, 09:01 PM   #2
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Braconid wasps parasitize caterpillars and other insects. The female uses her ovipositor to deposit from one to many eggs into the body of the insect. The larvae emerge from their egg and eat the insect from the inside out. The wasps that I had emerge must have been laid on the swallowtail caterpillar or chrysalis. I found a chrysalis that had a huge hole in one end, most likely where the wasps emerged.

Braconid wasps are considered beneficial insects for several reasons. They often parasitize the tomato horned worm and other pest caterpillars. They are also fantastic pollinators! So, despite the fact they ruined my swallowtails, they are important little buggers.
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Old 09-06-2011, 10:16 PM   #3
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A tough day, coming home to that, Bridget. Sorry to hear about your losses. I've no doubt that you've done this long enough to have seen the painful lessons of predation regularly, though that makes it no easier to bear, especially when painstakingly careful precautions were utilized to provide a "safe" environment for your special little charges. Seems that no matter how hard we try to help the cats out, something often happens.

Last year, one of my biggest nemesis was tachinid flies. I had seen lots of flies around the milkweed, but didn't realize the were preying on the caterpillars (I hadn't joined WG yet). Only after seeing the slimy larvae emerge from the dying Monarch cats, did I recognize the problem. The fly larva fatally leaves the suspended caterpillar via a silky, broad thread of deathly slim, descends slowly to the ground, pupates fairly quickly to a nondescript small brown cocoon, then emerges a few days later to start the cycle anew. I froze the sickly cats to prevent an undoubtedly painful death and to kill the parasitic larva; seemed to be the right thing to do...
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Old 09-06-2011, 10:18 PM   #4
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Bridget, so sorry to hear of the tragedy in your home. So difficult to know if the caterpillars suffered, but they must have felt something very unpleasant to be writhing around..... ugh. Do insects have nerves as we think of them? I wish I knew, but not being an entymologist, I don't! I note you call the plural of chrysalis, "chrysalides". I am learning! I was calling them chrysalises; hmmmm.
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Old 09-18-2011, 12:10 PM   #5
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I'm no expert, but I believe butterflies and caterpillars feel some kind of pain...maybe a more primitive kind. Sorry about the wasps...I usually only see them on moth species...and if I see a caterpillar with those things on its body, I kill it as humanely as possible. I know, some don't like that idea, but it seems right to me.
Both plural forms of chrysalis are correct...I've check that out before.
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Old 09-18-2011, 08:59 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Asclepias View Post

Last year, one of my biggest nemesis was tachinid flies. I had seen lots of flies around the milkweed, but didn't realize the were preying on the caterpillars (I hadn't joined WG yet). Only after seeing the slimy larvae emerge from the dying Monarch cats, did I recognize the problem. The fly larva fatally leaves the suspended caterpillar via a silky, broad thread of deathly slim, descends slowly to the ground, pupates fairly quickly to a nondescript small brown cocoon, then emerges a few days later to start the cycle anew. I froze the sickly cats to prevent an undoubtedly painful death and to kill the parasitic larva; seemed to be the right thing to do...
Tachinid flies are buggers, aren't they? I also freeze the caterpillars if I find they are parasitized. Some years I have more tachinids than others; this year I only had one!
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Old 09-18-2011, 09:05 PM   #7
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Bridget, so sorry to hear of the tragedy in your home. So difficult to know if the caterpillars suffered, but they must have felt something very unpleasant to be writhing around..... ugh. Do insects have nerves as we think of them? I wish I knew, but not being an entymologist, I don't! I note you call the plural of chrysalis, "chrysalides". I am learning! I was calling them chrysalises; hmmmm.
Aynho82, I have seen the plural written several different ways. Chrysalises, chrysalides, chrysalids... and I have heard bug people call them all 3 words! lol
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Old 09-19-2011, 04:08 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ButterflyLinda View Post
I'm no expert, but I believe butterflies and caterpillars feel some kind of pain...and if I see a caterpillar with those things on its body, I kill it as humanely as possible. I know, some don't like that idea, but it seems right to me.

I would guess most creatures can feel pain.

Interesting how your post really made me think. I am a rather sensitive person...intellectually I guess I've been thinking that the wasps (being a natural part of the ecosystem (I believe) have the same right to live as anything else...however, I hate to see things suffer, so I might very well end up putting them out of their misery...even though, while reading the thread I figured I would not get involved. ~sigh~ nothing is ever cut and dry.
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Old 09-19-2011, 07:08 PM   #9
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I think I would let nature take its course, on the grounds that it happens every day, all the time, even if I'm not observing it and mercy killing one caterpillar isn't really changing anything. I kind of think wasps are cool, too. On the other hand, I brought caterpillars inside to keep them from being grabbed by the wasps, and I've never had to sit and watch them actually being attacked, especially ones that I had raised.

The school kids would probably have really enjoyed and learned from the wasps as well as the caterpillars. Most kids are essentially blood thirsty and get into horrific animal tales (witness which shows are popular on Animal Planet and Discovery). The classes always liked watching my carpet pythons eating mice.

I always wonder when I bring in a caterpillar or chrysalis from the wild to a classroom if a wasp will emerge rather than a butterfly or moth. It has happened a couple of times in the past ten years.
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Old 09-19-2011, 10:09 PM   #10
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Well, I did not freeze the chrysalides after many moments of mental agony. The tower with the parasitized pupae is in my garden. Whatever happens will happen. I don't know the length of time it takes for the wasps to go through their life cycle. I am wondering if they will overwinter in the swallowtail pupae?

Turttle: You are a teacher? How did I not know that? What do you teach? You've had brachonid wasps emerge from a chrysalis before?
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