Monday, June 14, 2010

I feel like a murderer


Subtitle: Death visits the nursery

Subtitle to the subtitle: HELP!


I'm depressed. Real depressed. Sad. Frustrated. The Gulf fritillary caterpillars on our biggest passionflower vine are dying. Melting even. Oozing, dripping, blackening. I have no clue what's going on. Last year, I know we had several caterpillars on this same vine that went into a chrysalis. I blogged about them. But this year, I don't know if we've had even ONE chrysalis yet. Tons of caterpillars but no chrysalises. I don't remember see the larva die like this last summer. It's awful. And I'm depressed. Any thoughts, anyone? Help!!


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UPDATE–Here are the posts and replies I've made/received on the Butterfly Gardens forum on GardenWeb.com:

Posted by sherylsr on Tue, Jun 15, 10 at 11:14
The Gulf fritillary caterpillars on our biggest passionflower vine are dying. Melting even. Oozing, dripping, blackening. I have no clue what's going on. Last year, I know we had several caterpillars on this same vine that went into a chrysalis. I blogged about them. But this year, I don't know if we've had even ONE chrysalis yet. Tons of caterpillars but no chrysalises. I don't remember see the larva die like this last summer. Help? I've got photos of three victims on my blog.

Posted by misssherry on Tue, Jun 15, 10 at 11:19
So sorry! :( It looks like what I call the "black death" - it's a virus, more common in monarchs than gulf frits. It's not your fault, and there's nothing to do about it. Fortunately, it's not likely to happen again - it's only happened to mine once.

Posted by sherylsr on Tue, Jun 15, 10 at 11:31
How does it spread? I wondered if our passionflower was doing it.

Posted by tdogmom on Tue, Jun 15, 10 at 23:47
Nah...more than likely a viral thing OR have you or your neighbors sprayed any pesticides or insecticides around lately? West Nile stuff, from the Vector Control, perhaps? How about fertilizer? Sometimes, when you fertilize your plants, a similar thing happens with the larvae. What's the temperature been like? Hot? Cold? Variable temps from morning to night? Day to day? There are a number of variables that could be causing this as well. See if you can stop and think about what MAY be different right now. This may be difficult to do, yet, may hold the key to your problem. In the meantime, chin up! This happens to ALL of us at one time or another. Don't give up. Things will turn around.

Posted by sherylsr on Mon, Jun 21, 10 at 16:13
I can't even bear to go look at my frillitary cats any more. I picked off three little ones, put them in a bug box with a few passionflower leaves, and watched them blacken/die too. So it's bacteria then? We don't use fertilizers (except for occasional Miracle Grow in the little garden) or pesticides. (Did I put some Miracle Grow at the base of the passionflower? Can't remember now.) Yes, it's been in the 90s here and sunshine hits the passionvine but not all of it.
I've thought of cutting back the passionflower because it's so ravaged and horrible looking. Everyone's dying that's hatched on it! Sniff.

Posted by misssherry on Mon, Jun 21, 10 at 18:35
So sorry, sherylsr! If the virus can live on leaves or stems, then cutting it back would really be a good idea - don't know if it can, though. If it were me, I'd cut it all back just in case the virus can live outside the host.

UPDATE JUNE 23, 2010– I did it. I cut back the passionflower vine ALL THE WAY. It just looked so sick. Like a war zone, too, with all the little dead bodies here and there. So no leaves left now. While I was in the slow process of cutting, a Gulf fritillary butterfly flitted by and tried to land on the vine. "NO NO NO!" I exclaimed as I tried to catch her. I did! Then I rushed her–cupped within my two hands–to the back yard, where we have some healthy vines growing. I set her free by one. But she flew up into the live oaks, where she met up with another butterfly.

UPDATE JULY 14, 2010–I'm happy to report that the passionflower has rebounded and sent out lots of new shoots. Plus I have a few new caterpillar children as well. Yay!


1 comment:

mkircus said...

They have probably been parasitized, perhaps by a wasp who lays an egg in them. The baby eats its way out.

This might also be caused by bacteria.

I really don't know much about it but on the bug survey at Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center,the insect expert pointed out some "sick" caterpillars and said they were parasitized by a wasp.

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