Do My Monarch Butterflies Have OE? Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

“I don’t have a microscope. How can I check to determine if my Monarch butterflies have OE?”

Monarch butterfly cannot emerge because it has OE - Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

Other things cause this same problem!
Monarch butterfly cannot emerge
Because it has OE
Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

Other things cause this same problem!  Monarch butterfly with crumpled wings due to OE parasite.  Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

Other things cause this same problem!
Monarch butterfly with crumpled wings
due to OE parasite.
Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

Many Monarch butterflies that had a bad OE infection cannot emerge from their chrysalises. Many will emerge but will be unable to pump their wings full and flat. This in itself is not proof of an OE issue.

Other issues can cause this same problem for an adult Monarch butterfly. Please don’t assume that a butterfly that has crumpled wings or cannot emerge has OE. By assuming that they have OE, you may be overlooking a worse problem that can be easily corrected.

This can also happen from something as simple as low humidity or a slightly deformed/damaged chrysalis.

These first two photos are of Monarch butterflies that were raised from wild caterpillars taken from a plant nursery. Although it wasn’t fun to see the OE infected chrysalises and adult butterflies, it did give us a perfect opportunity to take photos of them.

Taping a Monarch Butterfly for OE Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

Taping a Monarch Butterfly
With clear tape for OE
Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

Monarch scales on tape, ready to mail for OE check - Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

Monarch scales on tape
Ready to mail for OE check
Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

To check for OE, simply take a piece of CLEAR tape (NOT ‘invisible’ tape) and touch it GENTLY but FIRMLY to the abdomen of a Monarch, Queen, or Soldier butterfly. After you tape the adult butterfly, simply fold the tape over and stick it to itself. This prevents other things from sticking to the tape. Simply insert it into an envelope and mail it to us.

You can mail the tape to us at the farm. If you would like us to check your tape, please include your email address and we will send the result to you and you alone. We never share names of or information about anyone who sends us tape.
OE Check
Shady Oak Butterfly Farm
12876 SW CR 231
Brooker, FL 32622

OE spores and Monarch scales on a slide   Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

OE spores and Monarch scales on a slide
Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

(Photo to the left) If you would like, you can first do this simple test. It will show a positive result only if the butterfly is heavily covered with spores. If a Monarch or Queen has only a light spore load, it won’t show if you are using this method. After firmly (but gently) pressing the tape to the abdomen to the butterfly, press the tape firmly to a clear piece of glass. A window pane, drinking glass, or other item works well. Remove the tape and hold it up to the light or place a white piece of paper behind it. If spores were on the adult butterfly, some will stick to the glass. The top slide has tape (with scales on it) on the slide. The bottom slide is the SAME slide with the tape removed. All the black color on the lower slide photo are OE spores. There are no scales on that slide in that photo. Some of the butterflies had so many spores that they stuck to the slide. It is immediately evident that those butterflies had a super heavy OE spore load. If you do not see spores after you remove the tape, you can fold it back over itself and mail the tape to us to check. (Instructions below)

OE spores CAN be seen easily through a microscope if clear tape is used - Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

OE spores CAN be seen easily
through a microscope
if clear tape is used
Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

OE spores cannot be seen well if 'invisible tape' is used - Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

OE spores cannot be seen well if ‘invisible tape’ is used – Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

Spores are easily visible through a 100x microscope. We do not encourage you to purchase a toy microscope. As stated above, if you do not have a microscope, please mail the tape to us if you would like to know if it has OE.

OE Spores are perfectly lemon or football shaped

OE Spores are perfectly
lemon or football shaped

Two photos to the left show why we insist on clear tape. ‘Invisible’ tape is wonderful for taping paper and wrapping presents. ‘Invisible’ tape distorts anything seen through it. The same butterfly was used for both photos; clear tape and invisible tape.

With invisible tape, you cannot tell what is on the tape. You cannot differentiate between spores, dust, pollen, and other items.

OE spores are much smaller than Monarch or Queen butterfly scales. Over one hundred spores can fit on one scale.

Monarch butterfly scales and dust.  OE spores are perfectly football shaped.

Monarch butterfly scales and dust.
OE spores are perfectly football shaped.

Pollen from Joe Pye Weed

Pollen from Joe Pye Weed

OE in Monarch Chrysalis Pupa Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

OE in Monarch Chrysalis Pupa
Ophryocystis elektroscirrha
Parasite, not really a Disease

If you do not see spores on your tape, it does not mean that your butterfly doesn’t have spores on the outside of its body. It does mean that it isn’t heavily contaminated with spores. It may have had a light infection. You can learn more about OE by reading our OE webpage.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis with OE   Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

Monarch butterfly chrysalis with OE
Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

If you see something on the tape/slide through a microscope and it is NOT a perfect football shape, it is not OE. Pollen, dust, and other items will stick to a butterfly.

The ‘dust’ photo to the left was taken after I pressed the tape to the top of a door frame and next taped an adult butterfly. Dust is not perfectly football shaped.

If a butterfly is heavily infected with OE, you can often determine that fact before it emerges as an adult butterfly.

A day or two before the wings become visible through the chrysalis shell, black spots or shapes may show through it. If the black shapes/spots are perfect mirror images, left and right side, they aren’t spores. If they are not perfect mirror images, they are spores.

Spores are UNDER the chrysalis cuticle (skin). If the cuticle has black spots that appear to the on the outer layer, chances are that they are light damage from oxidation, rough handling, or other damage.

To learn more about detecting OE in Monarch and Queen chrysalises, click here to check out our OE in pupae webpage.

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