Ophryocystis elektroscirrha is a protozoan parasite that affects monarch butterflies. This disease is caused by a single-celled parasite that attaches itself to the scales on the wings and bodies of monarchs. When infected butterflies flutter their wings they can release spores of the parasite into the environment and on their eggs, spreading the disease to other monarchs and caterpillars. When the load becomes to heavy, it prevents caterpillars from developing correctly into butterflies.
OE has other detrimental effects on monarchs, including:
1. Reduced Lifespan: Infected monarchs often have shorter lifespans compared to healthy ones, which can impact their ability to complete their incredible migratory journey.
2. Weakened Flight: The presence of OE spores on their wings can hinder the butterfly's ability to fly efficiently, making it harder for them to find food and migrate long distances.
3. Reduced Reproductive Success: OE-infected females may produce fewer eggs or lower-quality eggs, which can further impact the monarch population.
To protect monarch butterflies from OE, it's important to promote healthy habitats, avoid overcrowding of milkweed plants and be cautious about planting tropical milkweed, which can contribute to the spread of this disease when not managed properly.
Monarch butterflies are known for their remarkable annual migration across North America. However, their population has been facing challenges in recent years and many fingers have been pointing towards tropical milkweed as a significant contributor to their challenges.
Tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) is a common plant found in big box stores that has been introduced to many regions where monarchs reside. While it provides nectar for adult monarchs and is easy to cultivate, it has drawbacks. One issue is that tropical milkweed can disrupt monarch migration patterns. In some areas, it does not die back in the winter, leading monarchs to stay in regions where they should be migrating to Mexico.
Monarchs have also shown a preference for tropical milkweed versus native milkweed. This causes many monarchs to visit a few plants, increasing their exposure to disease (like OE) and hinder their natural instincts to migrate. Would you eat off a plate that many other people used and that hasn’t been cleaned?
In summary, while tropical milkweed can be a valuable resource for monarchs, growing evidence shows that it should be managed carefully to avoid interfering with their migration patterns and to mitigate disease. Be sure to cut back your tropical milkweed often and to completely cut it back after Halloween. Or even better, avoid planting it altogether. Planting native can contribute to the conservation of these magnificent butterflies.
Nassau County now has access to native, pesticide free Milkweed and that is something I have worked very hard for and am proud of.