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Transfer of "J-hanging" pupae

     Rearing butterflies is interesting, educational and rewarding. While there are several books that address rearing techniques, they are mostly written for professionals. Nowadays many people interested in nature attempt to rear butterflies for various reasons. Many start from large and showy ones like Monarch, and then move on to others. Rearing can be upsetting when after quite a bit of labor a butterfly does not hatch, or hatches improperly and does not spread the wings. To ensure that the last step - hatching of an adult - goes smoothly, sometimes it becomes necessary to handle pupae (=chrysalides). Pupae, especially of small butterflies, are quite fragile and their handling should be avoided unless really necessary. Here we illustrate how to detach and transfer a pupa of Georgia Satyr (Neonympha areolatus) in preparation for hatching. Georgia Satyr is a good candidate for rearing, as females lay eggs readily in confinement, easily feed on honey solution, and caterpillars eat common front yard grasses, such as Bermuda grass (best) and St.Augustine grass (less desirable).


All images are © Nick V. Grishin

These 3 good-looking pupae reared from eggs laid by a captive female from TEXAS: Hardin Co., west of Kountze in May-2009, formed on the same day in a baby-food jar where the caterpillars were feeding. While it is usually a good idea to leave J-pupae (hanging by the cremaster and looking like a letter "J") as they were formed in order not to damage them, this case is different. Since the larvae pupated on the same day, they are likely to hatch on the same day, and 3 adults in a small jar are likely to make a mess.


Looking at pupae closer, we see that each one is attached to a small but visible silk pad. These pupae are about a week old, so adults are starting to form within:  yellowish eyes and wings can be seen in the bottom pupa. This is the best time to handle pupae. When pupae are freshly formed or ready to hatch they are more fragile and are easier to injure.


Here is a candidate to be transferred (top). It is attached by its end (cremaster) to a light-brownish silk pad. Last instar caterpillar's skin is still hanging to the left of it, head capsule being green.


Magnified view of the cremaster and the silk pad.


Preparation of a container for hatching. Rubbermaid cylinder is used here, container can be much smaller, or larger. Toilet paper sheet should be places in the container so the butterfly can crawl up and spread the wings.


2 sections of the toilet paper are positioned so it hangs from the side, covers the bottom, but leaves plenty of transparent side of the container open to see development.


View from the top. Now, back to the pupa.


The main idea is to touch the pupa as little as possible. Ideally, there should be no contact between a human and a bug. With an insect pin (size 3 in this case) we will detach part of the silk pad from the glass, and leave it on the pupa.


Holding a pin as parallel as possible to the surface of the glass try to insert the tip between the glass and the silk pad.


Success! We see that the silk pad is loosened.


The pupa now hangs from the silk pad almost detached from the glass.


With tweezers, we will pull the silk pad from the glass and hold it with the pupa still handing from the silk pad.
Important: touch only the silk pad, never touch the pupa.


Success! Rather large portion of the silk pad is removed, which will make it handy to attach the pupa to a new place. Sometimes only a small position of the silk pad (1-2 threads?) remain with the pupa, it is ok too, as soon as there is something to hold the pupa by. Do not grab the pupa (even by the cremaster) with tweezers, as it might be injured. If the pupa drops and there is no silk pad, carry it on a piece of paper, but avoid touching.


The pupa on its side. The silk pad is obvious on this oversharpened image.


METHOD 1: just place the pupa on the bottom of the hatching container. When butterfly hatches, it will crawl up the paper and spread the wings. We are done, let's close the container.


METHOD 2: attach the pupa to the lid of the container by a Scotch tape, so the pupa hangs in natural position. Adult will hatch and hold on to the pupal shell to spread the wings. In case the adult falls down by accident, it can crawl up the paper.


Pupa should be attached by the silk pad, The tape should cover the silk pad only, not the pupa.


A piece of tape is closed neatly so it passes as close as possible to the pupa, but not covering it, just the silk pad.


To secure the pupa, we will add another piece of tape on the other side. First, flip the pupa.


Attach a piece of tape close to the cremaster to cover the remainder of the silk pad.


The pupa is ready to hang in natural position. We can close the lid.


Final product. The pupa should hatch nicely.


All images are © Nick V. Grishin



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