University of Minnesota

Remarkable Butterfly Videos from Monarch Lab PhD Candidate Carl Stenoien

Posted on Thursday, December 10, 2015 at 10:17 am in Monarch Conservation

Unless a lepidopterist or an avid butterfly citizen scientist, most people never have the opportunity to witness the amazing process of butterfly metamorphosis, or some of the lesser-known aspects of the lives of caterpillars and butterflies. This notion motivated Carl Stenoien, a PhD student in Karen Oberhauser's "Monarch Lab" at the University of Minnesota, to film and broadcast YouTube videos of several butterfly species morphing into pupae, emerging as butterflies, and interacting with little-known parasitoids.

Carl's research focuses on tiny parasitoid wasps that lay their eggs into butterfly pupae. Parasitoid wasp offspring consume the pupa from the inside, always killing the host, before emerging as adults. Carl has filmed a little-known species of parasitoid wasp (Pteromalus cassotis) encountering and attacking a monarch chrysalis, and has caught the wasps emerging from the chrysalis on film as well. A monarch chrysalis used by multiple female wasps can provide enough food to produce over 250 offspring! Parasitoids can't sting people like larger, social, predatory wasps that often come to mind when people hear the word "wasp.” Parasitoids are one of the most species-rich groups of organisms on the planet and are important regulators of herbivorous insects like caterpillars, but are relatively unknown to the general public, and are relatively understudied by scientists. For example, since the Monarch Lab "rediscovered" the parasitoid shown attacking monarchs in 2008, it had not been reported from a monarch since a brief scientific note published in 1888! This interaction has been overlooked because butterfly pupae are difficult to find and collect in the wild, not because the wasps stopped attacking monarchs for over 100 years. This monarch-parasitoid story was made even more of a puzzle because both monarchs’ and the wasps’ scientific names had been changed since 1888!

You can find these videos on Carl's YouTube channel:

Feel free to share with children, school teachers, citizen scientists, and naturalists who might find these videos entertaining, inspiring, exciting, or even disgusting. New videos are filmed and posted semi-regularly, so check back or subscribe to the channel.

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