Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) is an obligate, neogregarine protozoan parasite that infects Monarch and Queen Butterflies. There are no other known hosts. The species was first discovered in Florida, around the late 1960s.
Why should butterfly farmers care about this? One reason is that if the parasite gets out of control in a rearing operation, that operation can crash in a very short period of time, leading to the crash of your business. You can learn a lot more about OE in our annual course, “Disease Prevention in Lepidoptera” held every February.
Another reason is that the public is very concerned about this parasite and its affect on the wild population of Monarch butterflies.
In the summer of 2013, Sonia Altizer, Ph.D., (A professor and the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs in the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia) and a team of well-known butterfly researchers conducted a research project to identify the number of butterflies being sold for release that were infected with OE. The result was extremely unflattering to the industry – and while the study has not been published, enough people know about it that it could be used against the release industry. The study covers only a small number of farms and is limited. It may represent only a tiny fraction of the butterflies released and is informative but not comprehensive. However, there is absolutely no way that this is good news for us. Despite our claims to the contrary, there are reasons to believe that a number of farms are not keeping up the standards our Code of Ethics require.
Because of this, the Directors of Association for Butterflies has determined that it is necessary for us to get a better picture of the industry and to encourage all butterfly farmers and hobbyists or enthusiasts to do a better job of keeping a clean operation.
We are proud to announce the “OE Clean Screen Program.”