Friday, September 11, 2020

Winged With Hope: Fixing broken monarch wings

Most people have seen the small, flying murals called butterflies.  Nature’s living pieces of art that remain an endless show of life and beauty drawn upon wings of flight.  The carrier of this splendor, a delicate butterfly. 

A butterfly has four wings – two on each side. They are broken into two forewings and two hindwings. The wings are attached to the second and third thoracic segments. When a butterfly is in flight, the wings move up and down in a figure-eight pattern.

Butterfly wings are made up of two chitinous layers. Each wing is covered by thousands of colorful scales and hairs.  These wing scales are tiny overlapping pieces of chitin on a butterfly wing only seen in detail under a microscope. They are attached at the body wall and are modified, plate-like setae or hairs.

Most butterflies have different patterns on the front and back of their wings and a color differentiation can occur within the same species depending on the sex of the butterfly.  Scent scales are modified wing scales are on the wings of male butterflies which release pheromones. These scent scales can be clearly identified on the hindwings of Monarch males. These chemicals attract females of the same species and are also known as androconia.

Butterfly wings are intricately designed and delicate.  One bend, twist or tear can leave these amazing creatures unable to fly and display its majesty.  With Monarch populations depleting, every Monarch living out its full life is pertinent to the continuation of the species.  As Lepidopterists it was our mission to Rescue, Rear and Release as many healthy butterflies back to nature in hopes of preserving the existence of the Monarch.

We have given love and care to each and every Monarch in our possession and have repaired wings that enabled a once grounded Monarch, flight back to nature using the simple tools of bible paper and craft glue and a handmade tool. This year was the first wing transplant performed by Skylyfe on a male Monarch that fell from his chrysalis and maimed his right rear wing, leaving him unable to fly.  Our first attempt was to once again use bible paper and craft glue to attach a piece to the small portion extending from its body but was found not to be sturdy enough to aid in flight. 

Our next effort was to cut the entire wing off, leaving a small portion that was attached to the body and replace with a previous year’s Monarch wing that we saved and preserved.  As you can see, the right wing of our transplant recipient is slightly larger and lighter shade than the rest. Butterflies do not feel pain. Although butterflies know when they are touched, their nervous system does not have pain receptors that registers pain so this procedure did not cause the butterfly stress or pain.  After the glue dried, the wing transplant showed to be successful and this male Monarch flew away. 


Ways you can help

Every Monarch life is important, especially when the population of a species is in jeopardy and with our love and time, we can make a difference!  As individuals we can extend a helping hand by planting milkweed the only host plant and source of food for a Monarch Larva.  Milkweed is easy to plant and we recommend planting the seeds in the fall season. 

Follow this link for more planting information:  We can make a positive difference in the lives of Monarchs When Humans and Nature Unite.


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Jackie Woodcock was born and lives in the Adirondack Mountains. She is an apiarist, lepidopterist, conservationist, teacher, writer, artist, and a co-owner of SkyLyfeADK. You can find her SkyLyfeADK on Instagram and Facebook.

13 Responses

  1. Ernest Williams says:

    I’m glad you’re interested in monarchs, and yes, they are wonderful creatures, and, yes, milkweeds and nectar sources are necessary. But release of injured butterflies does not increase the population size of monarchs; it’s highly unlikely that a repaired monarch could survive flight to Mexico. And did you check for parasite (Oe) load? Badly infected individuals wouldn’t survive the migration and shouldn’t be released. Rather than raise and release monarchs – other than for individual study and enjoyment – it’s far better for monarchs just to provide pesticide-free, nectar and milkweed rich habitat. That’s how to increase their population size.

  2. Ernest Williams says:

    I’m glad to hear that you work with Monarch Watch and the Xerces Society. Both are fine organizations that are active in support of monarchs.

  3. Betty Carpenter says:

    Years ago, my husband helped a monarch with a hole in its wing. He worked with our 11 year-old.. They delicately placed a tiny bit of nail polish at the site of the hole, and observed as it dried. Eventually the butterfly was able to demonstrate its flight. This was our child’s introduction to caring for wild creatures, and conversations about fragile life needs in nature.

    • Jackie Woodcock says:

      Hi Betty,
      What a touching story! Thank you so much for caring and for your beautiful work!

  4. Laurel Carroll says:

    how did you attach the transplant to the original wing’s stump? Re craft glue: Why am I incorrect in thinking the glue would be water-based and thus prone to dissolving in the event of rain or another form of moisture? thanks

  5. Ingrid Phillips says:

    Hi where you are located I leave on miami Florida and I attemp to fix. Broken wing without succced I really want to help fixing his wing I don’t know where I can take him.. If you know a closer place in miami Florida or let me know how far are you

  6. Lorinda Hinderman says:

    My dog got a monarch and I’m sure the dog slobber wrecked the wing scales bc she can’t fly. It’s been days. I keep her fed with flower during the day and night I put her on my flower pot at night or during rain. Now what?

  7. Crystal Bonham says:

    Hi I have a butterfly that needs help where are you located? Can I bring him to you to save?

  8. Daleana Albright says:

    Thanks for the great idea of a wing transplant. We have sent off 20 to 30 butterflies so far and have at least another 15 caterpillars at the moment. Also I had a butterfly die that has some weird whitish squiggly lines on the wing. Any idea what that could be from.

  9. Kimmie says:

    How can you say that they do not feel pain, they have nerves. Are you speaking of only in their wings (not feeling paint)?

    I had a butterfly with an injured leg and it was clearly in pain, holding the injured leg with its other legs. I gently moved the hurt leg with a pencil to gauge if it was merely hurt or actually broken or missing pieces, etc., and the butterfly immediately grabbed the hurt leg and held it close to its body, and was shaking and distressed.

  10. julieta barron moran says:

    just read your article on repairing wings, I do not raise butterflies a caterpillar hung on a small potted milkweed I had, put it inside for protection had what I thought was a good arrival. No problem getting out of the chrysalis It flapped the wings to dry and then rested. The next day when we released it, it could not fly, has a bended wing the right fore one, Can send you a pic Just saw your video can we repair it pls advice. Saw a comment on the Webb that bend wings have not hope ?? pls help

  11. Stephanie Osullivan says:

    I found one outside in Staten Island New York with its wing bent. It seems like the right wing is completely bent the wrong way to the left and right rear leg seems injured too.