In early January, costume designer and monarch butterfly enthusiast Romy McCloskey, found that one of her butterflies emerged from its cocoon with a damaged wing.

A few weeks later, her cat had swatted at two of the ten cocoons that she kept in her home, fatally killing one of them and leaving another with a crack.

When a butterfly emerged from the cracked cocoon, its broken wing left it unable to fly.

Monarch butterfly with broken wing
The monarch butterfly that emerged from a cracked cocoon. 

The damaged wing would have prevented the butterfly from joining its brethren on the species’ famous annual migration down to Mexico, which could take up to thousands of miles of flight time for a single insect, or contribute to its offspring’s return migration to Canada and the United States.

So McCloskey put her craftswoman skills to work and performed “butterfly surgery” on the three-day old insect. It was an involved task, but it helped that monarch butterflies don’t have nerve endings in their wings. She carried out the surgery using basic household items like a towel, scissors, tweezers, contact cement, talc powder, toothpick, and the wings of another butterfly that had died the previous week. (OK, the last one might only qualify as a “household item” to a raiser of butterflies.)

How to fix a broken butterfly wing

The total “operation” only took about ten minutes, but the quick, detail-oriented, task is deeply impactful for the butterfly. While many types of butterflies only live for a few weeks, the monarch butterfly has a life span of up to six months, which is “well worth the repair,” as the instructional video from the Live Monarch Foundation says.

When McCloskey released the butterfly, along with its “siblings” that had also recently emerged from their cocoons, the butterfly with its new wing was able to fly away without a problem.

Repaired monarch butterfly wing
McCloskey holds the butterfly with its wing repaired, before it takes flight. 

As she shared with the Washington Post, “He climbed on my finger, checked out the surroundings and then took off,” she said. “He landed on some bushes, and sure enough, when I went to reach for him, he flew up in the direction of the sun.”

“Hopefully he’s having a margarita down in Mexico with his buddies,” she said.

For more photos, see her Facebook post:


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