A monarch butterfly — if he is lucky — is migrating from Moline to Mexico with a donor wing.
“I hope the little fellow makes it,” says Branduin “Brandy” Wiens, a Moline butterfly lover who performed some unlikely wing transplant surgery — with tweezers, toothpicks, scissors and two kinds of glue — on the monarch butterfly.
It took from a Sunday to a Tuesday to get the little guy airborne.
Brandy has been interested in bugs and butterflies since she was 7 years old. Now, she “raises” butterflies.
On a recent Sunday, a male hatched in her home’s small butterfly nursery. Brandy explained that in emerging from its chrysalis —best described as a birthing pod — most of its wing was torn off.
“Since he couldn’t fly, I figured I would just keep him in my butterfly garden on the flowers and eventually let nature take its course,” she says.
“It was sad, though, because this little boy should have been headed down to Mexico for the winter.”
Each year beginning in late August, thousands of monarch butterflies migrate from North America to central Mexico. Brandy fretted over how to help her hatchling make the trip — and she soon had a scheme.
“That very night, a stranger and butterfly lover had posted on the online Monarch Watch page about doing wing repair for one of her butterflies. I knew I had to try. The only thing was … where would I get a wing?
“I reached Gary Koeller, who heads the education department of the Quad-City Botanical Center, where there is a butterfly enclosure. There was a monarch that was no longer alive. He gave it to me to provide a donor wing for my butterfly. I suppose you’d call it a cadaver butterfly.”
Koeller said Monday: “I have never heard of butterfly wing transplant like this in my life. It’s an amazing tribute to Brandy’s persistence and skill to pull off such a delicate transplant.”
Undoubtedly, it takes a deft touch to surgically attach one butterfly’s wing to another. Butterflies are flittery creatures that settle down best when the sun goes down or in night-like conditions.
But Brandy had a surgical plan in place.
“I turned off the kitchen lights to trick him into thinking it was night. It calmed him down while he was gently held in place with the hook of a coat hangar. I tried two coats of Permatex from an auto supply store. My butterfly flapped, didn’t stay still. I tried it twice. This glue wasn’t going to work, so I used Loctite.”
Confidently, Brandy swiftly moved like a skilled surgeon. She used thin-bladed scissors and tweezers and a spotlight in the darkened kitchen.
“The transplant was from a girl monarch butterfly to my boy monarch. I’m hopeful that he didn’t mind. For the second try, I held him in place with toothpicks. He did not appreciate being held down. But the glue was holding. It dried for six minutes.”
To help dry the area of the glue-surgery, Brandy sprinkled a dusting of cornstarch on the butterfly.
But would it work when the butterfly went airborne?
Brandy gently took the butterfly — with a new donor wing — outside. She held him for a moment in her hand.
“He took off as if nothing was wrong and headed south,” Brandy says. “The only thing I can say is that he will be late for a Mexican vacation — if he makes it.”
Contact Bill Wundram at (563) 383-2249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.