Thursday, 26 December 2013

Infrequent flyers

 Butterflies used to be so prolific that excitable children would run after them with huge nets in an urge to fulfill their megalomanic urge for bright fluttery things.  Avaricious collectors would pin the fragile little thoraxes of butterflies onto display boards to show off their hunting prowess. In Victorian times, the pursuit of butterflies bordered on being a community obsession. 

 Of course these days, now that butterfly visits have become a rarity, we know much better than to harm them directly.  The gardening commentators still fail to make the simple connection between caterpillars and butterflies though.  If it looks remotely like a caterpillar, then they reckon it should be poisoned, squashed or otherwise eradicated from the neatly manicured, grub free, back yards that they champion.

A Graphium Sarpedon or Blue Triangle Butterfly found in parts of Australia and South Asia, known for their habit of feeding by the edge of puddles. Did you know that a butterfly's sense of taste is 200 times stronger than a human's!
 The fact that one day...those caterpillars would, magically transform themselves into beautiful and highly effective pollinators...seems to interest them not one jot. And  the likelihood that waging chemical warfare on caterpillars will then have a domino effect on beneficial insects and birds would never enter their horticultural heads.

The Australian crow (Euploea Core) Butterfly. One of the most common migrating butterfly species

 Butterflies have been on this planet for 40 or 50 million years and there are a between 15,000 and 20,000 species worldwide, but, thanks to habitat destruction and the use of pesticides, their numbers are in steep decline. In North America, the journey of the Monarch butterfly is heralded as a natural wonder of mass migration. Millions of these brilliantly coloured creatures flutter over 3,000 kilometers from the US to Mexico to hibernate. But now their numbers are decreasing from around 100 million to less than half that (and falling) due to logging, development and the loss of native Milkweed plants that they rely on for sustenance.

One of the drivers causing butterfly decline is gardeners and the fact that they almost invariable eschew endemic native plants for foreign cultivars. American naturalist Benjamin Vogt made these observations –

We need to be gardening for insects as much if not more than ourselves. We talk about vegetable gardening as this holistic, green, wonderful thing to do for the planet -- but why don't we ever talk about ornamental gardening for insects and larvae?  We garden for butterflies (too often with butterfly bush), but we don't garden with the plants they evolved with to eat. We need to stop gardening solely for ourselves and see the incredible, beautiful, soul-magnifying existence that happens when we open up our gardens to the rest of the local environment by using native plants. We believe in giving to the needy and poor of our own species, and to other causes near our hearts, why not the birds, insect pollinators, amphibians right out back in the gardens we supposedly cherish so much?"

Wasp Moth (Eressa Angustipenna). Found in NSW, Queensland and the Philippines.

It’s all pretty simple really… to create a well balanced, backyard eco-system, we  need to restore the endemic trees, shrubs, ground-covers and grasses that existed there originally.  Don’t use herbicides or pesticides remove exotic weeds by hand and gradually the natural order and hopefully the butterflies will return.