I was delighted to see a large number of ‘Plains cupid’ butterflies in my front yard. I first noticed these tiny butterflies on my previous visit in June, and, if anything, their numbers seemed to have increased.
They obviously enjoyed perching on the cycas plants, (especially on a whorl of new fronds that were just emerging on one of them), and many a happy moment was spent taking macro images of these pretty creatures.
I was in the process of developing my garden and had called in a consultant for advice on installing drip irrigation. When walking past the cycas he noticed the new fronds, and urged me to spray them with insecticide to protect them from pests; advice that I was reluctant to implement as I was afraid it may deter the butterflies.
A week later the new fronds were dead. Something had destroyed them completely.
I asked the gardener what had killed them. In reply, he brushed off a few tiny caterpillars, each about a centimetre in length, from the now dead leaves and placed them in the palm of my hand.
A short stint of research on the internet revealed the following facts:
Plains Cupid (Chilades pandava) is a species of Lycaenid butterfly found in countries such as India and Singapore (Wikipedia). They are among the few butterflies that breed on plants of the cycad family.
Going back and reviewing my images it was now obvious that the butterflies were laying their eggs on the new fronds. In the image above, a single egg is clearly visible to the left at about 8 o’clock. Also, if you click on the second image on this page, and click again to zoom into it you will notice that it is dotted all over with a large number of butterfly eggs.
From the moment they are born hatched caterpillars begin feeding on the newly developing leaves, destroying them completely in a matter of days.
Now that the mystery of the dead cycas fronds is solved, I am torn between preserving my beautiful cycads on one hand and encouraging the Plains Cupids to stay on the other.
Sooooo… should I spray the plants with insecticide and kill/ discourage the butterfly and their lava or should I simply let nature take it’s course even if it means the eventual death of my cycads?
Radhika bhargava says
Hi ,let nature take its own course .Don’t spray some insecticide instead sprinkle some ashes from the firewood to discourage the butterflies from laying their eggs there .Maybe this would help saving your cycads .
Thanks Radhika! I’ll definitely try sprinkling ashes. Hope it works!
Genie D'Lima De Souza says
Hope the ashes will work…. it is truly a dilemma!
Mainak Ghosh says
Dear Dr. D’Souza,
I had a similar crisis few years back. I had planted and carefully nurtured a particular variety of fragrant lime ( similar in flavour to kffir lime of Thailand) and when they were waist high I found lime butterflies fluttering about. In 2-3 weeks the leaves started disappearing. Then I found the fat green caterpillars and googled to find the culprit was the common Lime. I had to choose one…the plant or the butterfly.
I chose the plants by carefully prying off all caterpillars ( I was 25-26 years of age) and then feeding them with fresh leaves from simple lemon trees ( which were abundant)… I succeeded over a 45 day period to rear 7 lime butterflies ( a great many didn’t make it but that happens even in nature) so if the caterpillars are as small as I suspect ( and this being 2016) I strongly recommend you recruit some young chap to coerce them away to an alternative food.
Great advice Mainak and I will definitely try that the next time I notice this. However a pair of Magpie Robin took the decision making out of my hands! They must have had a brood of hungry chicks for in one afternoon they cleared out the caterpillars! Nature never fails to surprise!!