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?