Saturday 18 May 2019

Help Butterflies and Moths By Butterfly Gardening and Rearing The Insects

Why we should help butterflies and moths

Small Tortoiseshells on Butterfly Bush (Photo in Public Domain/Pixabay)
Very many butterfly and moth species are suffering very serious declines in numbers due to a combination of pesticides, habitat destruction, modern farming techniques that use herbicides and monoculture, and Climate Change. Moths, which were once commonly seen flying around street lamps, and as casualties on windscreens at night are no longer there. How often do you see moths coming inside where you live at night when a door or window is open? It used to be commonplace for these insects to be attracted by the light.

We can all do our bit in helping these beautiful insects, by growing flowers in our gardens to attract and feed the adults and by cultivating plants their caterpillars need. Butterfly gardening is a great way of doing valuable conservation work. A Buddleia davidii or Butterfly Bush is a wonderful way of attracting butterflies and moths. Leaving Ivy to grow is another help because it is a food-plant for the Holly Blue and the Swallowtail Moth, and its flowers in late autumn provide nectar for the last butterflies and pollinating insects that are still around.

Rearing Moths and Butterflies at Home

Swallowtail (Photo: Steve Andrews)
It is also quite easy to rear many types of butterfly and moth at home. I do this where I live in Portugal and currently have Swallowtail and Monarch butterflies in various stages of metamorphosis, and Death’s Head Hawk Moth caterpillars.
Death's Head Hawk (Photo: Public Domain/Pixabay)
Last year I had four generations of Monarch Butterflies, all reared on Milkweed I grew in the garden here. Swallowtails are fairly common in Portugal. The species here has a caterpillar that will accept many more food-plants than the very rare British variety, which needs Milk Parsley and is only found in the Norfolk Broads. European Swallowtail larvae will eat Rue, Fennel and Carrot. I obtained the Monarchs as young caterpillars from a butterfly farm here, and the hawk moth species I bought as eggs from a company in the UK I can wholeheartedly recommend.
Death's Head Hawk caterpillar (Photo: Public Domain/Pixabay)
Worldwide Butterflies was where I obtained my first stick insects and exotic silk moth species from as a boy, and I am glad to see they are still doing well as a business that provides livestock and valuable information.

Worldwide Butterflies

Worldwide Butterflies stock many rare as well as more common species, as well as providing equipment to help your efforts to rear these insects. They are encouraging the public to buy species they can supply that are no longer common in the UK. The Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly and the Garden Tiger Moth are both in this category. The first of these was once one of our most frequently seen butterflies but this is no longer the case. Yet it is easy to cater for because its caterpillars feed on Stinging Nettles.
Garden Tiger Moth (Photo: Public Domain/Pixabay)
The Garden Tiger is a very large and attractive species with caterpillars nicknamed “Woolly Bears” because of their dense covering of fur. These larvae eat a wide variety of plants, including Dandelions, Nettles, Rhubarb and Cabbage. Why they have disappeared in the UK is still somewhat a mystery.
Worldwide Butterflies also has the beautiful Peacock Butterfly on its current list and the Painted Lady. They even have the Black Veined White, which is extinct in the UK, though surviving in Portugal and parts of Europe. The bright yellow Brimstone is another British butterfly they supply but this species must have either of the two Buckthorn species that grow in Britain for its caterpillars to eat. Worldwide Butterflies can provide various hairstreaks and fritillaries as well, and some of these are rare. The company is offering a wide variety of UK moths, including the Vapourer Moth, the Puss Moth,the Cinnabar Moth, the Emperor Moth, the Blue Underwing Moth, the Eyed Hawk Moth, Lime Hawk Moth and Privet Hawk. Check out their current catalogue. There are many exotic species available too, and whilst these can be very large and colourful, you need to keep them indoors or in greenhouses and must never release them for obvious reasons. This is why, in my opinion, it is much better to stick with butterflies and moths that are native to the country where you live.

Helping species in your area

Helping species of butterfly and moth that are already in your area makes good sense. Take a look around at what insects you see flying where you are and then find out what plants they need for their caterpillars. Growing these plants in your garden will help attract the adult insects and provide somewhere for them to lay their eggs. This is what is happening with Swallowtails here in Portugal. The females of this butterfly lay eggs on rue in the garden. I take the eggs and caterpillars indoors though because wasps eat them if left outside. Female butterflies will return to your garden if they know the plants they need to lay their eggs on are there. This happens where I live with Monarchs and Swallowtails.
A Female Monarch Laying Eggs
If you have Common Blue butterflies where you live, simply allowing clovers and trefoils to grow in your lawn will provide a place for the larvae of these butterflies. A Privet hedge provides food for the caterpillars of several moth species, including the Privet Hawk and the Swallowtail Moth. A Willow or Sallow tree can provide food for Eyed Hawk and Poplar Hawk caterpillars. Currant and Gooseberry bushes are the food of the Magpie Moth caterpillars. They used to be a lot more common than they are today. The popular Nasturtium garden flower provides food for Small and Large White caterpillars, and even these butterflies are not doing as well as they used to.
Rearing butterflies and moths and helping them with our choice of garden plants provides a lot of pleasure, a sense of achievement, and is helping conservation at a time when so many species of wildlife are threatened with extinction.