Friday, February 24, 2017

Speaker's Report: Caring for Caterpillars - February, 2017 meeting

Helen Schwencke’s talk began with the question why we should care about caterpillars. They are nature’s tip pruners, decomposers, composters and food for other animals, such as birds. They thus play an important role in making our habitats liveable, are a part of a food web, and then, if they survive their predators, parasites and diseases, turn into beautiful, colourful butterflies.

As a preparation for further discussion, Helen touched upon the more complex metamorphosing of butterflies (egg, larva, pupa and adult) and other less complex metamorphosing for example with silverfish and bugs (egg, nymph, adult). She made the point that if one wanted to care for caterpillars, one had to start by learning how to care for eggs, and these eggs came in all shapes and sizes. Some species lay a single egg, while others lay a group of eggs. Different butterflies lay eggs on different leaves and hence if one wanted a variety of butterflies in one’s garden, one had to know which plants to grow. Helen gave a number of examples of types of trees she grew in Brisbane in order to attract a wider variety of butterflies.

Common crow egg about to hatch and caterpillar  © Helen Schwencke, 2017

Helen also showed us some slides of beautifully coloured caterpillars, which have been reproduced below.

Top left: Joseph’s Coat moth.                              Top right: Twitchy tail – a Hawkmoth
Bottom left: Common Pencilled-blue                Bottom right: Speckled moth
©Helen Schwencke, 2017

The table below lists the top ten butterfly plants. The plants on this list won't be suitable for all locations, and the selection you make needs to be appropriate for your local environment.
Top Ten Butterfly Plants for 32 Butterflies in SEQ
Grow this plant:
Encourage these butterflies to breed in your garden:
Climbing Senna (Senna gaudichaudii)
Yellow Migrant, Small Grass-yellow, Large Grass-yellow
Corky Milk-vine (Secamone elliptica)
Common Crow, Blue Tiger
Emu Foot (Cullen tenax)
Chequered Swallowtail, Common Grass-blue, Tailed Pea-blue
Karamat (Hygrophila angustifolia)
Chocolate Argus, Meadow Argus, Varied Eggfly, Dainty Grass-blue
Love Flower (Pseuderanthemum variabile)
Australian Leafwing, Blue Argus, Blue-banded Eggfly, Danaid Eggfly, Varied Eggfly
Mangrove Wax-flower Vine (Cynanchum carnosum)
Swamp Tiger, Lesser Wanderer, Common Crow
Native Mulberry (Pipturus argenteus)
Jezebel Nymph, Speckled Lime-blue, Yellow Admiral
Thornless Caper (Capparis lucida)
Caper White, Chalky Pearl-white, Caper Gull
Zig Zag Vine (Melodorum leichhardtii)
Four-barred Swordtail, Pale Triangle, Eastern Dusk-flat
Finger Lime (Citrus australasica) also Citrus (mandarin, lime, orange trees)
Orchard Swallowtail, Fuscous Swallowtail, Dainty Swallowtail.
(From Earthling Enterprises Pty Ltd –

Helen’s love of caterpillars and butterflies was evident in a set of photos she had taken capturing a Lemon Migrant as it comes out of its pupal case.


Shirley Cormack, who moved the vote of thanks to Helen, summed up the feelings of club members: “We will pay a much greater attention to the caterpillars in our gardens as a result of this talk”.
(Report by Francis Mangubhai)

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