Sunday, July 11, 2010

Butterflies - the bad news, the good news




A whole post about butterflies and four photos without a butterfly in sight? Unfortunately, that's the point. I've hardly seen any this year.


Have you got butterflies in your gardens at the moment? When I was in London at the beginning of June I didn't see one, and here in Milan they are still very few and far between, despite the fact that there's plenty on the balcony to attract them. In the last week I've seen one or two fluttering around, but so far there's been no caterpillar damage at all - whereas by the beginning of June the hollyhock are usually lacy with holes and the caterpillarium is swarming with inhabitants munching their way through anything I've put in there.



Bad news. You may not like the caterpillars chomping at your prize flowers and veg, but they're an essential part of the ecosystem. Birds eat caterpillars, especially when they're raising their chicks, and the adult butterflies - apart from being a beautiful addition to the garden - are pollinators. Not the best maybe, but they play their part. No pollinators? No plants next year.

So why have they disappeared? I suspect it was the particularly hard winter we had. Here in Milan it went down to - 14°C one night. That's less than 7°F.

Butterflies either hibernate in the winter, or over-winter in chrysalis form. But I suspect that with temperatures that cold, a lot just didn't make it.

Which brings me to the good news. One type that I've not seen at all on the balcony this year is the dreaded Geranium Bronze Butterfly (Cacyreus Marshalli), which attacks both geraniums and pelargoniums and usually starts being a problem in May.


I'd decided not to bother with pelargoniums of any sort at all this year. Over the last couple of years I'd lost all those that I had to the GBB. It started slowly, with a couple being killed off each year, but then each year it got worse and worse, until not only had all the plants I'd had for years been destroyed but also any that I bought new would be dead within a couple of months. So no more, I said. The only way to solve the problem is not to buy them. And I didn't. Well, not for the house anyway. But for the office, I couldn't resist ...

And they're fine. No sign of public enemy number two (number one is red spider mite - and even that has not been quite so virulent as usual this year). They're thriving, keep bursting into flower and making me wish I'd bought more.

GBB is native of South Africa, so the idea that they couldn't survive the excessive cold does make sense. Hurray - perhaps that will check their advance through southern Europe a bit.


There is another possibility though. It could just be that they have hidden interests that entomologists have never suspected. And so they've all gone home to watch the football ...




15 comments:

chaiselongue said...

It seems to be all good news here - plenty of butterflies in the garden, although perhaps fewer swallowtails than last year, and no Geranium Bronze butterflies..... yet. We had a much colder winter than usual too, but perhaps not as cold as Milan, I think our lowest temperature was minus 7 or 8, and the butterflies did seem to appear later than usual.

There are plenty of bees here too, although I know that's a worry in other parts of the world.

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

Goodness, I'm starting to feel very fortunate to have butterflies in our gardens. Swallowtails, California Sisters, and some lovely Lupine Blues. I just read Rosie's blog (in Scotland), and sadly there, for the tortoise shell butterfly at least, it seems their disappearance is the result of something more sinister.

Jackie said...

In Minnesota, I have seen quite a few butterflies this year and very early in the season. We had an unusually warm spring and I saw a Monarch in early May. We seem to have plenty of bees tool. I hope that the butterflies find their way back to your gardens soon.

Rosie@leavesnbloom Scotland said...

wow Sue I've never heard of that Geranium Butterfly before - and never thought of a type of butterfly being a pest....... but if I was a vegetable grower then maybe I would call the cabbage white a pest.

I think too that it was our harsh winter that killed most of the overwintering ones - I see few hooverflies and wild bees in the garden aswell - I've not seen a honey bee from a hive either so far this year.

Meredith said...

We have more butterflies than last year, due to the planting of a brand new butterfly bush and a couple of perennials that attract them -- not to mention growing cabbages this spring to help get the cabbage white population off to a good start. That is disturbing news to hear, Sue. Reminds me eerily of my nightmares after I first read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. I hope you get some soon, even if things do get a little bit nibbled.

AaronVFT said...

Love butterflies, but hate caterpillars.

Maria said...

Hello, no butterflies in Berlin this summer - I think I've seen three in total so far =(
Completely unrelated question: Can I still start courgettes, or is it too late in the year already? It's my first ever gardening season, the sugar snaps have all been harvested and I wonder what to put in their box now. We're having an extremely hot summer which promises to stretch well into September, and last year, October was very sunny and mild too.
Thanks for any advice!

Elephant's Eye said...

Those butterflies are going back to school tomorrow. Look out ;-)

PatioPatch said...

No butterflies at the moment in my London garden either despite having some of the plants they love e.g. Buddleia. Have seen the Whites that come to lay their eggs on my nasturtiums and I do let the caterpillars chomp. Even a white butterfly is better than none. Earlier in the year had the Brimstone and Small Holly blue. It's a sad summer without butterflies

Laura

Anonymous said...

They are all here...the butterflies, never seen so many up here in the northern part of Sweden :)
nice blogg you have!
Annso

Rowena... said...

Butterflies and bees have been setting up camp out our place, so no problem there. I am sorry to hear about you didn't get into pelargoniums this year. I also had to google an image of GBB since I am terrible about identifying butterflies in general, but no brownish-looking species have been hanging around my geraniums anyway.

Pam's English Garden said...

I am so thankful to have many butterflies in my PA garden this year. I guess they listened to the old adage - "Go West, young man." I hope Europe sees them soon.

One said...

Hi Sue, Love your beautiful flowers. Can we have an exchange program? You send me your flowers, I send you my caterpillars... I have black and orange ones, greens ones, grey and yellow ones and even very colourful ones...

Leontien said...

I don't know what happened last night, but this morning when i woke up the road, our parking lot and the garden were FULL of yellow butterflies, having no idea what they are called or what flowers they like, they sure were Beautifull!!!

Thanks for the post!

antigonum cajan said...

Excellent post. From the Caribbean: a legend on his own mind,
Antigonum the humble...

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