I have recently planted some milkweed plants (Asclepias curassavica) in my community garden after seeing how nice they were at HortPark. It is a marginal water plant which produces eye-catching scarlet umbels of flowers. It is a water-loving plant, which is why I have chosen to grow it in its current location as the soil there can get quite wet during the rainy season. Not many woody flowering shrubs will survive in seasonal waterlogged conditions!
Just this evening, I decided to go take a look at the community garden after work while there was still a wee bit of daylight. As I was strolling through the garden, I was horrified to find my milkweed being defoliated!
At first, I was feeling little angered as I thought it was due to some pranksters who went around to damage my plants. But it did not take too long for me to realise that the damage could be brought about by caterpillars as I recalled that the milkweed is a butterfly food plant. My mood quickly simmered down and I went about to find for the culprits.
Armed with the knowledge that caterpillars are the ones that ate up the foliage, I bent down and then tilted my head upwards to look for the creepy crawlies that may be hiding on the undersides of my milkweed leaves. I was surprised with the two things I saw.
First, it was the large number of caterpillars that were feasting on the plants’ foliage (there are about 15 of them, could have been more as I have lost count). Second, the caterpillars present on the plants were so beautiful. They had white, black and yellow bands on their bodies and there were six black appendages which were thin and floppy on the back of each caterpillar.
With the help from one of my GCS forum members, Mr Gan, whose username on the forum is Green Baron, he identified the beautiful, banded caterpillars as the larvae of the Plain Tiger butterfly (Danaus chrysippus), which is a close relative of the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly. Mr Gan is also a member of the Butterfly Interest Group of the Nature Society (Singapore). I will be handing over to him the entire lot of caterpillars, which I have caught and temporarily housed inside a disposable food container.
OK, wait! Doesn’t it sound kind of weird to hand over caterpillars to someone?
This practice of handing over caterpillars from one’s garden over to people like Mr Gan is something that some members from the GCS forum have been doing for quite a while. It is like passing over what is considered as pests by gardeners to butterfly enthusiasts who regard them as gems as they want to do their part to conserve our natural biodiversity and heritage.
Besides Mr Gan, Ms Rosalind Tan from Alexandra Hospital who was featured in the papers recently, is one other kind soul whom I know that re-homes unwanted caterpillars that would most probably be killed by most gardeners. These butterfly enthusiasts actually feed these caterpillars until they undergo metamorphsis and then release them back to Nature when they emerge from their pupae.
Take a look at the picture below of the Plain Tiger butterfly, courtesy of Mr Gan. Don’t you think it is a beautiful butterfly?