Thursday, September 9, 2010

An unwelcome visitor, or the very hungry catarpillars

Credit: Wikipedia, Bugboy52.40
It's odd how attitudes will change. I spend a lot of time in the garden encouraging butterflies to visit and to lay eggs, but when an unwanted one arrives, I'm furious!

In this case, it's the oleander -- or polka dot -- moth (Syntomeida epilais) that's got my dander up. How dare it (they) lay eggs all over my Adeniums!

The harmless caterpillar looks a lot like that of the gulf fritillary, and the moth itself, which is actually rather beautiful, gets its name because, well, it likes oleanders. I no longer have oleanders, which are in the Apocynaceae family, along with Adeniums and my Mandevilla splendens that the caterpillars have also eaten back to the stems.

Since I do my best to stick to a no-kill policy, and because I do encourage wildlife to visit, this presents a dilemma, especially with at least eight much prized desert rose plants.

So, early in the week I went to a fabric shop and bought several yards of white nylon netting, the kind of material used for the underskirt of a wedding gown. The photo illustrates the first attempt of wrapping up a plant after picking off any caterpillars.

Fingers crossed this will do the trick. Stay tuned.


David, Melanie and family said...

Wow! That's the most beautiful pest I've ever seen! Sorry they've invaded.

If you keep that white fabric up until October 31st, you just may scare the socks off of the local children one night. :-)

Meems said...

There is a delicate balance sometimes to the critters we WANT to draw and the ones that become pests. The netting is ingenious. My hat is off to you for the trouble. Hopefully it will work to keep your dessert rose plants dressed in green leaves.

TOG said...

In the 40s Coral Gables was full of oleanders and most were on public land. The moth was all over the city. By 1950 the city was cutting down all of the oleanders. I think that the city was worried about children eating the poisonous flower. My Adeniums never had any problems with the moth. But then I don't anyone that has an oleander in our area. I use Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) to keep the caterpillars off of the Canna lily leaves.

Terra Mirabilis said...

@David: It is beautiful, isn't it. Thanks for making me laugh, too. :)

@Meems: At the risk of tooting my own horn, for a conscientious gardener, it's always a balance. In this case I think the best solution is to find a plant that they can just "have;" after all, they have as much right to the garden as do I. Anyway, I'm going to do some research on the matter.

@TOG: Oleanders are still used in lots of places. Last time I went to Fisher Island (I had wealthy friends back then!), the landscaping incorporated many of them and they did look lovely.

James Missier said...

I prefer keeping them in a box and feeding them separately instead of leaving them on the plant.
That way, they will mature faster, turning into pupa and into butterflies.
Especially when they sense the control feeding regime - triggering them into thinking that there is not enough food left - turning into butterflies.

Kimberly said...

I have this moth...very pretty, indeed! It was visiting my lantana. Maybe it was looking for the oleander I evicted from the property last year. I applaud your prolife attempt at protecting your plants. You've set a great example to follow!

Terra Mirabilis said...

@James. What a good idea! Actually, I rescued a large monarch caterpillar before a large toad got it and it is currently pupating in safety.

@Kim: Thanks, although I haven't done them all yet. I think birds are picking the caterpillars off, too, which makes it easier for me for all sorts of reasons. But it is indeed a pretty moth.

MrBrownThumb said...

That's a beautiful moth and I was starting to wonder why you wouldn't want them. Then I got to the picture of your adenium and it all made sense. If I could grow an adenium that large and these moths were anywhere nearby I'd stand guard with a blow torch.

Terra Mirabilis said...

@MBT: Ha! Thanks for making me laugh!.