You have planted a wonderful garden, full of flowers and flowering shrubs, many of them planted to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Success! Your yard if full of butterflies! And if butterflies could emit a wicked cackle, they would, because your tenderly planted garden is about to be attacked by caterpillars!
I have frequently witnessed the mating dance of butterflies, a lovely thing, without thinking of the consequences. Yes, butterflies lay eggs, and, yes, there are caterpillars, but in my previous experience not
masses and masses of caterpillars.
This morning, Metric Man and I watched the ritual laying of the eggs on my passion flower vines. Yes, we caught them in the act, and I have pictures on the Facebook page of Arenal Gardeners to prove it. It seems to me that the first female to lay her eggs must also be exuding a pheromone that says, “Here is a nice place to lay eggs. Just enough shade, just enough sun, wide leaves and plenty of food” because the first female I saw was joined by a second, then a third, a forth, a fifth…disgusting.
I just hung around until they were finished and then removed the leaves with eggs and put them in a jar. Later today, I will take them somewhere else – anywhere else – to hatch. Okay, if they were blue morphos, they could stay, but these are juno silverspots and they are ubiquitous. Not only that, but their favorite food is passion flower vine. Dang!
These ladies go about their life’s work with a singlemindedness that is amazing. You can get within an inch without disturbing the egg laying and, oh boy, can they lay eggs.
Hundreds (I counted) of eggs can be laid by each butterfly, and all are laid on the underside of a leaf for protection. Laying them in a group and on the same day means that thousands will hatch at the same time providing a group survival mechanism (which means more butterflies to lay more eggs, which means maybe I should plant different vines). This is the second mass laying of eggs we have had judging from the damage to my vines, and I expect we will see more.
The saddest part of the process is watching the female flutter to a lower stem or leaf, exhausted by her labors. At this point, her wings are smaller in size and won’t carry her very far. She sits and waits. She will die on that leaf or be carried off by a predator. She has ensured the survival of her species. Her life is over.