The Tenerife butterfly and moth rescue team for the Canary Islands

Monarch butterfly rescue team runs into a feeding crisis

In past issues of the Tenerife Sun I have written about my ongoing project to help increase the numbers of the beautiful Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on the island, and I am very happy to say that I am getting a growing number of people willing to help by cultivating the Scarlet Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) food plant in their gardens or terraces. In the Amarilla Bay housing complex in Costa del Silencio there are the most members so far of my Canary islands butterfly rescue team.

Photos for this hub

Monarch on the Bard of Ely's head
Monarch on the Bard of Ely's head | Source
Death's Head Hawk moth caterpillar
Death's Head Hawk moth caterpillar | Source
Death's Head Hawk Moth (Acherontia atropos)
Death's Head Hawk Moth (Acherontia atropos) | Source
Monarch caterpillar
Monarch caterpillar | Source
Monarch chrysalises
Monarch chrysalises | Source
Tropical or Scarlet Milkweed
Tropical or Scarlet Milkweed | Source
Cornical | Source

The Lepidopterist

There is Mike Slater, who is a lepidopterist, which is a person who studies butterflies and moths, in case you didn’t know, and Mike was naturally only too keen to help. Then there is Jan Bullivant who works in Flicks Bar, who is going to be growing some milkweed from seed, and Jenny Brignell, whose five-year-old little boy Xoaquin is very excited about it all and was happy to see the seeds I gave them come up and grow.

Unfortunately, all these people only have tiny seeds and seedlings so far. The same goes for Rob Carless in San Eugenio and Fernando Lorenzo and Emily Weston in Las Lajas in the north. Graham Ingle in Chirche and Kirsty Jay in Chio were other people I had given seeds to but also couldn’t help at this stage.

Sadly, despite all my efforts, a crisis point had been reached when all the greedy caterpillars I had on some plants out on my balcony had eaten nearly all the leaves. I knew I would have to journey on the bus down to Costa del Silencio, which is the only place where I know several plants of milkweed are growing in a flower border. I have done this before, and have been able to feed the starving caterpillars I have had here.

This time it all went badly wrong though because I got caught red-handed by a man who worked on the complex that the border is part of and he wouldn’t listen to my plea when I explained I desperately needed the plant (or rather some caterpillars did!) It was clearly more than his job’s worth to allow me to take a few stems and he said I had to empty my bag and throw the bits I had back on the border.

It all seemed so petty and such a tragic waste, but what could I do when technically I was nicking flowers from a border of a housing complex I am not even a resident of?

Beaten and desperate I thought I would try another border in another complex where I used to live and where one plant of milkweed used to grow. Unfortunately the community gardeners there had been doing obvious garden ‘tidying’ work and this process usually involves hacking everything back and pulling out smaller plants – in this case they had pulled out the milkweed I needed.

I thought there is only one other thing I can try to that is to get some Cornical (Periploca laevigata), which is a climbing vine in the milkweed family that grows wild on Tenerife and can be found on the waste ground near where I was. I didn’t think the Monarch caterpillars would eat it but faced with a life or death situation for them I hoped they would.

When I got home my worst fears were realised because my starving brood of caterpillars wouldn’t touch the Cornical even though they only had bare stalks left. Fortunately, Robbie Ehrentreich and Stefania Vello, who are two friends I have in Cueva del Viento had a few plants already growing on their finca and they said I could bring the hungry caterpillars there.

Not only that, but they already were doing their bit to help butterflies and moths because they had a huge caterpillar of the Death’s Head Hawk Moth (Acherontia atropos) demolishing a bush of Yellow Sage (Lantana crocea).

I was excited to see that they had a specimen of the brown variation of this caterpillar because I have only seen the more common green type before. It is a very odd looking creature with a spiky little horn on its tail and bizarre markings on its head.

The adult moth is equally strange with a marking like a human skull on its thorax and with its ability to squeak has given rise to many superstitions about it as an insect of evil omen. This is the moth that became a film star and was featured starring alongside Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs.

I released the hungry Monarch caterpillars onto the milkweed in their new home, and then Stefania and I spotted an adult Monarch butterfly in their garden. Stefania told me she had never seen one there before so it seemed like a good omen, as if the butterfly was checking out where I was putting the young ones and approved.

Footnote: Originally published in the Tenerife Sun newspaper.

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Comments 24 comments

Pete Maida profile image

Pete Maida 7 years ago

This is certainly a worthwhile effort and one of the more greener projects I've heard about. I don't know if I would risk my job for a butterfly either but I'm happy it worked out.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thanks, Pete! Something has just happened at Facebook where I've advertised this hub someone from Tenerife has just suggested that Milkweed could be planted at golf courses in the south and said he is friendly with the green-keepers there. I have said I will get some seeds to him.

Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 7 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Good luck with that - it would be a duller world without butterflies and moths. The golf-course idea is a great one - it just goes to show how the internet can sometimes be a force for good, allowing like-minded people to meet!

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Indeed, the Internet is probably the most important communication tool we have! Butterflies are a sign of how well or badly the ecology of an area is doing!

Julie-Ann Amos profile image

Julie-Ann Amos 7 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK

Love butteflies but the caterpillars decimate my flowers every year!

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

What type of flowers? Whites eat nasturtiums. As for the Monarchs you have to sacrifice the plants to feed the caterpillars. They eat everything including the stalks and seed pods.

ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

Great images. We have plain old cabbage whites and the odd tortoiseshell and red admiral. Still I love even these. This year they seem to be in love with my lavender much more than usual.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

There are loads of Whites here because plenty of people grow cabbages and cauliflowers and nasturtiums grow wild. There are two types of Red Admiral on Tenerife too!

goodfangji profile image

goodfangji 7 years ago

Indeed, the Internet is probably the most important communication tool we have!

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I don't use mobile phones but thanks for posting!

Plants and Oils profile image

Plants and Oils 7 years ago from England

How wonderful - I hope the golf-course idea comes to fruition.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Yes, so do I! The friend who suggested this is in Scotland at present but he said he will be in touch again when he is back on Tenerife in September. If enough people could be persuaded to grow this flower there would be loads of Monarchs all over the island. I have reared as many as 35 in one week and that's just from my balcony.

Plants and Oils profile image

Plants and Oils 7 years ago from England

I saw another interesting hub related to yours, which you might enjoy:

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for pointing me in the direction of someone else who cares about these amazing insects!

AdamCairn profile image

AdamCairn 7 years ago from UK

I love that guy's green moustache. So pleased to see people looking after insects, too often the fact that they are living things is forgotten.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you, Adam! "That guy" is me! lol

Wendy 6 years ago

I don't know what your growing zone is like, but the milkweed vine grows well here in Oklahoma USA, And I know that the monarchs eat it. I have raised several on just that. I am not sure exactly what it is, but am curious why yours wouldn't eat the vine. What do you suppose is the reason?

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Milkweed (Asclepias species) are normal non-climbing plants not vines so I am not sure what plant you are referring to. The Monarch caterpillars love Milkweed plants here but as I explained in the hub I could not feed them that but tried in desperation the related Cornical which is a vine (climbing plant)in the Milkweed family - Asclepidaceae - but not an actual Milkweed, and they wouldn't touch it. If they would eat this they would do very well here as it grows wild all over the islands. The Milkweed however only grows in parks and gardens and public borders where it is planted.

Jon 6 years ago

My wife and I have observed an unusual butterfly twice in the past month. The Butterfly is about the size of a Monarch, maybe slightly larger. It is solid black with four white circles (eyes) on its wings. Do you know what type this is? Many thanks. Jon

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

What part of the world are you in? I don't recognise it from your description.

perri 5 years ago

i have found a big moth think it's a polyphemus not sure am in oregon and don't no what to do with him

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

You don't say where it is but if it is in your house then gently catch it and let it fly away outside or let it go somewhere it won't be seen. They don't live long so have to find a mate and reproduce before they die.

sue. croydon 3 months ago

I live in Chio Tenerife and have unfortunately run out of food for all my monarchs. I have collected some seeds so this doesn't happen again next year. What is the best way and best time to sow them? They are in my fridge at the moment. It gets a bit chilly up here in the winter but does not usually drop below 10 degrees. Sue

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 3 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

It doesn't really matter when you plant them. They should come up but maybe keep the seedlings indoors until it is warmer. Good luck and thanks for posting.

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