STARTING with just nine caterpillars, Cockburn’s Terri Sharman became more than a gardener—she became a butterfly breeder.
In July 2010 the lifetime gardener discovered Monarch caterpillars in her milkweed plant. Nearly three years later she has a thriving population of butterflies (including Australian Admirals and Painted Ladies) fluttering through her backyard.
Mrs Sharman says breeding Monarchs “just interested me”. She has nursed more than 250 this year alone. Most leave her yard and move into neighbouring properties. Despite common misconceptions, Monarchs do not damage gardens and plants, Mrs Sharman says.
“People frequently see a butterfly and will kill it thinking it’s going to eat their plants,” she says. “Yes, the white butterfly, the white cabbage moth will damage your vegies but the other butterflies like the Monarch, the Admiral and the Painted Lady, they actually help pollinate your garden because they’re only drinking nectar.
“The caterpillars of the Monarch will only eat milkweed, nothing else. If there’s no milkweed, they die. They’re not going to damage the garden.”
UWA associate professor Christian Nansen says the Monarchs are an essential part of the ecosystem.
“It’s a symbol of the health of our ecosystem,” says Dr Nansen, who specialises in applied entomology.
“If you eradicated everything that was an insect or anything that pollinated things, we would lose a lot of products in our daily life. All the juices, all the jams, all the dried fruits, all the nuts, many of these products require pollination, so they would not be there. We really have to look out for our pollinators.
“If we lost the Monarch butterfly, we would lose a lot of organisms as well.”
Mrs Sharman will open her garden, at 30 Cincotta Loop, Beeliar this weekend from 10am for Open Gardens Australia. Entry is $7.
by MATTHEW DeFRANKS