Butterflies are important pollinators, and they are beautiful creatures that contribute to a healthy ecosystem. But, there are some butterflies that can cause damage to certain plants and crops.
Some species do affect agriculture. This pest has been controlled in the past with pesticides, but recently biological controls have been implemented, and this pest is hardly ever seen anymore.
Species that have been reported as agricultural pests
The Oleander Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) – caterpillars feed on milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.) and are also known to feed on sacred datura (Datura wrightii), tomato, and potato.
The Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) – caterpillars will eat many species of milkweed but may be specifically problematic on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). Another member of the milkweed family is dogbane, which is not a desirable host plant for monarchs or other butterfly species.
The Desert Blue Butterfly (Euphilotes pallescens) – also referred to as a blue copper, feeds on rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus), a common native plant in arid areas in the western United States.
The larvae of some butterflies feed on a wide variety of plants and can cause considerable damage. One example is the cabbage butterfly (the white butterfly with black tips on its wings that you see flying around your garden). A full-grown caterpillar will eat an entire cabbage leaf in a matter of minutes, and it can destroy an entire crop.
The red admiral is another butterfly that’s often considered a pest. The caterpillars often eat nettles, but they occasionally feed on crops such as potatoes and tomatoes. The species is also known to feed on the leaves of grapevines, which can result in reduced yields.
The cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae) is probably the most widely known pest species of butterfly. The green caterpillars feed on the leaves of various crucifers, including broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower.
Some of the most damaging butterfly pests
The Blueberry Spanworm (Itame argillacearia) has been found in blueberry, cranberry, blackberry, raspberry, currant, and gooseberry crops in the United States.
The Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta Claudia) is a pest in many crops, including tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes.
In addition to being a pest on crops like melons and tomatoes, the Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charities) also feeds on plants like jasmine and passionflower.
The tomato hornworm is another butterfly pest. It’s actually large enough to eat an entire tomato plant in just a few days.
In the United States and Canada, monarch butterflies lay eggs on common milkweed plants. The species is so closely tied to milkweed that they will only lay eggs on this plant. This can be beneficial because it keeps common milkweed widespread across North America. However, if you’re trying to grow crops in your garden that are in the same family as common milkweed, you might want to remove these plants before monarchs arrive in spring.
In conclusion, butterflies contribute to a healthy ecosystem as well as being useful pollinators. On the other hand, there are some species that can cause damage to certain crops, so they need to be managed carefully.