Monthly Newsletter

Attractive butterfly is an enemy of invasive weed

Maja Poeschko, Entomologist PhD, Ministry of Agriculture, Cook Islands, February 2018

Red passionfruit vine (Passiflora rubra) is one of the most vigorous invasive weed species in the Cook Islands. The weed was included in the “Biological control programme of economically & environmentally important weeds in the Cook Islands”. The work is carried out in collaboration with Entomologist Dr Quentin Painter from Landcare Research funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

After months of intense research to find a possible natural enemy of the weed the red postman butterfly (Heliconius arato cyrbia), which is native to Ecuador and Colombia, was considered.

Host range testing at the containment facility of Landcare Research in New Zealand confirmed that the red postmen does not attack edible passion fruits and the permission to introduce and release it on Rarotonga was granted by the National Environment Service.

The butterflies arrived from New Zealand in a simple chilly bin. They were carefully placed individually in envelopes for the journey. They were released into a specially built screen house with potted red passion fruit vines at the Ministry of Agriculture in Arorangi.

After mating female butterflies take their time to choose the perfect sites to lay their eggs on the weed as the miniature caterpillars hatching can only feed on the tender young growth of the red passion fruit vine. The caterpillars eventually grow bigger and are able to chew larger parts of the weed and therefore reduce its growth. This is classic example of biological control with natural enemies.

To complete their lifecycle the caterpillars form a “cocoon” in which the transformation into an adult butterfly takes place. The cocoons are camouflaged and look like dry leaves to protect them from predators like birds.  It takes only three to four weeks to complete a lifecycle from egg to an adult butterfly.

The adult red postman butterflies are very attractive. The pretty black and red adults live for several months which is very uncommon amongst butterflies. Like honey bees they feed on pollen and nectar therefore can be seen hovering and sitting on flowers all over the island.

Over a period of 8 months (August 2016-April 2017) more than 120 adults have been released at different sites on Rarotonga. They can now be found in very high numbers in areas where the red passion fruit vine is a problem.

It is hoped that the butterflies can be eventually released on other islands such as Atiu, which makatea is being invaded by the red passion fruit vine. If this project proves to be successful in the reduction of the invasive weed other countries will follow our footsteps.


APPRECIATION AND APPLAUSE from the community participants of the Island of Mauke was revealed as the Ministry of Agriculture team presented to the Mayor of Mauke the Ridge to Reef funded Biosecurity equipments.  The Director of Policy confirmed that the equipments was purchased to help with operational matters that can better equip Agriculture Department staff inspection work on ported vessels and aircrafts received by the Island on the weekly basis.  It was an area the Island Government Council for all Islands of the Southern Group stood their ground against any form of outbreak in most particular plant vine species that could reverse the current pristine of the Makatea natural forest and its biodiversity.  Already, the Islands of Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro are looking into reviewing the current bylaws around improving the protection of the Makatea forest.  Other areas includes the impacts of wandering animals on conservation, biodiversity protect lands including the livelihoods of households who depends on agriculture lands for food security and income.  The Ministry has taken on these concerns as part of the 2018/2019 development program for the Pa Enua, and while the central agencies are preparing budgets for the new fiscal year, the Ministry departments are jointly working in partnership with the respective Island agriculture departments.  The aim of the joint effort is to tie-in support program in tandem between the Ministry and the Island agriculture department program plan for 2018/2019 under the newly agreed MoU to better strengthen Biosecurity protection for each Island.

A program is now scheduled for 2018 that will involve the Biosecurity department and the Crop Research plant protection unit to upgrade the agriculture staff on plant identification, biosecurity standard operation procedures for clearing vessels for all Islands.  In this respect the Ministry and the Pa Enua is so thankful for the Ridge to Reef program partner who has taken a strong stance to help better coordinate these efforts with the intention to ensure that this assistance will be sustaining Island preparedness against future invasion of any form of outbreak whether it be agriculture pest or disease for crop or livestock, or the invasive plant species and many others.  The Ministry team explained to the Mauke participants that the Ridge to Reef program has extended their involvement for the 2018 program to better prepare the Island in the months ahead.  And therefore, everyone support on this program would be needed. The Mayor and the Island Council shared their full support in the assistance shown by the Ridge to Reef program in its entire assistance for the island of Mauke for 2018.  The Mayor have nailed it, explained the Director of Policy, as the Mayor said, “The responsibility lies with us, every person on the Island must be involved in the protection of our environment and it is everyone business, and so let’s play our part” said the Mayor.  These equipments are now placed with the Agriculture Department and shall be used often at ports of entry for inspection purposes on every vessel arriving on to the Island.



A FULL ON awareness, planning and drafting of constitutions training was enjoyed by Mauke Island participants who attended the Strengthening the Resilience of Island Community on Climate Change Program (SRICC) funded workshop from the 4th to the 8th of December 2017.  The workshop was a special request by the Island Community through the Ministry of Agriculture to help strengthen the collaboration amongst associations and help growers understand their membership rights and obligation as a financial member, and how benefits can be accessed as a member of the association.  The workshop is one of the first employed programs to the Pa Enua through the agreed and signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by the Island Government Council of Mauke in November 2017.  In previous years, the Agriculture programs in the Pa Enua are committed under the Island Administration management and budgets as a result of the devolution in 1996 that saw the relationship of the Pa Enua agriculture departments detached from the Central Agency of the Ministry of Agriculture.  Since then, to some extent, the program can only be supported by the Ministry through special request from the Island Government Council, not until 2017, when the MoU was signed, bringing back the common partnership it had before the devolution.  This workshop was prepared and opened to any association groups on the island from agriculture, fisheries, beautification contractors and the council members.  A total of thirty six (36) participants attended the workshop and despite the arrival of the shipping barge and the Tapi Taio shipping to the Island soon after, the program continued on and had little ill-effect to the number of participants who attended and trusted that it was far more important to make sure good and transparent governance are properly feed into the constitution clauses and established under the respective association constitutional framework.  It was quite an interesting training concept Mauke wanted to engage on and never before a workshop program of this magnitude has ever been conducted by involving more than one (1) growers association that included the fisheries association said the Director of Policy.  The team of three personnel from the Ministry attend to four areas of work that involved the strengthening of the Island of Mauke agriculture program for (i) building the awareness of the constitutional governance while members needed to understand their constitutional rights, obligations, the processes of election and many other areas (ii) assist in the agriculture department business plan for budgetary purposes, (iii) Alignment of the agriculture department staff job description, (iv) production of the drafted growers and fisheries association Constitution, and the (v) drafting of the Governing Board Terms of Reference.  The Director explained that all five areas (5) are Pa Enua related institutional strengthening component that was necessary for the first year one (1) and two (2) of the National Agriculture Sector Strategy 2020.  And therefore it was no accident that the program was requested by the Mauke growers associations and the Island Council that saw in strengthening agriculture institutional levels for Mauke first, and will soon followed on to Atiu, Mangaia, Aitutaki and Mitiaro soon for 2018.  The Ministry is intending to facilitate the first General Assembly (GA) for the Kimiangatau Growers Association on the 4th of February 2018 and will help supervise the election process to be carried out in accordance to the endorsed constitution while observed by the remaining associations to follow through in familiarizing themselves with the proper election procedures.  It is expected that the first growers association GA should share light and lessons learnt on the proper way of conducting the GA and so that the remaining associations can carry out on their own, their respective GA on the same standard.  The Director explained that the end process of conducting the General Assembly is important to the credibility of the endorsed association and shall met all standards so that the members are able to trust with respect the procedures enshrined under their respective constitutions.  At the closing ceremony, many participants respectively gave their appreciation for allowing this workshop take place and have finally completed a draft of the associations’ constitution that has taken many years to get one done. The Mayor reiterated the purpose of the workshop was to forge collaboration amongst the associations not to compete but to compliment resources as they achieve one goal as often discussed in the workshop.  The Mayor gave his appreciation on behalf of the people of Mauke for SRICC assistance to make this workshop an important one in helping the famers of the Island food security nutrition and resilience five year program.

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