Winter break and diapause


Raising butterflies and moths sometimes calls for patience. Once a caterpillar has pupated by the end of summer some species will enter a phase that requires long waiting. Overwintering.

Looking from outside virtually nothing will happen to a pupa or cocoon before late spring, when the temperature rises and the days become longer. In the inside, however, the butterflies develops it’s wings and turns to what is known as an adult butterfly.

The winter break is certainly one draw back of rising butterflies. Lots of patience is required, and you may often think if there’s even life inside the pupa (or cocoon). Nevertheless, spring will prove there is. All the waiting gets compensated by the beauty of the creature hatching from something that did not look like containing any organism at all.

Since I started raising butterflies late in summer 2013 I only have a couple pupas waiting for spring. In a box on the balcony there’s two of the Old World Swallowtail (Papilio machaon), a Puss Moth (Cerura vinula) and a Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi). The latter two digged themselves into turf in a small container, spending winter in a cocoon under ground. The pupas of the Old World Swallowtail rest over ground (see photo above).

In addition, 10 cocoons of the Giant Peacock Moth (Saturnia pyri) are overwintering in the crisper compartment of our fridge. This species would not make it through the harsh winter in finland outside. The cocoons, ordered abroad from Worldwide Butterflies, will be used in late spring for breeding. This challenge will later be called the Pyri Project.

Did you know…

Each species of butterflies and moths has a particular stage of the metamorphosis determined for overwintering. As adult butterfly (e.g. the Common Brimstone), as pupa (e.g. all above mentioned species), as caterpillar (e.g. the Purple Emperor) or as egg (e.g. the Brown Hairstreak).

Source: Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Wikipedia and Wikipedia (all January 9, 2014)

Related photos

2 thoughts on “Winter break and diapause

  1. Hi! I was researching caterpillars and came across your very beautiful blog. I found 3 Old World Swallow tails in my garden on the parsley. I was going to take them into my classroom, but they started making their chrysalises right after bringing them into my home. Oops! I wasn’t expecting it so soon. I can’t find enough info on how to keep them in the right conditions over winter. I’m in Georgia, USA. Do you have any advice for me? Do I keep them indoors or outdoors? Do they overwinter in a temperate climate? Thanks!

    • Hi Jenna. Great to hear you found caterpillars, congratulations. Depending on the climate this species may have multiple generations per year. Hence it could be possible the butterflies could still hatch this summer. Nevertheless, I’d suggest you keep them outside with no direct sunlight. This way they’ll know when the time is right based in the temperature. With direct sunlight there’ s the risk the chrysalises could dry out or hatch too early in spring. And make sure ventilation is ok so they don’t mold. I’m keeping overwintering chrysalises in a small cage with netting, so they’re also safe from predators such as birds. Don’t hesitate to ask if you have questions. It’s a wonderful species 🙂

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