The compelling challenge

Sighting butterflies or raising caterpillars is not only about enjoying their beauty. It is about targets for a season, and the mission to nail these targets.

Searching caterpillars or trying to spot a rare species often ends in disappointment. Many quest will bring no results. And even a caterpillar found can later die of parasites. Like in sports, one cannot always win or hit a target. And this is what makes butterflies also to a packing challenge.

Every target is a mission on its own. And the reward for all the effort? The rush of finding what you have been looking for. A perfect shot of a butterfly. The chance to follow the journey from caterpillar to releasing the adult into nature. Even compete and beat other people in shared missions. You name it.

Need an example? Last summer I was spending hours if not days searching for caterpillars of Privet Hawk-moths (Sphinx ligustri). A search I started as a kid. As yet, I have never found one. However, I know they’re around and actually pretty common. It turned out last summer I was simply too late. The caterpillars had already left their food plants and pupated under ground.

So, what next? It’s time to stand up and keep walking. That said, next summer I will find my first amazing green and gigantic caterpillar of this species. This is one of my missions for this year.

Did you know…

Research scientists in many countries are dependent on hobby lepidopterists, people calling butterflies their hobby, to report their observations and sightings. This way more data is available for monitoring the health and distribution of different species.

Source: Wikipedia (January 9, 2014); Suomen Perhostutkijain Seura (January 9, 2014)

Introducing butterflies as hobby

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) 1

Starting with butterflies as hobby is easy and simple. Start by taking a walk outside and spot some of these beautiful creatures.

Enjoy adult butterflies flying by and visiting flowers, or have a look at their food plant if you find any of their often fascinating caterpillars. Settle with observing a variety of species in nature, or go for a closer look at their metamorphosis by raising caterpillars at home.

Take your hobby to vacations abroad, start rearing a caterpillar for learning about nature, and get a real close-up of an adult butterfly while watching it hatch. Set your goals what species you want to find, and make it a challenge to spot them in nature. You can also just set up your garden in a butterfly-friendly way, and let nature take it’s own course.

This section is introducing butterflies as a hobby. Related posts will introduce why butterflying could be the ideal activity for you.

Did you know…

The life cycle, or metamorphosis, of a butterfly consists of four stages: Egg, caterpillar, pupa and the adult butterfly. Though we mostly perceive adult butterflies, it may take an individual up to a decade to reach that last stage while spending the majority of life as a caterpillar or pupa.

Source: Murtosaari (J) & Mäntynen (P), 2013. Perhosten vuosi, Minerva Kustannus Oy, pp. 19-23

Understanding ecosystems

The observation of insects like butterflies and moths gives a real insight into nature and its ecosystems. In such a community of living organisms, the life of a butterfly is all about eating and being eaten.

Learning about butterflies means understanding nature. Every individual has its place and is part of something bigger. The same counts for butterflies. Flowers are dependent on butterflies pollinating them, and butterflies on flowers providing nectar. At the same time, butterflies are food for many other animals, ranging from insects to frogs and birds.

Furthermore, through butterflies one can also get a close-up on the brutality of life. From hundreds of eggs just a few individuals will ever make it to the adult stage. As sad as this may sound, it’s all about nature, and keeping balance in an ecosystem.

On the search for caterpillars also other animals sharing desire for caterpillars will cross your path. In summer 2013, I came across a Great Green Bush-Cricket (Tettigonia viridissima), featured in the photo of this post. A close look at its feast reveals I came only minutes late for spotting the caterpillar of a Red Admiral (Vanessa Atalanta).

Unfortunately, the biggest threat to butterflies and moths are humans destroying the environment the insects live in. Leaving some area of wild nature, e.g. for recreational purpose, will also help to maintain the ecosystems that are crucial to many species.

Nevertheless, raising butterflies also means that occasionally, a nasty surprise may hatch from a pupa or caterpillar. This surprise is called parasites, and be sure to find posts concerning this plague coming up later on.

Did you know…

The average life span of an adult butterfly is only 20 to 40 days. Some species live no longer than several days after hatching. Others, like the Common Brimstone, can reach a life span of up to 12 months.

Source: Defenders of Wildlife (January 9, 2014); Wikipedia (January 9, 2014)

Butterflies and other hobbies

Being interested in butterflies does not necessarily require to start entirely with a new hobby. Butterflies and moths can also just be a new direction, or add more value to another interest of yours.

At least a couple of activities come in my mind which are perfectly matching with watching or raising butterflies.

Photography

A photographer, interested in nature, wildlife or even insects, may find a new pleasure in their activity through butterflies. Try specializing on these small moving objects and you get new challenge, but also great photos from your hobby.

Gardening

Many people share a common interest in gardening and getting a variety of flowers to blossom. Why not making your garden to a true butterfly garden? Focusing on flowers that attract butterflies will generate twice the magnificence. Adding a separate feeding station for butterflies, with a special beverage, will further increase the chances of getting visitors.

If you want to go even further, you may also try to attract butterflies to lay their eggs right in your garden. With a bit of luck, growing the right food plants for caterpillars might turn your backyard to a true biotope.

Nature

I think it’s fair enough to call nature a hobby. This includes just enjoying nature, taking walks and spending time in the greenery. Keeping a special eye on butterflies adds value to observing nature. You’ll learn about different species and you’ll get hooked trying to make new sightings.

The photo above is a good example¬† where all three hobbies named in this post are applied. First comes understanding nature, and in this case learning the basics about a species (specifically its food plants). Next, it’s time for gardening and planting dill. Last comes photography, to keeping a moment and achievement alive.

Although these particular caterpillars were picked on a field nearby, it’s pretty common that Old World Swallowtails lay their eggs directly on dill, carrots or fennel in people’s garden.

Did you know…

In Switzerland the caterpillars of Old World Swallowtails often appears in people’s vegetable garden by coincidence. Due to the species’ preference to feeding on carrot leafs people call the caterpillar carrot caterpillars.

Source: The Butterfly Playbook

An interest traveling with you

One of the core benefits of butterfly spotting is that butterflies are almost everywhere. This means, when you are traveling, you can take your passion with you.

Another location may provide another biotope, and a new set of completely different species. Assuming there’s nature around, providing food and shelter, there will be butterflies and moths as well. Even the smallest travel can cause major variation to what species can be found.

Some people even go as far as traveling specifically because of butterflies. During winter, there’s not much to do but wait for a new season to begin. Not everyone is settling for waiting when, on the opposite site of the world, another season reaches its peak. So it comes that the true enthusiast packs their gear to head towards southeast Asia, Africa or south America.

Nevertheless, whenever you’re about to explore new places, regardless if that would be a rainforest, the Alps, Lapland or a natural resort next to you, make sure to keep your camera with you. When I started the Butterfly Playbook project I was browsing through photos from trips in the recent past. And I was surprised how focused I was on photographing butterflies.

Last but not least, I remember travelling to Chicago when I was a small kid. Even in a concrete jungle, it was back then when I spotted the one and only Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) I’ve ever seen until today. Hence, it is not only untouched nature which can surprise you.

Did you know…

Globally Lepidoptera, that is the order of insects including moths and butterflies, counts over an estimated 174 000 different species. Perhaps a moment for thinking: How many have you come across so far?

Source: Wikipedia (January 9, 2014)

Related photos