Season start 2017

This year’s butterfly season started late for me. I could hardly find any time to get out into the wild. Also the weather conditions were pretty unpleasant, changing from -15 degrees Celsius to low plus degrees accompanied by rain.

Early 2017 I completely updated my camera gear and couldn’t wait to finally test the new, decent macro photography equipment. Previously, I’ve been working with a Sony Nex5 and the 18-200mm lens by Sony. Practically all photos on the Butterfly Playbook have been taken with this camera, occasional shots were by my iPhone (various models). Here are the first macros taken by my new Sony a6500 and the Sigma 150mm lens. I have a good feeling about this season.

Nevertheless, the first touch with butterflies and moths this year related to the Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus). Last Sunday was beautiful sunshine and the amount of light here in Southern Finland started to be enough for taking the camera with me. With snow and ice, the terrain is still in challenging condition, therefor I only took a walk to the oak forest nearby.

Looking at twigs that had fallen from old oaks during winter I tried to spot little white eggs of the Purple Hairstreak. These have about the size of a grain of sand. I had to look for twigs that got stuck in lower growth, since the forest ground was still covered by snow.

After some time I found what I was looking for. A small twig that hosted even two eggs at once. One of the eggs was placed in the normal fashion, squeezed under a leaf bud. The other was located rather extraordinary on the twig with no buds nearby. This made it easier though to photograph the ovum.

Before heading home I placed the twig on a young oak, hoping that the caterpillars will grow on a place where I can follow their development in the wild. So far I’ve only had the chance to get photos from specimen in captivity.

Bottom line, the season has begun. Next target in line would be to find caterpillars of the Lesser purple emperor (Apatura ilia). In about 1-2 weeks from now it will also be possible to start spotting the first adult butterflies that awake from hibernation. It’s a great time of the year when the long Nordic winter takes an end.

Autumn at the allotment gardens

In October it starts getting difficult to find caterpillars in the wild. This time of the year I usually take a lazier approach and visit the allotment gardens located nearby. There’s still plenty of food plants attracting butterflies to lay eggs on, and particularly the Large White (Pieris brassicae) and the Small White (Pieris rapae) are species that can be found.

Both species commonly migrate to Finland from South in late summer. In 2015 I found masses of Large White caterpillars. Early October this year, it was primarily Small White caterpillars. These are more difficult to spot, but due to the feeding traces it’s easy to know when they’re around.

While there was caterpillars on different instars also eggs could still be found. Here’s some photos. The yellow line on the back is a clear indication for determining the species. The Green-veined White (Pieris napi), the most common of the Whites in the region, has in general a caterpillar that looks pretty similar.

Elephant in disguise

Commonly, caterpillars of the Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) are spotted when they’re on their way to find a suitable place to pupate and hibernate. That is at their final instar, when the caterpillars are large and brown. Perhaps some 5% of the full-sized caterpillars remain the green color, which also makes it more difficult to spot them.

Younger caterpillars do a much better job hiding themselves. Since the species is common, it’s worth though taking a closer look at willowherbs, the food plant of the caterpillar. If the time is right the chances are good to find some. Below is a series of photos from summer 2016. I could spot a couple mid-sized caterpillars.

 

Orange Tips everywhere

Early June this year I tried my last attempts in finding caterpillars of the Lesser Purple Emperor (Apatura ilia). While I had no luck with this species there was another caterpillar that seemed to appear everywhere. Regardless what the location was, there were always caterpillas of the Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines).

Of course, I must admit that I did like to keep an eye on the suitable food plant. In the previous year the Orange Tip was one of my season’s targets to raise. I guess it’s all about learning how to find caterpillars (or eggs). Once learned, they’ll appear everywhere. I did not take any caterpillars for raising this summer, but I took the chance to get some photos from the wild.

Caterpillar diversity

Some species of butterflies and moths have caterpillars that change heavily in colors and pattern. Sometimes certain color forms are strictly existing (e.g. the caterpillars of the Death’s head hawk-moth, Acherontia atropos, can be green, yellow or black and white). Some species have simply “unique” caterpillars. The Red admiral’s (Vanessa atalanta) caterpillars belong to the latter.

The other day I found a good spot with masses of caterpillars of the Red admiral. I took the chance to get a better look at the diversity.

Rare 2nd breed

Commonly, the Small Tortoiseshell has a single breed each year. Due to the location of Finland the species only has a 2nd breed in years with good weather conditions.

After two bad years the Small Tortoiseshell has declined in population. In 2015 I hardly spotted this butterfly at all. In summer 2016 the species has taken a great leap back. Early summer the first breed turned to adult butterflies. They were flying in large numbers. But that’s not all. Recently, I’ve noticed a high number of caterpillar nests, too. During a check at a farm I noticed caterpillars in almost all instars. This means a 2nd breed will continue to grow the population this summer.

It’s one of the most common butterflies. Nevertheless, it’s always a pleasure to take a close look at the beauty of this “ordinary” insect.

The Comma

One may think the Comma (Polygonia c-album) looks a bit strange. It’s the shape if its wings that differentiates this butterfly from other closely related species like the Small Tortoiseshell and the European Peacock.

The Comma is a pretty common butterfly, perhaps not as common as its relatives listed above though. Flying in two generations this species can be spotted either in spring or after midsummer. Here are some shots from season 2014. In summer 2015 I focused on photographing other species. Unfortunately, I was not lucky finding any caterpillars and will continue my hunt early summer 2016.