Male vs. female

Some species of butterflies are known for sexual dimorphism. The different appearance of male and female individuals are most commonly visible on the adult butterflies. However, since the chrysalis of some butterflies turns transparent before the adult hatches, the differences can become visible already.

During winter 2015/2016 I kept chrysalises from the Large White (Pieris brassicae) and the Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines). Both species have sexual dimorphism, especially the Orange Tip where the orange color is only present on the male’s wings. In case of the Large White the black dots are only present on the female’s wings.

I managed to get some photos from chrysalises of both sexes prior to hatching. Here’s how easy the gender can be identified (once the pupa turns transparent). The photos of the adult Orange Tips are from the wild but added as a further reference to show the difference between female and male.

Hawk-moth saldo 2016

In summer 2016 my goal was to spot some caterpillars of Hawk-moth species that I haven’t come across recently. Here’s a wrap-up of all species I managed to find, including the the hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) from which I received caterpillars from a friend.

There’s a lot of challenge left for next year. Nevertheless, it was nice to finally find caterpillars of the Privet Hawk-moth (Sphinx ligustri). Another nice surprise was to spot a caterpillar of the Eyed Hawk-moth (Smerinthus ocellatus). All in all, it has been 7 Hawk-moth species in summer 2016. And bottom line, it’s always a great moment when coming across caterpillars of hawk-moth.

Becoming a butterfly

Most people take butterflies for granted. They may also not care about the long journey a butterfly has past before ever taking off with their wings. Nevertheless, in case of the Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus) it takes almost a year before the butterfly has completed the metamorphosis. The adult butterfly will live a couple weeks, copulate, lay eggs and die.

Following the metamorphosis close by means a lot of work. Most likely, the butterflies need to be raised with a lot of care. Dealing with the Purple Hairstreak, the eggs need to be searched and found in autumn. After that, these eggs need to be stored for hibernation. This phase may take up to 8 months. In spring, the tiny caterpillars will hatch. In summer, finally, the butterflies will hatch and show their beauty.

Early summer hatchings

Time passes. Before one can realize that summer has started it is usually already over. Late spring and early summer was particularly busy this year since we had to arrange our move to our new home. At the same time also most of the chrysalises that overwintered, either in our fridge or on the balcony, hatched.

I rarely managed to keep the camera close by, most commonly I only saw some butterfly that hatched before taking off. However, I did get a couple shots from some of the species. It was nice to see that the Lime Hawk-moth (Mimas tiliae), which our daughter found as slightly injured caterpillar, managed to complete the metamorphosis.

Like the year before, I also had a couple Poplar Hawk-moths (Laothoe populi) overwintering. It was great seeing the difference in both sizes and coloring across individuals. The Small Emperor Moths (Saturnia pavonia), which I received as eggs from a friend, were true beauties. I remember one afternoon when I returned from work, there was quite some buzzing on the balcony. Due to a couple females that hatched the same time they managed to attract multiple males that were flying around. I’ll get back with some more photos from this species later on.

Migrant mastering winter

People say the Large white (Pieris brassicae) can’t normally survive the cold winters in Finland. Commonly, the butterflies migrate north in late summer and potentially breed after arrival. Nevertheless, in late 2015 I managed to find masses of caterpillars and took exactly 27 of them home for raising. In late spring 2016, every single one hatched.

I kept about half of the overwintering chrysalises in the fridge. The rest spent the entire winter on a balcony in the shadow, exposed to temperatures as cold as -25 degrees Celsius. The chrysalises from the fridge were also placed on the balcony in spring to get them hatch at the same time when the conditions are right.

My first surprise was that the caterpillars did not have parasites at all. The second surprise, of course, was to see the adult butterflies hatching. This are great results, proving the species can handle the conditions in the North and is able to overwinter locally.

The Hummingbird hawk-moth

The¬†Hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) is a migrating species that does not overwinter in Finland. Nevertheless, occasionally an adult can be spotted flying in summer. With even more luck, one could find a caterpillar. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any caterpillars in the wild yet. The specimen in the photos is one that I received from my friend.

Busy days

Late June we had to pack and clean. Since we were moving end of the month there were countless things to take care off. Unfortunately, the day before moving also the Purple emperors (Apatura iris) started to hatch. The caterpillars of this beautiful species were collected earlier in spring (one was found in December).

I was able to witness two butterflies hatching, the other chrysalises I had to hand out to my friend. This way I did not need to think of butterflies in the middle of our move. One of the butterflies felt disturbed as I tried to get some photos. It started to try to fly with cold wings and caused some damage to itself (so much for getting shots of a perfect specimen). The other butterfly I allowed to develop in all peace, and I only tried getting some photos of the under side of the wings.

Half-success with Sphinx ligustri

Since about two weeks I’ve had a special priority: To find caterpillars of the Privet hawk-moth (Sphinx ligustri). It’s the largest caterpillar that can be found in Finland and it almost looks like a gigantic candy.

The search has been exhausting and with my e-bike I’ve been riding several hundred kilometers, keeping a close eye on growth that the caterpillar accepts as food plant. While I was able to locate several other species of hawk-moths there was absolutely no trace of Sphinx ligustri.

Today, on the 5th birthday of our daughter we went for another visit to one of the children’s playgrounds nearby. I couldn’t resist checking some of the perennial herbaceous flowering plants decorating the playground. There it was, less than 500 meters from our home, an almost full grown caterpillar was feasting.

The caterpillars of the Privet hawk-moth are amazing. This is one of the species highly suitable for raising with kids. Unfortunately, the species also suffers great losses to parasites. The caterpillar found today was carrying over a dozen eggs of parasites on its skin. The truth is this specimen will never become a moth. Something else will hatch from the chrysalis. I’ll call this finding half-success.

Nevertheless, here’s some photos of the caterpillar. I’m sure we’ll find more over the next couple weeks. This one might be a bit early anyway.

Caterpillar of the Purple Emperor

The two caterpillars of the Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) that are currently feeding on potted willow on our balcony develop nicely. On the coming weekend it’ll be time for another attempt to find caterpillars of the Purple Emperor or, even better, the Lesser Purple Emperor (Apatura ilia).

First feeding traces

The spring weather has been amazingly warm recently. As a result, within just a week nature has gotten its green dress back. Also the first leafs of Salix caprea have grown, making it finally easier to track back caterpillars. With the first leafs also the first feeding traces could be found.

Just a random check on a couple bushes and I found it: my second caterpillar of the Purple Emperor (Apatura iris). It felt great seeing the caterpillar happily feeding on it’s first feast after the long winter. Here’s a couple photos of the great day.