Waking up

Spring time does not only mean that butterflies start flying. It also means that caterpillars break up hibernation and continue the metamorphosis.

This winter I found a caterpillar of the Purple Emperor (Apatura iris). It has been a particular joy to see the caterpillar waking up to feed again. The caterpillar first rested for about 6 months on the same twig.

Here’s some photos taken immediately after the caterpillar reached fresh growth.

Caterpillar of the Small Copper

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One of the caterpillar targets for this season has been to track down the Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas). In late 2015, all I was able to find was empty egg shells. I knew the habitat was right, now it was just about timing.

A couple days ago spring came back. With raising temperatures it was clear that the caterpillars will become active again. This time, I even got lucky. After browsing tiny growth of Rumex I managed to find one. Just a single one, but that’s all I needed.

Here’s a couple photos of the mid-sized caterpillar (taken in captivity). It’s size is about 8mm, and after hibernation it will probably feed for another two weeks or so.

Early hatcher

I’ve kept a part of the overwintering chrysalises in the fridge this year. The other part spent winter in the shadow on our balcony. Unfortunately, today I had to realize that some of the butterflies developed too fast in the fridge. Despite of the stable temperature around 5-7 °C the one and only Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) I had hatched. Way too early. The current outside temperature is around the freezing point, and the forecast does not show any spring weather yet. Also the Orange Tips (Anthocharis cardamines) look like they’re about to hatch.

I’ll move the box with butterfly pupae to the balcony, hoping the butterflies will make it through the coming cold weeks. It’s the only chance. If they hatch too early there won’t be company by other specimen in the wild.

Conclusion: Looks like mainly chrysalises of moths that do well overwintering in the fridge. For eggs of hairstreaks or butterfly chrysalises the risk is high that they will develop too early. Note that the winter in Finland lasts much longer than in other regions.

Another attempt with the Purple Hairstreak

A year ago I brought over a dozen eggs from the Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus) through winter to start raising them in spring. I did well at the beginning, but the adult caterpillars started to get ill. I only got one to pupate. It never hatched.

In autumn 2015 I managed to find close to 10 eggs again. I will definitely try my best to raise these eggs with care to get some butterflies in summer. It’s a species I’m looking forward to get some decent photos of. So far, I mainly managed to get ventral shots of the Purple Hairstreak. And it’s the dorsal, meaning the side visible when the wings are open, that’s something special in case of this species.

Here’s a couple shots from the eggs I found in autumn. One photo shows a caterpillar from a year ago, and how they are in disguise looking like a part of their host plant. Should you need some tips finding eggs have a look at this post.

Raising the Green-veined White

The Green-veined White (Pieris napi) is, with no doubt, one of the most common butterflies. The species also has many generations per year, which enables us to see them fly almost all year long. Caterpillars, however, usually remain well hidden on their host plants.

One day in late May last year, while searching for other caterpillars, I saw a couple Green-veined Whites flying around plants that can be considered their caterpillars food plants. I decided to keep my eyes on one of them. After the butterfly took a short rest on the growth I took a close look. It turned out the butterfly, a female, wasn’t resting after all but laying a single egg on one of the leafs.

I took the egg home for raising. Here’s a couple photos from the journey from egg to butterfly. Note though, the adult butterflies featured below (including the copula) are other specimen to show the imago.

The quest for the Small Copper

This year one of my target caterpillars for raising is the Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas). This butterflies is one of the smallest but most common species in our region. Nevertheless, finding caterpillars is a bit tricky.

As with many species of the Blues, caterpillars are tiny and well disguised. This counts for the Small Copper, too. I’ve been browsing through vegetation accepted as host plant every once in a while, with no results so far. In autumn 2015, however, I tracked down a habitat where I’ll continue my search this spring. Just nearby where we live, in a small rocky forest.

One afternoon I spent checking Rumex plants on those rocks, finding two empty egg shell. Caterpillars I found none, possibly they had already withdrawn for hibernation as it was later in autumn. I’m optimistic to find slightly larger caterpillars once the snow has gone and the warm spring sun gets the plants to grow again.

Beautiful pest – The Large White

Some butterflies are not only seen as beautiful creatures. While the caterpillars of most species enjoy plants growing in the wild others have a preference for cultivated plants. The Large White (Pieris brassicae) is often referred to as being a pest, causing severe damage in cultures and gardens.

Usually, the Large White is kept in balance by natural parasites, especially the White Butterfly Parasite (Cotesia glomerata). I recall raising caterpillars as a small boy when usually most of them died due to these wasps. That was in Switzerland, where the species is common. It took a while to sight adult butterflies up north in Finland. Pretty soon after seeing them fly I also humbled into caterpillars, lots of them.

I grabbed a hand full of caterpillars home for raising. It will be nice to get them over winter by keeping the chrysalises in the fridge. Normally, the Large White is known as a migrating species in Scandinavia. Most winters are too harsh for the butterfly to survive, and it takes until late summer again for the next generation to arrive from South.

An interesting observation while raising the caterpillars this time was that none of them were affected by parasites. All 27 caterpillars made it to pupae, and they’re now hibernating in the artificial, mild winter of our fridge. It felt like the butterfly’s enemy, the White Butterfly Parasite, didn’t make it at all to Finland that year.

Raising the Black-veined White

In case of the Black-veined White (Aporia crataegi) I got young caterpillars from a friend. Usually, I prefer finding the eggs or caterpillars on my own in the wild. Finding what you’ve been searching for gives a great kick. Nevertheless, I never had contact with this species and wanted to get to know more about these beautiful whites.

Don’t touch!

Watch out when touching hairy caterpillars. Not all of them are harmful, but some can cause an allergic reaction on your skin.

The Oat Eggar (Lasiocampa quercus) caterpillar is one of those that needs to be treated with care. Touching the hair of the caterpillar is somewhat similar to touching nettles. To protect itself from predators, the caterpillar also builds its cocoon using the same hair.

I couldn’t resist testing what happens on my skin after gently rubbing the surface of the cocoon against my wrist. The reaction, a nasty, itchy allergy. The interesting part of the test was that the allergy remained for about 6 weeks, leaving a visible rush and occasional itch. The conclusion? Don’t touch!

Letting them fly

Letting butterflies free after raising them from egg or caterpillar is always a nice moment. Here’s a couple random photos from 2015, pointing out how kids can get a decent look at creatures that normally wouldn’t stay still.

Good luck our daughter also shows interest in caterpillars being raised. Moreover, searching them in the wild is of particular fun.