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.

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.