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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Look up!

Not always are caterpillars found on the ground. Occasionally, you can find some on the height of one’s eyes. But that’s not all, it may also be worth to have a look up.

The White-letter Hairstreak spends almost all of its life high up in elm trees. This includes the larval stage, therefor it’s possible to spot the caterpillars by standing right under the leafs of a tree. Then, have that look up to the bottom side of the leafs. This may requires a sunny day to get a good look. Some twigs hang almost down to the ground (see photo below), making it possible to get a close-up or collect a caterpillar for raising.

If you want to raise the species from eggs here’s a couple tips for tracking them down in winter.

The First Apatura Caterpillar

For a long time I’ve wanted to raise caterpillars of the Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) or the Lesser Purple Emperor (Apatura Ilia). Before getting that chance there was one challenge thought: Finding eggs or caterpillars.

After spending quite some time on the quest I finally found what I was after a couple days ago. A hibernating caterpillar of the Purple Emperor on Goat Willow (Salix caprea). Here’s some images on the specimen, including a photo of the growth where the larva was found (see red marking).