Brown Hairstreaks in June

The Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae) flies in late summer. It’s one of the latest species in Finland and can usually be spotted from late July to mid August. Nevertheless, the species can be tracked down almost all year long. This year, I gave it a shot and tried finding caterpillars. I’ve never photographed larvae of this species in the wild, hence I was motivated to find some.

Spring this year has been exceptionally cold. As a result, the two caterpillars I found on June 17th were only about 1cm in size. Perhaps I should also mention that I did not wildly browse random bird cherry (Prunus padus) bushes. I concentrated on such plants where I was able to spot eggs of the species last winter. I remembered one spot that counted three eggs. I was able to first confirm that two eggs did hatch. Moments later, I was also lucky enough to first find one larva, then the second one.

Ants and Silver-studded blue caterpillars

Caterpillars of many Blue species live in symbiosis with ants. The Silver-studded blue (Plebejus argus) is no exeption. Should you be searching for caterpillars make sure to focus on the buzz of ants. These are “milking” the caterpillars. The ants may be easier to spot than the well camouflaged, tiny caterpillars.

I wanted to focus on photographing as many Blue’s caterpillars this summer as possible. Earlier, I got some shots from the Common Blue. This time, I was scanning a different terrain. A rocky, dry forest with pine trees, calluna and blueberries. I took a close look at the bushes of calluna. As mentioned earlier, the nervous ants that were guarding the larvae made it rather easy to find what I was after. To get the species confirmed I took two caterpillars home for raising.

Surprise moment

A shimmer of blue, something highly likely in case of a chrysalis that belongs to a Blue and is about to hatch. However, with Blue’s the determination of the species is often tricky. Here’s just another case where I was completely wrong until the very end.

Earlier this year I found two caterpillars of Blues. I expected the caterpillars to be of the Mazarine Blue (Plebeius semiargus). But what eventually hatched was a female Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus). In this case I luckily took one of the caterpillars home. This specifically to be able to get confirmation on the species. Unfortunately, I only took one of the larvae. To be absolutely sure both were the same species I’d have had to raise each of them.

Caterpillar kick-off

It took quite some time this spring to find the first caterpillar due to very cold weather conditions. Nevertheless, about two weeks ago, I finally got started. This year, the first caterpillar belonged to a blue. To be more precise, it was a Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus).

The success felt good, and one of my season’s targets this year is to focus more on finding caterpillars (and eggs) of blues. Last year, my first caterpillar was a Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas).

I hope this is a good start into a great caterpillar season.

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.

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.