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.

At the playground

Playing at the playground with the kids may bring a surprise every once in a while. I spent a lot of time during late summer finding caterpillars of the Privet Hawk-moth (Spinx ligustri), but the only ones I found were right at the playground. Two playgrounds, to be precise.

After the first caterpillar already had parasites I was lucky enough to spot another one. The second was entirely healthy. It was also younger compared to the adult caterpillar found two weeks earlier. While I was watching after our three kids my wife was kind enough to bring my camera from home, so I managed to get a couple shots from the beautiful Privet Hawk-moth caterpillar right in its habitat.

Autumn at the allotment gardens

In October it starts getting difficult to find caterpillars in the wild. This time of the year I usually take a lazier approach and visit the allotment gardens located nearby. There’s still plenty of food plants attracting butterflies to lay eggs on, and particularly the Large White (Pieris brassicae) and the Small White (Pieris rapae) are species that can be found.

Both species commonly migrate to Finland from South in late summer. In 2015 I found masses of Large White caterpillars. Early October this year, it was primarily Small White caterpillars. These are more difficult to spot, but due to the feeding traces it’s easy to know when they’re around.

While there was caterpillars on different instars also eggs could still be found. Here’s some photos. The yellow line on the back is a clear indication for determining the species. The Green-veined White (Pieris napi), the most common of the Whites in the region, has in general a caterpillar that looks pretty similar.

Elephant in disguise

Commonly, caterpillars of the Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) are spotted when they’re on their way to find a suitable place to pupate and hibernate. That is at their final instar, when the caterpillars are large and brown. Perhaps some 5% of the full-sized caterpillars remain the green color, which also makes it more difficult to spot them.

Younger caterpillars do a much better job hiding themselves. Since the species is common, it’s worth though taking a closer look at willowherbs, the food plant of the caterpillar. If the time is right the chances are good to find some. Below is a series of photos from summer 2016. I could spot a couple mid-sized caterpillars.

 

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.

Nailed season target

One of the definitive goals for this season was to finally find caterpillars of either the Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) or the Lesser Purple Emperor (Apatura ilia). Already in December 2015 I found the first caterpillar of the Purple Emperor. In April 2016 another one (at a different location). Later on, I managed to locate even a couple more. One larva was too high so I hardly could get a decent photo with my camera. But the others were in a better height.

Unfortunately, I found no caterpillars of the Lesser Purple Emperor. This is one of the biggest targets for season 2017. Since the species flies rather close to where we live I feel optimistic to track down caterpillars already this autumn.

Apatura butterflies, they’re amazing all the way from caterpillar to butterfly. Here’s a couple shots from the caterpillars found earlier this year.

The Hummingbird hawk-moth

The┬áHummingbird 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.