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¬†Hummingbird 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.

The incredible Puss moth

The Puss moth (Cerura vinula) may not stand out that much as adult moth. The caterpillar, however, is one of the weirdest creatures the the European fauna has to offer.

A couple years ago I found a single caterpillar of the species. This summer I found three.

Flower feast

The caterpillars of some hawk-moth species mainly feed during night. When the sun sets in the evening, they start climbing up their food plants and start their feast. Like many other caterpillars they particularly like feeding on the flowers of their host plants.

Willowherb is the food plant of the Elephant hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) and the Bedstraw hawk-moth (Hyles gallii). I’ve mainly spotted the large hornworms of the latter so far. The full-grown caterpillars of the Elephant hawk-moth will follow a bit later.

Caterpillar diversity

Some species of butterflies and moths have caterpillars that change heavily in colors and pattern. Sometimes certain color forms are strictly existing (e.g. the caterpillars of the Death’s head hawk-moth, Acherontia atropos, can be green, yellow or black and white). Some species have simply “unique” caterpillars. The Red admiral’s (Vanessa atalanta) caterpillars belong to the latter.

The other day I found a good spot with masses of caterpillars of the Red admiral. I took the chance to get a better look at the diversity.

Busy days

Late June we had to pack and clean. Since we were moving end of the month there were countless things to take care off. Unfortunately, the day before moving also the Purple emperors (Apatura iris) started to hatch. The caterpillars of this beautiful species were collected earlier in spring (one was found in December).

I was able to witness two butterflies hatching, the other chrysalises I had to hand out to my friend. This way I did not need to think of butterflies in the middle of our move. One of the butterflies felt disturbed as I tried to get some photos. It started to try to fly with cold wings and caused some damage to itself (so much for getting shots of a perfect specimen). The other butterfly I allowed to develop in all peace, and I only tried getting some photos of the under side of the wings.

Childhood memories

I recently found a caterpillar of the Eyed hawk-moth (Smerinthus ocellatus). This beautiful, well hidden caterpillar brought up childhood memories.

As a small kid I once found an egg on the under side of a willow leaf. I managed to turn that tiny egg to a beautiful Eyed hawk-moth, through the entire metamorphosis.

Here’s a couple photos of the caterpillar. I tried to get shots from different distances, for those interested in learning how to spot caterpillars in the wild. Personally, I like photos that show not only the caterpillar but also the plants and surrounding.

Rare 2nd breed

Commonly, the Small Tortoiseshell has a single breed each year. Due to the location of Finland the species only has a 2nd breed in years with good weather conditions.

After two bad years the Small Tortoiseshell has declined in population. In 2015 I hardly spotted this butterfly at all. In summer 2016 the species has taken a great leap back. Early summer the first breed turned to adult butterflies. They were flying in large numbers. But that’s not all. Recently, I’ve noticed a high number of caterpillar nests, too. During a check at a farm I noticed caterpillars in almost all instars. This means a 2nd breed will continue to grow the population this summer.

It’s one of the most common butterflies. Nevertheless, it’s always a pleasure to take a close look at the beauty of this “ordinary” insect.