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.

 

Orange Tips everywhere

Early June this year I tried my last attempts in finding caterpillars of the Lesser Purple Emperor (Apatura ilia). While I had no luck with this species there was another caterpillar that seemed to appear everywhere. Regardless what the location was, there were always caterpillas of the Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines).

Of course, I must admit that I did like to keep an eye on the suitable food plant. In the previous year the Orange Tip was one of my season’s targets to raise. I guess it’s all about learning how to find caterpillars (or eggs). Once learned, they’ll appear everywhere. I did not take any caterpillars for raising this summer, but I took the chance to get some photos from the wild.

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.