Hatching fun

Watching butterflies hatch is definitely one of the highlights when dealing with butterflies. In case of many species reaching this moment requires patience. It may easily take up to 10 months or more before the adult hatches.

This spring the first butterflies to hatch were Map butterflies (Araschnia levana). They hatched pretty late due to cold weather throughout spring. The timing was good as most of the 11 chrysalises hatched on a Saturday. The evening before the wings started shimmer through the pupa, a sign that something’s about to happen. I used the moment to prepare a “hatching window” for our daughter Sienna. Despite of the small size of the butterflies I also allowed her letting some of them free (taking some good shots first, of course).

A week later, the first White-letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album) emerged. This individual was way too early for its species, but originally the caterpillars (which overwinter within the egg) hatched early after spending winter in our fridge. This species is often difficult to spot in nature, and when seeing one flying the wings may have suffered quite a lot already. Therefor, to get a perfect specimen raising them is the best option.

The third species to hatch was surprisingly a Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi). After confirming that it was a female I brought the moth to a friend of mine who tried to place it into a cage for attracting males. This way we could get fresh eggs to raise a new generation, which will hatch and show the same beauty again next year.

Confirming the species

I recently wrote a post about guessing the species. It’s not always trivial to get clarification on the species of an individual. Especially in case of young caterpillars there might be only one safe way to determine the species: Grab some individuals in a jar and raise them!

So I did. I went back to the spot where I found a rather large colony of what I believed was caterpillars of the Map (Araschnia levana). Even though I found caterpillars of the Map 2 meters away from the colony they did not 100% look identical. To get peace of mind I placed 5 caterpillars in a box at home, fed them and started to wait.

For the comparison I had the caterpillars of A. levana, which I collected earlier, in a separate box. These were identified by observing the horns on the head of the caterpillars. This unique characteristic leaves no doubt that the individuals are from the Map.

After about 7-10 days the unidentified specimen started to reach a size where details can be easier observed. This also means the species can finally be determined. And my guess was wrong, but my doubt was confirmed. The caterpillars indeed are from the European Peacock (Inachis io), not from the Map.

Bottom line, I must admit this small experiment has been fun. Furthermore, the European Peacock is one of my season targets I wanted to raise this summer. That said, one more target has been nailed rather through coincidence. But I’ll take it.

Guessing the species

It’s not always easy to find out the species of a caterpillar, especially very young ones. Sometimes, the only way to be sure is to put them in a box and take them home for raising.

I recently found a small group of caterpillars residing on the bottom side of a nettle leaf. They clearly looked like members of the Nymphalidae-family of butterflies. However, their behavior did not really match with e.g. the Small Tortoiseshell’s (Aglais urticae) or the European Peacock’s (Inachis io).

At the beginning I had my doubts it may be the larva of the European Peacock. They’re just that small that I can’t say. Grabbing some of them the in a jar I brought about a dozen home to wait and see. It didn’t take long, actually until they changed their skin the next time, to get clear confirmation: They’re from the Map (Araschnia levana). The horns on the tiny heads were proof enough.

I’ve never had caterpillars of the Map before. Therefor, I’m happy to have a couple growing in a box. I’m looking forward to seeing the large caterpillars, since right now there’s yet not too much to see (they’re about 12mm in length). Should you be interested in finding caterpillars of the Map yourself I added a shot from the habitat where I found the colony (see below).

By the way, there were two colonies within 2 meters. Yet another time I had to guess that (based on the way how female Map’s lay their eggs) they must come from the same female. I’m not 100% sure though if the second (large) colony really is from the Map. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was from the European Peacock. I’ll be back for another look at that sight in a week or so. To confirm my assumption and get peace of mind.

(UPDATE: As per Confirming the species the large colony has been identified as being from the European Peacock, not the Map. Photo details below were updated accordingly)

Good luck vs bad luck

No doubt butterflying, a.k.a. butterfly spotting, requires luck. First, you first need to sight a butterfly. Second, you’ll also want to get a decent photo.

Where can the line between good and bad luck be drawn? Is sighting a butterfly you’re after good luck if you can’t catch it with your camera? Or is it bad luck just to be teased? I must admit, chasing butterflies generates lots of disappointment. Nevertheless, I guess that’s a mission, a challenge I love about this hobby.

The other day I spent 4 hours browsing through two biotopes. And yes, I got sightings…but not the photos. Practically all I got were a couple shots on the ventral (underside) view of the Map (Araschnia levana). However, I had a good time being out. And the diversity of species that were present was a good sign there should also be plenty of caterpillars around in a couple weeks. Also worth being mentioned is that so far I’ve not found any caterpillars. I assume in most cases they haven’t hatched yet.

In addition to the Map I also spotted my first Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) and Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) today. Both are migrating species, overwintering in southern Europe or northern Africa. The recent warm wind from south has brought them to Finland. Hopefully these winds have brought some other surprises, too. Another beautiful species I came across today was the Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas). Unfortunately, I had absolutely no luck with my camera.

All in all, I guess despite of having bad luck with the camera having good luck with sightings is more important. See below for the little photos I got. I’ve added some failed shots as well.