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.

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.

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.

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.

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.