Surprise moment

A shimmer of blue, something highly likely in case of a chrysalis that belongs to a Blue and is about to hatch. However, with Blue’s the determination of the species is often tricky. Here’s just another case where I was completely wrong until the very end.

Earlier this year I found two caterpillars of Blues. I expected the caterpillars to be of the Mazarine Blue (Plebeius semiargus). But what eventually hatched was a female Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus). In this case I luckily took one of the caterpillars home. This specifically to be able to get confirmation on the species. Unfortunately, I only took one of the larvae. To be absolutely sure both were the same species I’d have had to raise each of them.

Watch your step

Sometimes finding caterpillars is pure luck. A couple days ago I was looking for caterpillars of the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa). While browsing through its habitat I was really close to placing my foot on the wrong spot.

On a field with plants coming up to the waist I tried to reach a bush of willow. Luckily, I kept my eyes on the ground. Right on my path there was a brownish caterpillar. After I found ground for both of my feet it only took seconds to identify the species. It was a Lesser Marbled Fritillary (Brenthis ino).

Earlier this summer I tried a couple times to find caterpillars of the Lesser Marbled Fritillary, with no results. This finding was pure coincidence. I grabbed the caterpillar for raising it at home. After only 1.5 days it already pupated. This is my first butterfly of the fritillaries I’ve ever been able to raise.

I’m definitely looking forward to see this one hatch, even though it’s a small species. And the golden spots on the chrysalis are amazing. Even on a close-up it looks as the pupa would be equipped with real gold. The adult butterfly, in the gallery below, is an individual from last summer, just to show the approximate looks.

In the jar – Raising update

The season has proceeded to reach midsummer. Despite of the poor weather this year I’ve been lucky enough to find some caterpillars for raising. Here’s a status update on what’s in currently the jar (breeding cages or terrariums) and how far they are in the metamorphosis.

Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)

A couple days ago the first caterpillar has pupated. I’ve been keeping the caterpillars on the balcony, and due to seriously poor weather (with temperatures as cold as 4 degrees Celsius) have given the caterpillars a hard time. So far two have dropped dead after they had stopped eating.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

The single caterpillar which I’ve been raising from egg has been doing well. It was feeding inside until I moved it out right before it pupated. The outside temperatures will regulate that the butterfly will hatch at the right time.

Death’s-head Hawkmoth (Acherontia atropos)

I received two mid-sized caterpillars from another breeder some time ago. In the meantime, one has pupated two days ago. The other one, which had been feeding on a potted plant on the balcony, has unfortunately disappeared. My assumption is that it dug itself into the soil of the pot due to the cold weather. I try to be optimistic and hope I’ll see it again on the plant once the weather gets better. It wasn’t accepting cut leafs like the other one and thus had to be kept on a living plant outside.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

I obtained this species by finding eggs on a field nearby. The caterpillars have been feeding well and have also grown, reaching the size of about 1 cm so far.

The Map (Araschnia levana)

The tiny caterpillars which I found a week ago have been feeding well. They’ve gained in size and I’ve been able to get confirmation about the species. At the beginning I was not 100% sure if they really were caterpillars of the Map or if they could be from the European Peacock (Inachis io).

Scarce Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis xanthomelas)

The colony of about two dozen caterpillars has been feeding well. They gain size after they skinned a couple days ago.

Privet Hawk Moth (Sphinx ligustri)

I received three caterpillars of this species in exchange for some of the Scarce Tortoiseshell larva. All three have stopped eating and started to prepare for pupating.

Overwintered species

From the chrysalises I had overwintering there’s still two left: An Old World Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) and a Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi). I start having my doubt they’re not healthy and no butterfly may hatch. Both feel and look pretty healthy though, and it’s well possible the poor weather conditions can be blamed. Hopefully I’ll see both hatching once it’ll get warmer outside.

Breaking up winter

The first challenge of The Pyri Project has been to bring the cocoons through winter in Finland. Due to the freezing temperatures outside I had to simulate a more suitable winter, and provide an artificial micro climate in the refrigerator.

With spring emerging outside also food plants start becoming available. The time has come to break up winter and give green light to the Giant Peacock Moths (Saturnia Pyri) to continue their metamorphosis. In other words, the box of ‘chocolate’ can, after 6 months, be taken out of the fridge and be placed in room temperature.

The wake-up

To verify the condition of the chrysalises I cut the cocoons and removed the pupae. This will later on also facilitate the hatching process of the adult moths. As a nice surprise, all individuals were healthy. In fact, the temperature around 20 decrees Celsius made them quite active (see video). The first challenge has been passed successfully.

The video was shot bare-handed with no tripod, hence apologies for the shaking quality. Nevertheless, it nicely shows the activity of the chrysalises waking up. Our daughter Sienna, who’s voice is also on the video, fell in love with the ugly creatures when they started stretching. She carefully observed the process when I opened the cocoons in our backyard.

Now it’s time to wait again. The next challenge is to get the moths hatching to breed them. I’d expect the amazing adult moths to appear around mid of May.