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.

Spotting Hawk-moth caterpillars

Impressive caterpillars of Hawk-moths may be closer than you think. If you have a garden and the right plants, you may even have some of them in your backyard.

Early summer is hatching time of the large moths that have spent winter hibernating as chrysalis. This is a good time to take a walk and keep your eyes open. With a little luck you can spot a Hawk-moth hanging on a branch, a house wall or any place they climb up for drying their wings before taking off for the first flight. A couple weeks later, the time is right for searching their caterpillars, the hornworms.

Hawk-moths are great for kids, too due to their size. They’re also quite robust to handle. It’s a great activity to go out and search for these creatures. Here’s our best findings from last summer. Some spotted on the way to the supermarket, others on a walk with the determination to finding caterpillars for raising them. Elephant Hawk-moths (Deilephila elpenor), Bedstraw Hawk-moths (Hyles gallii) and Poplar Hawk-moths (Laothoe populi) are among the most common species in Finland. Finding the caterpillar of the Small Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila porcellus) was a nice surprise, as these are harder to find.

Letting them fly

Letting butterflies free after raising them from egg or caterpillar is always a nice moment. Here’s a couple random photos from 2015, pointing out how kids can get a decent look at creatures that normally wouldn’t stay still.

Good luck our daughter also shows interest in caterpillars being raised. Moreover, searching them in the wild is of particular fun.

Introducing nature

When I was a small kid my dad used to take the entire family into the nearby forest, showing us plants and animals. I still remember some of the creatures he introduced to us. That heritage is what I want to pass further to our kids, too.

Last summer our twin boys turned two. Just about the age when they start being able to focus on something they see, as long as it’s interesting enough. Caterpillars of hornworms are usually something kids like. Here’s some proof on how children react to real nature.

Caterpillars of the Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) are commonly brown. Rarely, there’s green ones, too, like in the video and photos below.

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.

The highlight of raising butterflies

Raising butterflies provides a long lasting entertainment to both adults and kids. However, there is a particular highlight. The moment when a fresh butterfly has hatched, dried its wings and is ready to be released.

Sometimes you have plenty of time to take decent photos of the new adult butterflies. Sometimes, it will just take seconds and the butterfly flatters away. Nevertheless, it’s a rewarding moment. All the care-taking pays back with the feeling of having achieved something.

Here’s some photos of releasing European Peacocks (Inachis io) and Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta). The European Peacocks came with an additional challenge. They tend to hatch early in the morning (in my case the Red Admirals hatched around noon). With plain shadow in our garden, and a sleepy daughter it was pretty tricky to get some footage.

Are you afraid of…

The caterpillar. A stage every butterfly has to pass before ever being able to reveal the beauty of its wings and fly. Many people are disgusted, or even afraid of these weird looking creatures. Personally, I’m fascinated by them. And guess what, our daughter, too.

I wanted to let Sienna have a caterpillar of the Privet Hawk Moth (Sphinx ligustri) walk on her hand. I kept the camera ready. And when I was browsing through the photos I was amazed. The look she had while observing the insect, priceless.

Here’s some of the shots. Hawk Moths (Sphingidae), by the way, commonly have gigantic caterpillars with a horn at the tail. That’s why they’re sometimes referred to as hornworms. This particular caterpillar had finished eating and was preparing to pupate soon. At this stage they’re really active and won’t stop walking. A great moment to get life on photos.

Not available on App Store

I must admit I’m guilty of letting our kids play with iPad and iPhone. I don’t see any problems about that. However, instead of touching just a plain screen here’s some other things to explore.

To obtain understanding about nature let your kids play with real nature. Caterpillars, regardless of their size, are great to start with. Here’s Sienna with an almost full-size caterpillar of the Death-Head Hawk moth (Acherontia atropos) and a young caterpillar of the Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae). Learning nature is learning diversity, as well.


Day of the Painted Lady

Today we were out for a long walk with my parents and our kids. On our way home from the playground an increased number of Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) was flying. I wanted to use that moment to give our daughter Sienna a close-up.

It’s not easy approach a nervous butterfly, especially for a two year old child (she’s turning three next month). Attracting butterflies with flowers, or watching them right after hatching would be much easier. Nevertheless, it turned out we were pretty lucky today.

While we were after one of the Painted Ladies it took a quick rest on a Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense), the food plant of its caterpillars. I couldn’t help myself taking a good look at the leaf it sat on for a couple seconds. I almost missed it, but then I spotted the egg. For the second time this summer I observed a butterfly laying eggs. Exactly two weeks ago it was a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). That caterpillar has, by the way, almost reached a size of 1.5cm so far.

Reviewing the photos afterwards I also identified Sienna and me were chasing two different Painted Ladies. One, the female laying the eggs, had its wings in pretty good shape. The other clearly suffered more. I’ll have a look at the same field in two weeks. Maybe I’ll find a couple more caterpillars.

Walk in the drizzle

Most butterflies need sunshine for getting active. On cloudy days they seek shelter from rain and predators. Nevertheless, these days provide a whole new challenge to the butterfly watcher.

Especially if you have kids a cloudy day is no reason to stay in. It’s rather a good reason to head out into nature to make some sightings you’ll be proud of.

If you are searching for caterpillars, pupas or even eggs weather doesn’t play that much of a role anyways. In fact, many caterpillar may be more active on a cloudy day or simply doesn’t care about the weather conditions at all. And well, pupas and eggs don’t have much of a choice anyway.

Taking a look back at early summer 2013 I was out with Sienna for a walk in the refreshing drizzle. That day we got lucky as we spotted a Pine Hawk-moth (Sphinx pinastri) resting on a pine next to the trail. Another, easier sighting was a Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) resting on nettles, which I usually check for caterpillars.

Give it a try…

Resting butterflies, once spotted, will be easy objects to be photographed or just to take a close view. Take your time with the camera, or give your kids a very special lesson on nature’s creatures.

Source: The Butterfly Playbook

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