The Common Brimstone

The Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) is one of the earliest butterflies to show up in spring and one of the latest to be spotted in autumn. Adult butterflies can reach a lifetime of almost a year which quite an achievement in the world of butterflies.

In about two months from now the Common Brimstone will be flying again in Finland. Right now, the butterflies overwinter between fallen leafs and growth under a layer of snow. In many languages this species is named “Lemon Butterfly” (ger. Zitronenfalter, fin. sitruunaperhonen) due to its color. Nevertheless, it’s mainly the male which are colored in a strong yellow. Females have a rather pale shade and almost appear to be white (see photo below).

As for many other species in Finland, the year 2014 has been harsh. Despite of flying in large quantities during spring it was only a couple individuals of the Common Brimstone that I spotted in summer (summer generation). Even though it’s such a common species it’s always a pleasure to sight this butterfly. Here’s a couple of photos from the year 2014. The same year I also had the chance to follow a dalliance of a male and female.

Even though the Brimstone is such a common butterfly finding caterpillars is often a bit tricky. The reason is that caterpillars only feed on alder buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula). This plant is not rare either, but it may be growing well hidden in the woods. Hence, the challenge is not to find caterpillars, but the foodplant first. Here’s some snapshots from season 2014. I also had large losses due to paratites this year. Most of the caterpillars I took home for raising never reached the pupal stage.

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.

1 out of 100

The title of this post may refer to my attempts in finding a caterpillar I’m after. However, it’s actually standing for the loss in individuals on the journey from egg to butterfly.

Today I tried another time finding caterpillars of the Purple Emperor (Apatura iris), Lesser Purple Emperor (Apatura ilia), Scarce Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis xanthomelas) and Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa). And again, it was only caterpillars of moths, the Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) and the Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) that I found.

Nevertheless, the search will continue. Here’s the footage from today, a 4 hours trip into the greenery. To start with, a spider generated a rather dramatic scenario feeding on the colony of young Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars. Remember, 1 out of 100.

Here’s a series of other caterpillars I spotted today.

At the end even the sun started to shine and for the first time since a couple weeks I got some butterfly shots as well.

Kicking off the search

Just a couple days ago I came across the first caterpillars this spring. This has been a good sign to see how far nature’s cycle has progressed, and gave green light to start looking for keepers.

I’ve set myself 11 targets for this season. By targets, I’m referring to species from which I’ll particularly try to find caterpillars and raise these all the way to the adult butterfly. Time to kick-off the caterpillar quest.

Today, I made a first attempt. There wasn’t that much around yet. I found three colonies of Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) caterpillars. In one case the caterpillars just hatched. The small size of these caterpillars indicated it may be too early to look for other species. They may not have hatched yet, or are simply too small to be found.

While I also came across a construction site where my favorite biotope is being bulldozed I checked if there’s any Alder Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) around. Alder Buckthorn is the food plant of the Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni). The caterpillars were pretty small, but since that piece of forest will be turned over soon, I decided to grab some with me.

Bottom line, with the Common Brimstone caterpillars the first target is accomplished. And there’s finally some life in the terrarium.

Easter weekend, day 2

I’ve been lucky so far this spring and I caught pretty much every object of interest on a decent photo. However, this is not how it works in a lepidopterist’s life. Often you may spot a rare species which just flies by and disappears. In fact, the same happens with common species as well.

So it came that the first Comma (Polygonia c-album), which I spotted right at the beginning of my trip, did not have any intention to start posing. Right after I was able to identify it, yet another Scarce Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis xanthomelas) was driving it off its territory. All I got was one shot that wasn’t properly focused (see below).

Nevertheless, previously I didn’t get a good shot at the European Peacock (Inachis io). This time, I sighted three individuals and also got better results.

Another lesson I had to learn was that hay fever may lead to perspiration, and perspiration to dehydration. Spending two hours in the greenery is pretty physical, and it took me quite some time to recover afterwards.

All in all, another good day out. And the amount of butterflies being active these days at Espoo Central Park (Finland) is amazing. It’s only a couple species, but it’s great to get a good chance to get some sightings. While I’m looking forward to spotting more species this weekend I’m also exploring a really nice biotope. An area with abandoned houses turns out to be a true oasis. Only a couple more weeks and the same biotope will provide the caterpillars of all the species observed lately.


Butterfly romance

The dancing flight and flirting game of two butterflies is something unique. Personally, I haven’t had the luck to observe too many of these moments so far. However, recently I caught one of these private events.

A warm spring day made the butterflies go crazy, aiming at fulfilling the one and only mission in their lives: to continue the species. Especially the Common Brimstones (Gonepteryx rhamni) were very active. While I was close to a female, a male was flying by. Attracted either by the sight or the female’s pheromones, the dalliance begun.

Unfortunately, I did not see final “the magic happen”. There was no copula as a second male Brimstone interrupted the game. The female clearly was ready, and most likely the game continued after I left for other butterflies around.

All in all, a very special moment. And luckily, there’s a couple photos for looking back and sharing.


Easter weekend, day 1

Sunshine and warm, decent spring weather. What a promising 4 day weekend. I managed to get out into the greenery for two hours and I headed to a biotope I recently explored. It turned out to be a real hot spot.

Right after I got out of the car I spotted a Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) from the distance. Trying to catch it with my camera a Scarce Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis xanthomelas) came to defended its territory from the Brimstone. A couple seconds later, a Moarning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) sailed across. I decided to follow this one for the start. Nevertheless, I knew right away this is going to be a good day!

I didn’t have to leave the one and only field I entered. Within a diameter of perhaps 50-100 meters all the magic happened. The saldo of those two hours was following: 2-3 Scarce Tortoiseshells, 3-4 Common Brimstones, one Moarning Cloak, two Small Tortoiseshells (Aglais urticae), and one European Peacock (Inachis io). Especially the European Peacock was a beauty I was looking forward to meet again.

The above named individuals were, encouraged by the warm spring sun, heavily defending their territory. I saw Multiple times an individual driving off others from its own or other species. This is always a nice play to watch.

After these rather good list of sightings the expectations for day 2 are high. I’m particularly looking forward to spotting two species I’ve not met yet this spring: The Comma (Polygonia c-album) and the Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi).


The first butterfly


One of the most amazing moments every year is to see the first butterfly flying. Like a pixel in the wind, motivated by the warm spring sun, the nervous creature commonly passes by and disappears in seconds.

Spring arrived early this year and rumors have been around that the first species already started to fly. I had to get out and see my first one, too.

After about 15-20 minutes, browsing through my favorite and nearby spot of nature, I got lucky. My first butterfly this spring was a male Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni). And yes, I also caught it on bits and bytes with my camera, both flying and resting.

According to Tove Jansson’s tale Finn Family Moomintroll the color of the first butterfly sighted in spring can be used to predict the summer that’s ahead. The color yellow, as in my case, indicates a happy summer is ahead.

One moment later, I also witnessed a second species flying. The Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) was a bigger challenge to track for snapping a photo while it’s resting. However, I got lucky enough to get one decent photo of it, before it continued its flight and disappeared.

Related photos
Did you know…

The Common Brimstone is a species known for sexual dimorphism. The male butterflies are colored in bright yellow whereas female individuals are almost white, with only a soft shade of lemon.

Source: Murtosaari (J) & Mäntynen (P), 2013. Perhosten vuosi, Minerva Kustannus Oy, pp. 62-63