Hawk-moth saldo 2016

In summer 2016 my goal was to spot some caterpillars of Hawk-moth species that I haven’t come across recently. Here’s a wrap-up of all species I managed to find, including the the hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) from which I received caterpillars from a friend.

There’s a lot of challenge left for next year. Nevertheless, it was nice to finally find caterpillars of the Privet Hawk-moth (Sphinx ligustri). Another nice surprise was to spot a caterpillar of the Eyed Hawk-moth (Smerinthus ocellatus). All in all, it has been 7 Hawk-moth species in summer 2016. And bottom line, it’s always a great moment when coming across caterpillars of hawk-moth.

Early summer hatchings

Time passes. Before one can realize that summer has started it is usually already over. Late spring and early summer was particularly busy this year since we had to arrange our move to our new home. At the same time also most of the chrysalises that overwintered, either in our fridge or on the balcony, hatched.

I rarely managed to keep the camera close by, most commonly I only saw some butterfly that hatched before taking off. However, I did get a couple shots from some of the species. It was nice to see that the Lime Hawk-moth (Mimas tiliae), which our daughter found as slightly injured caterpillar, managed to complete the metamorphosis.

Like the year before, I also had a couple Poplar Hawk-moths (Laothoe populi) overwintering. It was great seeing the difference in both sizes and coloring across individuals. The Small Emperor Moths (Saturnia pavonia), which I received as eggs from a friend, were true beauties. I remember one afternoon when I returned from work, there was quite some buzzing on the balcony. Due to a couple females that hatched the same time they managed to attract multiple males that were flying around. I’ll get back with some more photos from this species later on.

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.

Beautiful caterpillars: The Poplar Hawk-moth

It is always a joy to find large and amazing caterpillars of Hawk-moths, especially if you have been searching for them. In case of the Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi) it may require a bit more of searching since these “hornworms” are masters in disguise. The feeling that hits you after browsing through bushes and finally finding what you’ve been looking for: priceless.

I’ve been lucky this summer and found a couple lime-green caterpillars of the Poplar Hawk-moth. Here’s some footage. Scroll further down for tips and photos showing how to track them down.

How to find caterpillars

There’s a couple simple tips that may be of help to you. Assuming the time and general habitat is right start focusing on following:

  • Browse through young trees, or rather bushes, of aspen. Even though I’ve been browsing through low hanging branches of old trees I’ve mostly got lucky on narrow bushes. The height may vary between 60cm up to 2 meters. This also makes the search more comfortable, since caterpillars often feed on the height of your eyes or lower.
  • Focus on feeding traces. Caterpillars of Hawk-moths require a lot of food to grow. This results in often easily recognizable feeding traces on the plants that host a caterpillar. On aspen, the primary food plant of this species, caterpillars eat entire leafs leaving only the stalks left. Such “naked” stalks can be spotted from a good distance. Once such traces are found, focus on browsing through the branch or bush with more care.

The footage below (and above) hopefully shows what to look for. Have a good look at the following photos. You can find a caterpillar on four of them.