Turning to beauty

5

Only ten days after breaking up their artificial winter, referring to the time spent in the fridge, the first adult Giant Peacock Moth (Saturnia pyri) hatched. It was a giant, vital male. My the first member of Saturniidae, a family of moths,I’ve ever experienced with my own eyes.

This hatching individual was proof that the micro climate the cocoons spend their winter in was appropriate. At the same time, I also accomplished one more challenge of the Pyri Project: To get the chrysalises hatch and experience the adult, and particularly their beauty. Not only the pattern but especially the size is amazing.

This post is only about sharing some photos of the freshly hatched moth. I’ll get back to the next challenge later, which is pairing the adults to produce eggs. And that particular challenge turned out to be the ultimate mission.

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.

The Pyri Project

1

A famous character once quoted that “life was like a box of chocolate. You never know what you’re gonna get“. Nevertheless, this project is not about chocolate. It’s about beauty, well hidden inside an ugly cocoon.

With The Pyri Project, I’m taking my hobby of raising butterflies to a next level. So far, I’ve been taking home caterpillars (and occasionally eggs) which I found in the greenery. This time, I will enter the loop of butterfly metamorphosis starting from the chrysalis, the pupa state of the butterfly. Breeding the hatched adults to produce eggs will be the first challenge.

For 6 months, 10 cocoons have spent an artificial winter in the vegetable compartment of our fridge (thanks to my wife for accepting this experiment). They would not survive the harsh winter outside in Finland. In a small, isolated freezer box, the cocoons overwintered in a more friendly micro climate. I opened the box every once in a while and checked all cocoons were still alive. This can be done by slightly shaking the cocoons. Feeling a little loose weight (the pupae) inside the cocoon, like the surprise in a Kinder egg, proves the chrysalis should be fine.

What species could be better for such a project than a majestic, large moth which is easy to observe and handle, also for children. Therefor, I decided to choose a moth I remember from my childhood dreams, the Giant Peacock Moth (Saturnia Pyri). Also known as the Giant Emperor Moth, Great Peacock Moth or Viennese Emperor, it’s the largest moth in Europe. It’s beautiful, and it’s big! This counts for both adults as well as caterpillars.

Even though it’s close relative, the Small Emperor Moth (Saturnia Pavonia) is pretty common in Finland the Giant Peacock Moth itself is absent. It’s range includes mostly southern and parts of eastern Europe. Hence, instead of finding the individuals to raise on a caterpillar quest I had to use a different option: order online. There are several serious businesses where people have turned their hobby into their job. The cocoons I will be breeding were ordered from and shipped by Worlwide Butterflies in the UK. They have excellent service and also offer a great range of breeding equipment and other stuff.

The goal is to reach a set of beautiful and large caterpillars by end of this summer. Furthermore, it is about following the transformation from ugliness to beauty, all the way. This is The Pyri Project.