First Flight

Butterflies are fragile, we all know that. Nevertheless, some species are particularly fragile. All it takes is some time in the air, and their beautiful wings start showing damage.

Hairstreaks are butterflies that have a unique set of details. The tail of their wings is one of them. They’re also known to having a short flight time (that is max a couple weeks). Bottom line, it doesn’t take much for such wings to loose their beauty. Catching a freshly hatched specimen is a special moment. Here’s a couple photos of a White-letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album), most likely on it’s virgin flight.

Look up!

Not always are caterpillars found on the ground. Occasionally, you can find some on the height of one’s eyes. But that’s not all, it may also be worth to have a look up.

The White-letter Hairstreak spends almost all of its life high up in elm trees. This includes the larval stage, therefor it’s possible to spot the caterpillars by standing right under the leafs of a tree. Then, have that look up to the bottom side of the leafs. This may requires a sunny day to get a good look. Some twigs hang almost down to the ground (see photo below), making it possible to get a close-up or collect a caterpillar for raising.

If you want to raise the species from eggs here’s a couple tips for tracking them down in winter.

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.

Disguised on a flower bud

Exactly one week ago the first two caterpillars of the White-letter hairstreak hatched. Right after hatching, the tiny, black larvae had one mission: to find a flower bud on the elm twig and dig in.

It took about 4-5 days for them to appear again. From now on, it appears they don’t hide anymore inside of the flower bud but feed from outside. Nevertheless, due to their excellent disguise it doesn’t matter where or how they feed. They won’t be spotted that easily. Having them on the buds makes it much more fun to be able to search and also sight them.

Looking forward to seeing the caterpillars grow and reach more size. Raising hairstreaks, note this is my first time and species, differs quite a lot from raising other species.

How to find eggs of the White-letter Hairstreak

Winter time and the butterfly season is over. Is it? That’s what I used to believe, too. However, there’s at least two activities that can be performed during the cold months of the year. Document your photos and results from the previous summer and get prepared for the next season.

Searching for overwintering eggs is part of such preparation. In this particular case, eggs of the White-letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album). So far, I’ve managed to track down eggs of the the Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus) on twigs fallen to the ground and eggs of the Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae), laid on easily accessible growth. It turned out the White-letter Hairstreak was a bit more challenging.

After sighting many adult butterflies of the species flying last summer I knew where to start searching. I also made some research on the web to be aware of what to look out for. The eggs look a bit different than those of other hairstreaks, and the black color doesn’t give an easy clue like in case of the Brown Hairstreak.

It took several approaches to score the first ovum. Winter conditions with snow, freezing temperatures, wind and simply the lack of light made the quest difficult. However, I finally got lucky. Actually, I’ve only found a single egg so far. Due to short daylight and a temperature below the freezing point I called it a day after the first finding. Furthermore, I’m also locking forward to searching with a friend of mine, in which case it’s more fun to be out (and more secure as well).

To keep it short, here’s how to get started. Look out for elm trees. Track down branches or twigs with both leaf and flower buds. Browse through the buds. Try to access twigs higher up, in my case a bridge close to a tree made is possible to reach higher.

The White-letter Hairstreak

In my late summer Hairstreak triology the White-letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album) is number two to be introduced. This species has an incredible set of details. However, the fragility of this sensitive butterfly often makes it impossible to get all these details on a decent photo. Why this? Because the details are easily “worn off”.

The White-letter Hairstreak has been the most common species of Hairstreaks while I was out photographing them. The habitat was a success, and this butterfly loves to visit flowers. While soaking there’s practically no rush to shoot them.

Another thing worth being mentioned: White-letter Hairstreaks don’t show the upper side of their wings. The only way is to catch it flying, like with e.g. the Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni). I got one shot, not really clear or focused, where the main characteristics of the upper side are visible (see below).

As mentioned earlier it’s a very fragile butterfly. Turned out, the challenge was not to locate a butterfly but to spot an individual that’s in good shape. Here’s the footage I got over several days. Like in case with the Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae), which I introduced earlier, all photos were made on the same spot in Espoo, Finland.