Caterpillar kick-off

It took quite some time this spring to find the first caterpillar due to very cold weather conditions. Nevertheless, about two weeks ago, I finally got started. This year, the first caterpillar belonged to a blue. To be more precise, it was a Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus).

The success felt good, and one of my season’s targets this year is to focus more on finding caterpillars (and eggs) of blues. Last year, my first caterpillar was a Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas).

I hope this is a good start into a great caterpillar season.

Season start 2017

This year’s butterfly season started late for me. I could hardly find any time to get out into the wild. Also the weather conditions were pretty unpleasant, changing from -15 degrees Celsius to low plus degrees accompanied by rain.

Early 2017 I completely updated my camera gear and couldn’t wait to finally test the new, decent macro photography equipment. Previously, I’ve been working with a Sony Nex5 and the 18-200mm lens by Sony. Practically all photos on the Butterfly Playbook have been taken with this camera, occasional shots were by my iPhone (various models). Here are the first macros taken by my new Sony a6500 and the Sigma 150mm lens. I have a good feeling about this season.

Nevertheless, the first touch with butterflies and moths this year related to the Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus). Last Sunday was beautiful sunshine and the amount of light here in Southern Finland started to be enough for taking the camera with me. With snow and ice, the terrain is still in challenging condition, therefor I only took a walk to the oak forest nearby.

Looking at twigs that had fallen from old oaks during winter I tried to spot little white eggs of the Purple Hairstreak. These have about the size of a grain of sand. I had to look for twigs that got stuck in lower growth, since the forest ground was still covered by snow.

After some time I found what I was looking for. A small twig that hosted even two eggs at once. One of the eggs was placed in the normal fashion, squeezed under a leaf bud. The other was located rather extraordinary on the twig with no buds nearby. This made it easier though to photograph the ovum.

Before heading home I placed the twig on a young oak, hoping that the caterpillars will grow on a place where I can follow their development in the wild. So far I’ve only had the chance to get photos from specimen in captivity.

Bottom line, the season has begun. Next target in line would be to find caterpillars of the Lesser purple emperor (Apatura ilia). In about 1-2 weeks from now it will also be possible to start spotting the first adult butterflies that awake from hibernation. It’s a great time of the year when the long Nordic winter takes an end.

Nailed season target

One of the definitive goals for this season was to finally find caterpillars of either the Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) or the Lesser Purple Emperor (Apatura ilia). Already in December 2015 I found the first caterpillar of the Purple Emperor. In April 2016 another one (at a different location). Later on, I managed to locate even a couple more. One larva was too high so I hardly could get a decent photo with my camera. But the others were in a better height.

Unfortunately, I found no caterpillars of the Lesser Purple Emperor. This is one of the biggest targets for season 2017. Since the species flies rather close to where we live I feel optimistic to track down caterpillars already this autumn.

Apatura butterflies, they’re amazing all the way from caterpillar to butterfly. Here’s a couple shots from the caterpillars found earlier this year.

The Broad-bordered bee hawk-moth

Early summer we moved to a new apartment and location. The new surrounding also has new species to offer. An early (and a bit of surprise) finding I made early July where the caterpillars of the Broad-bordered bee hawk-moth (Hemaris fuciformis).

Since the caterpillars were on a nature reserve I left the caterpillars where they were and returned a couple times for more photos. Our new apartment also doesn’t have a balcony in the shadow which would allow keeping the overwintering chrysalises outside. This can easily lead to butterflies (and moths) hatching too early.

Nevertheless, it was a pleasant finding to came across a species I’ve never seen before.

Caterpillar of the Small Copper

1

One of the caterpillar targets for this season has been to track down the Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas). In late 2015, all I was able to find was empty egg shells. I knew the habitat was right, now it was just about timing.

A couple days ago spring came back. With raising temperatures it was clear that the caterpillars will become active again. This time, I even got lucky. After browsing tiny growth of Rumex I managed to find one. Just a single one, but that’s all I needed.

Here’s a couple photos of the mid-sized caterpillar (taken in captivity). It’s size is about 8mm, and after hibernation it will probably feed for another two weeks or so.

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.

First spring day

April 11th 2015, I finally spotted the first butterfly flying. In fact, it wasn’t just one but 5 species. Fair enough to call this day the first spring day of the year.

The first butterfly was a male Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni). After I waited for a moment to get the butterfly settle and take a rest on its wild flight I spotted something else. Something…more interesting. It was a Scarce Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis xanthomelas). I recognized it for sure because size, colors and the way they fly gives clear proof.

I got lucky on the very same spot last year, where I had the pleasure to observe a male Scarce Tortoiseshell from really close. It was a nice surprise to meet this species again. In summer 2015 something seemed to happen, and when the summer generation was expected to fly hardly any sightings were made.

Spending about two hours in the greenery I was able to count 2 Scarce Tortoiseshells (both captured on photos below), 3 European Peacocks (Aglais io), one Orange Underwing (Archiearis parthenias), two Small Tortoiseshells (Aglais urticae) and both male and female Brimstones.

Having the presence of the Scarce Tortoiseshell confirmed I’m now looking forward to finding caterpillars again this summer. Hopefully with less parasites compared to last summer’s findings.

The Brown Hairstreak

I didn’t know that much about Hairstreaks prior to this summer. Despite of the very common Green Hairstreaks (Callophrys rubi) flying in late spring, I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with with such small butterflies.

Nevertheless, on a recent trip into the greenery a Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae) caught my attention, just by accident. That moment made me realize there’s something special about Hairstreaks. I can’t explain if it’s their behavior and the way they like to pose to the camera. Or is it because they’re even more fragile than most of the other butterflies? Perhaps because they’re so hard to detect at first? Either way, I ended up spending every free minute I got chasing them.

In my case. three species shared the same habitat where I, by pure coincidence, found the first individual. It was a female Brown Hairstreak. This one was anything but shy, and even unveiled the stunning beauty of its upper wings. What I didn’t know back then was that it’s rather rare to get such a chance. Hairstreaks are well known to mostly keep their wings closed.

Here’s the top shots I got on this fragile species, shot on several days but always on the same spot. The other two species, the White-letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album) and the Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus), deserve their individual post later on.

Finding Nemo

After spending hours and hours in the greenery searching for caterpillars of the Scarce Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis xanthomelas) I finally found a colony. For the first time I’m now capable of raising the species at home. If you know butterflies you’ll also know how good it felt to succeed on my search.

Here’s some footage, particularly covering the habitat of the species. This hopefully helps others finding caterpillars as well. First, I found an abandoned colony were only feeding traces and old skins were left. No luck finding the actual larva. 15 minutes later I found a second colony where slightly over 30 caterpillars where just in the process of skinning.

Two tips. I found the caterpillars on a species of willow, Salix phylicifolia to be precise. And both colonies were located about 50-80cm above the ground. So keep your eyes low and on young trees/bushes.

Caterpillar track-down

On the quest to finding these caterpillars I’ve been browsing several times through a habitat which I came across this spring. I wrote about that spot already after my first visit this spring. Back then I saw Scarce Tortoiseshells flying almost every time I checked the place. It might also be a good spot to find caterpillars of the Moarning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa).

As already mentioned I found two colonies of caterpillars. One was already abandoned, maybe the caterpillars have moved or already proceeded in the metamorphosis. The photos below introduce the area by narrowing down the exact spots also showing what kind of traces to look for. Just in case this information may be helpful to anyone.

Early Orange Tip

Today’s true surprise was the Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines) which came out of the blue. Just a moment earlier I thought I’d have spotted my first Map (Araschnia levana) this spring, no confirmation on that sighting though.

I was browsing through a field when one of my all-time favorites flew by, right towards me. In case of this species Orange Tip is the perfectly matching name. However, worth being mentioned, it’s only the male which actually carries orange on its wings. Females are plain white.

I had to wait for quite some time before the butterfly took a rest from flying. My luck that it decided on a spot which was easily accessible. No doubt, since I got some ok shots this is one of this season’s highlights.

Nevertheless, the Orange Tip was not the only species around. Also flying, for the first time this spring, were the Green-veined White (Pieris napi) and masses of Green Hairstreaks (Callophrys rubi). I’ve actually never met this little green pearls before. While flying it’s hardly to recognize them and they appear just like a buzzing insect. However, once landed they look like green jewels.