The first butterfly

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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

Season 2014 targets

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One of the most fun parts raising butterflies is defining the seasonal goals and setting the target caterpillars to be found during the coming butterfly season.

Season targets become the base for the compelling challenge of the caterpillar quest. During winter time one can either look back to analyze the previous season, or take a look ahead towards the next.

Planning a season requires some reading and studying. Set yourself realistic targets! How widespread is the desired species in your region? Furthermore, please respect protected species and any law and regulations related to nature where you live.

I’ve done my studies, and now I’m going to reveal my season 2014 caterpillar targets. Summer will show how many of these caterpillars (or occasionally even eggs or pupas) will be found. But that’s not all, the ultimate goal is to raise these caterpillars to see them hatch as adult butterflies, and unveil the beauty of their wings.

Caterpillar targets for summer 2014

Entries below contain following information:

  • English name* (Latin name), expected caterpillar time (in Finland), difficulty of finding, (link to wikipedia for details)

(* = Species I’ve never raised/found before.)

Butterflies
  • Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni), May-July, easy (wikipedia)
  • European Peacock (Inachis io), May-July, easy (wikipedia)
  • Comma* (Polygonia c-album), May-July, medium (wikipedia)
  • Mourning Cloak* (Nymphalis antiopa), June-July, medium (wikipedia)
  • Old World Swallowtail (Papilio machaon), June-August, medium (wikipedia)
  • Silver-washed Fritillary* (Argynnis paphia), May-June, difficult (wikipedia)
  • Purple Emperor* (Apatura iris), May-June, difficult (wikipedia)
  • Scarce Tortoiseshell* (Nymphalis xanthomelas), June, difficult (wikipedia)
Moths
  • Privet Hawk-moth* (Sphinx ligustri), July-August, easy (wikipedia)
  • Small Emperor Moth* (Saturnia pavonia), June-August, medium (wikipedia)
  • Eyed Hawk-moth (Smerinthus ocellatus), July-August, medium (wikipedia)

These 11 species are my primary targets. In addition, caterpillars of several other butterflies and moths may be considered as keepers if found. Nevertheless, caterpillar quests will mainly be planned in regard to species listed above.

When the season is about to begin I will also add a page for statistics. That page will follow the success and hits, and also track attempts with no results.

Give it a try…

There is two major questions to be answered before starting the search for caterpillars: When and where. Searching at the wrong time there won’t be any caterpillars around. And searching at the wrong location you will only get disappointed. Learn about species from books or the web, and you’ll increase your chances to get successful on your quest.

Source: The Butterfly Playbook

Reinventing a childhood hobby

Midsummer 2013, after calling it a day at work I decided to have a walk in the nearby park. My wife, being pregnant in the 3rd trimester with our twin boys, was visiting friends downtown. She had our daughter with her, so I took a walk on my own.

Before I stepped out I took a moment to browse the web. I incidentally had a quick look-up to see when the caterpillars of the Old World Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) could be found in Finland. The time was matching, I decided to give it a try.

I already gave it a shot early summer, trying to raise caterpillars of the Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae). Unfortunately, all 3 caterpillars had parasites. Instead of butterflies, it was parasitoid wasps hatching from the pupa.

I started at the beach line of the sea close by. I kept my eyes focused on milk parsley (Peucedanum palustre) which was growing aside the trail I walked. No success. The caterpillar of the Old World Swallowtail stands out quite well due to it’s colors and size. Hence, looking at the right spot the chances are pretty good to find the needle in the haystack.

Perhaps I’m too close to the windy sea, I thought, and decided to try another biotope. Walking about a kilometer I was close to a horse stable, a good environment for small wild life. Again, my eyes started browsing through milk parsley.

And then, there it was! Right on the edge of the field, feeding on the white blossom of milk parsley, I found one. The rush caused by finding a caterpillar after truly looking – priceless. And yes, right then I knew. It was about time to reinvent a childhood hobby, butterflies.

Did you know…

The colorful appearance of the adult caterpillar acts as warning to bird predators. By absorbing toxins from host plants, the caterpillar of the Old World Swallowtail tastes poorly if attempted to be eaten.

Source: Wikipedia (January 9, 2014)