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.

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)