(UPDATE 22 Sep 2011: Foties!)
(UPDATE 7 Apr 2012: New project numbering system, and spelling corrections!)

When I seeded a small planter in my back yard with wildflower seed earlier this year, I didn’t really know what to expect. Perhaps a neat little tussock of poppies, daisies and ragged-robin?


What I got was a magnificent marigold vigorously munched by five fat green Noctuid caterpillars, a few large weedy brassicas that attracted Flame Carpets, Diamond-back Moths, Large Whites and at least two other species, some spindly purple-flowered plants trying to look inconspicuous in fear of the lepidopteran onslaught, while all the tiny, delicate weeds in another planter evaded the caterpillars but were strangled by a ginormous sweet-pea.

It was quite spectacular.

I took daily notes of how the caterpillars were getting along, so I’ll try and briefly tell the story so far. I haven’t IDed half of the species. The ‘main brassica’ (or relative) I talk about here is one with many small round disc-shaped seed pods, which you can see in the first photo. I think it’s Lepidium or something.

  • 1B: I originally found 6 small Large White caterpillars, but there wasn’t a whole lot to eat. 3 large ones remained, usually on the main brassica, before they seemed to disperse, and the one I found on a wall, collected and fed died a few days later.

03Sep11 Large White caterpillar

  • 15B: The 3 Cinnabar pupae are doing just what they should be doing: absolutely sod all.
  • 16A: As have the two Buff Ermine pupae.
  • 17A: The 5 or 6 plain green Noctuids on the marigold probably mostly left the planter, although at least one died. I collected one huge one in a jar, called it Fat-one and then Pippin (which LOTR fans will appreciate) and fed it elder leaves – but for the past few days it has been chewing up leaves and spitting them out! My Angle Shades caterpillar last year did this too when he was making a cocoon, but Pippin is just making a mess!!!

03Sep11 Noctuid caterpillar on Marigold

  • 18A: I found one green looper on a wall, which has now pupated. It didn’t come from the planter as far as I can see.

03Sep11 Geometrid pupa and pupal moult

  • 19A: I identified the five brown/grey/green loopers on the brassica as Flame Carpets. I collected two of them and they have continued to eat the bits of foodplant I’ve been giving them. They nibble the edge of the seed pods.

01Sep11 Flame Carpet caterpillar

  • 20A: On the same plant as the Flames were 3 tiny caterpillars and 2 tiny pupae in ‘string-vest’ cocoons. They were pale green with dark red eyes, which made me think they might be sawflies, but four days ago I found a Diamond-back Moth clinging to a stick in the jar and pumping up its tiny wings. I think the other pupa may have drowned, although it might be waiting for spring.
  • Plus, there was a mottled brown noctuid caterpillar which completely defoliated another brassica in the space of a day, before disappearing. And yet another small green cater on the main brassica. (7 Apr: The former is a Cabbage moth, the latter another Diamond-back)

And while I’m here, I’d like to wish Richella Duggan the best of luck with the (now unfortunately quite improbable) five-ish butterfly species she’s still to photograph this year… and if not, then even better luck for next year!

Species study 1, project B: Large White (Pieris brassicae)
Species study 15, project B: Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae)
Species study 16, project A: Buff Ermine (Spilosoma luteum)
Species study 17, project A: unidentified Noctuid
Species study 18, project A: unidentified Geometer
Species study 19, project A: Flame Carpet (Xanthorhoe designata)
Species study 20, project A: Diamond-back Moth (Plutella xylostella)