Tag Archive: Buff Ermine

Checking on my pupae on the morning of 21 June, I was delighted to find a perfectly-formed male Buff Ermine!

Buff Ermine male, emerged 21 June 2012

Who’s looking at you?

I waited a few days to release him in case the other moth would emerge and I could release them together or see them mate. After two nights on 23 June, with no signs of the other pupa making a move, I released him on our geranium.  I kept an eye on him I did some dusking, searching for moths in the garden that night. He buzzed off around a quarter to midnight.

Unfortunately, the other Buff Ermine wasn’t so healthy. It emerged a week later on 28 Jun… or at least tried to. I found it in the morning, half-emerged from its pupa, but when I checked on it later in the day it had made no progress. It was actually stuck. It had also secreted a black fluid from the sides of its head (I think this is a defensive/stress reaction in moths of this family).

Buff Ermine female, emerged 28 June 2012

Unfortunate little moth.

This obviously meant that something was wrong – the moth must have had some deformity. Plus, the wings had dried out unexpanded so it would never be able to fly. At this point I knew that the only way to give it a chance at surviving to mate was to peel the pupal case off its abdomen. (Normally one should never interfere with emergence but this was an exceptional case.) I did this without injuring the moth, but even with the pupal case removed the moth seemed unable to walk. Its legs could move vigorously enough, but the back ones were translucent and seemed too weak to pull the moth along.

I released it in the garden anyway. It probably didn’t survive.

Why? Well, I suspect it may be due to the fact that the caterpillar pupated on a flat surface. As the pupal case is initially soft, turning hard, this meant the pupa gained some flat surfaces – and this may have harmed the development of the moth. Actually, I think the crippled Cinnabar moth’s pupa had the same problem.

Not the most uplifting blog post, I know. But hey, I released one healthy moth into the wild and I learned another lesson. So it’s OK. 🙂

Ruby Tiger (project 2B), Murlough, 13 Jul 2011

I usually name my children. (!!!) Say hi to “Ron” 🙂

For those of you who haven’t been following this blog and/or don’t know me, one of my favourite hobbies is rearing caterpillars. It all started when I was primary school age: during the summer the nasturtiums in our garden would become infested with Large White butterfly caterpillars. One time I decided to collect three of them, put them in a container which was supposed to be used as a wormery along with some nasturtium leaves, and see what would happen.

Unfortunately I never got to see what happened – they all escaped (I suspect my sister had a hand in it, but I’m not sure) and the two that we found crawling around upstairs were promptly placed back outside.

Although nothing came of it and although I never made any notes and although I haven’t even the foggiest idea what year it happened, I consider it such a pivotal moment in my life that I called it “Project 1A”.


Since then, I’ve worked with more or less 22 species of butterfly or moth. The projects may be rearing projects like Project 1A should have been – I find the caterpillars full grown, young or sometimes not even hatched out of their eggs, and take them home. I feed them leaves and keep them in sheltered containers as they grow, pupate (enter the ‘crysalis’ stage of metamorphosis) and eventually emerge as butterflies or moths. Then I release them exactly where I found them.

My first major project, when my ‘inner butterfly’ at last fluttered into live in late 2009, was my ‘Brown Furry Caterpillar Experiment’ (project 2A). I described this project in detail in my post last year “My caterpillar rearing projects: Ruby Tiger“. It involved 8 Ruby Tiger caterpillars which I collected from Murlough NNR – half I kept outside over the winter where they hibernated, while the other half I kept indoors. In the warm conditions the latter four began the pupation process. I hoped that they would all turn into moths, that they would mate and I would be able to release lots of eggs in the spring! Sadly two had parasites, and another died for no apparent reason, leaving only “Ruby-wan-kanobe” – she emerged from her pupa as a beautiful little red-brown moth but had no-one to mate with.

Happily one of the outside caterpillars, “Ricky”, successfully pupated and was released back where I found it in Murlough in the springtime.

Since then the Ruby Tiger caterpillar has become the figurehead of my blog.

Blog Figurehead: Ruby Tiger caterpillar (project 2A), 20 Feb 2010

Recognise him?

Not all of my projects are so extensive as that one. Sometimes I just collect pupae and give them a bit of safety in a jar until they emerge. In some cases the project just consists of keeping an eye on a particular species in an area (eg. the Marsh Fritillary, project 6. In this case it would be illegal for me to collect the caterpillars as it’s an endangered species).On one occasion I collected sawfly larvae (related to wasps, bees and ants) by accident (project 14A). Another time I collected a dead Knotgrass caterpillar, thinking it was alive (project 10A)!

Unfortunately the living ones don’t all make it – disclaimer: this is usually not my fault. Oftentimes they’ve been parasitised by ichneumon ‘wasps’, Tachinid flies or had fungal infections.

But I admit, I have had some ‘haemolymph on my hands’ (that’s insect blood, spot the entomological metaphor-hijack). It’s never intentional – last summer I collected a whole batch of Cinnabar moth eggs by accident (they were on a Ragwort leaf which I collected to feed my Garden Tiger and Ruby Tiger, projects 5B and 2B). It is incredibly hard to muck out a jar with twenty-six tiny caterpillars in it, and in the unsanitary conditions I lost them all (project 15A).

Cinnabar caterpillars (project 15A), 27 Jun 2011

Lovely things caught in unfortunate circumstance


But “what about now, what about today?

The story is…

Project 13B: Mother of Pearl (Pleuroptya ruralis)
Sadly this caterpillar, which I collected from the nettles in my neighbour’s garden a few months ago, has died while preparing to pupate. I don’t know what killed it.

Project 15B: Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae)
After the disaster with the batch of 26 eggs, I collected four large, healthy caterpillars from Murlough, two of which successfully pupated and are still pupae at this very moment in time. As with all my other pupae, they are in soil in a jar in my back yard, and when they emerge it’ll be a matter of taking lots of good photos and releasing them back where I found them.

Project 16A: Buff Ermine (Spilosoma luteum)
This is probably one of my most successful projects: I found two of this species of caterpillar in my back garden (they were quie young) and fed them various weeds as they grow from 25mm to over 40mm. Like the Cinnabars, they have spent the winter as pupae, and appear to be still healthy.

Project 17A: No-one has the foggiest idea what this one was.
Five large plain green caterpillars on a very distinctive scented herbaceous plant, and I don’t know what either of them are. I posted pictures on Back Garden Moths to see if anyone on this forum could identify the caterpillars – but to no avail. One of the larvae, “Pippin”, I collected and it pupated but unfortunately died. This was the pupa I described in my posts “Gutted” and “Ungutted” – I thought it was dead, then I thought it moved (as pupae of the Noctuid family can). Now I’m sure it’s dead – it appears to be decomposing. Yuk.

Projects 18A and 19A: Garden Carpet and/or Flame Carpet (Xanthorhoe sp.)
A green ‘looper’ caterpillar I found on the wall in my back yard is now a pupa – this is project 18A. I don’t know whether it’s the same species as the five loopers I had on a wild plant in my back yard around the same time (project 19A), two of which I collected for pupation but which died. Hopefully the pupa has survived the winter and should emerge soon and shed some light on this identification mystery.

Project 21A: Lesser Yellow Underwing (Noctua comes)
The pupa, which I found as a caterpillar in my back yard earlier this year, is still healthy – it wiggles when I touch it! It will probably be the last of my pupae to emerge.

Project 22A: Wood Tiger (Parasemia plantaginis)
This project began and ended last weekend at the family caravan at Murlough. I collected one Wood Tiger caterpillar from Murlough on the Saturday and it began pupation prep: spinning a silk pad on its container as a base for a cocoon to pupate in. I decided to release it the next day as I already have too much on my plate! Besides, it will be much happier to emerge in the place where it belongs, and not have to endure a car journey from Newcastle to Belfast and back!

This has probably been the longest post I have ever written! Please don’t tell my teachers I spent two hours doing this when I should have been revising!!

Goings-on in my back yard

(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)

Project 16A: Buff Ermines

As I’ve mentioned, one of my sub-hobbies under the grand heading of Lepidoptera is rearing caterpillars. My latest ‘big’ rearing project is the Buff Ermine moth: the 16th species whose life cycle I’ve observed (well, technically 15th seeing as the Knotgrass caterpillar I captured last year was actually dead – and then again technically 14th since I mistook some sawfly larvae for moth caterpillars… but anyway.) I’ve finally got round to writing this, a month after it all started.

I was out weeding in the garden on 9 August when I found two little 15mm aterpillars: one hairy, and the other green and bald – so that’s what I named them: Hairy and Green. Guess which one is in this photo!

09Aug11 Buff Ermine caterpillar

Green, as it turned out, was bald becuase had shed his hair in preparation for moulting his skin, which he did two days later. Hairy followed suit (without shedding much hair) three days later – in fact he would do everything about three or four days after Green did it.

They went through two moults to get to their final instar – here Green has just emerged from his old skin to reach this stage. As you can see, his hair came out with a sheen that would put Pantene Pro-V TV ad models to shame, but he soon gave a little twist to puff the hair out, assuming the classic furry-caterpillar-style.

18Aug11 Buff Ermine caterpillar... feeling nourished after final moult

I kept them in separate containers – Green in a transparent one, Hairy in an opaque one, and they grew noticeably accustomed to the light levels: when I brought them outside into bright sunshine, Hairy would retreat under a leaf while Green would carry on regardless.

24Aug11 Buff Ermine caterpillars (last instar)

When Green lost interest in dandelion leaves and started running around his container I transferred both caterpillars to a pupation house (my fancy name for a peanut butter jar with a stick in it) and put it outside in a shady spot a few days later. After spinning a really bad excuse for a cocoon, Green pupated 1 Sep (below). Hairy did less running around, made a slightly better job of his cocoon, and pupated today, 5 Sep.

03Sep11 Buff Ermine pupa

They’ll stay as pupae over the winter, and emerge… some time next year. I am very much looking forward. As I am looking forward to seeing the 3 Large Whites, 5 Noctuids, 5 micros and 6 Geometrids of two different species, all of which have taken up residence of their own volition in my back yard, and some of which have pupated already. And I’ll try and post some photos of them… soon. Which, like the Biblical ‘eternal’, is an indefinite period of time.

Species study 16, project A: Buff Ermine (Spilosoma luteum)