Tag Archive: caterpillars


Glencairn Road, 20 Jan 2013

The snowy Glencairn Road

This year’s snowfall was nay too bad up our way – last weekend a few inches fell and mostly thawed overnight, followed by a few fresh flurries, ice on pavements and a final thaw yesterday as a warm front pushed in.

Up in Glencairn Park (above) last Sunday, the snow crunched deeper underfoot as I gained altitude, listening out for birdsong as I went. At the bottom of the park the piping calls of blue tits and coal tits, and the more strident vocalisations of great tits, filled the trees. A herring gull flew solemnly over while black-headed gulls gallavanted by the housing estate.

On the first hill hooded crows picked through the grass and argued loudly with magpies in their skyscraping conifers. A jackdaw also put in an appearance.

As I climbed the hill, listening out for new finds, the round-winged, long-tailed silhouette of a sparrowhawk swooped across the sky. (I probably could have just watched it rather than trying to focus through a hopeless pair of pocket binoculars!)

Soon enough I heard the robin… and perhaps a goldfinch, but I wasn’t sure and didn’t hear it again. Likewise a rattle from the trees could have been a mistle thrush… but probably just a magpie.

I’d been keeping a beady eye out on the bramble bushes. If you remember, last year I really got into leafmining micro-moths, and one of the most common of those is Stigmella aurella. Its tiny orange caterpillar mines bramble leaves, making brown-white squiggles on them. So far on my walk I’d seen plenty of old vacated leafmines that the caterpillars had already left long ago. But what I was really hoping to see was a tenanted mine – one with a caterpillar in it.

And after a while, I had success!

Stigmella aurella larva in mine, 20 Jan 2013

Literate larva!

Not one, but two little caterpillars huddled in their mines, in the freezing cold.

After a few minutes’ worth of fiddling with my camera and hand lens, my hands were going cryogenic so I put my gloves back on and left the caterpillars to their sleep.

As I was rebooting my hands, a bird started calling very loudly from the tree above me.

“Chick…      chick…      chick…”

I peered up to see what it could be, but before I could get my eye in it was off. I chased the sound down the road a bit… it was father away and still calling. Then it flew back the way it had come, revealing itself to be a thrush of some kind.

Didn’t sound like a blackbird,
or a song thrush,
or a mistle thrush…
fieldfare maybe? That would be quite a find.

But as I later found out on the RSPB’s newly-revamped website, fieldfares chuckle not chick, and the only thrush that it really could have been was a redwing. Quite pleased to find this winter visitor.

Before I headed back down to the urban jungle, I had a close encounter with a friendly robin which perched no more than a metre or two away from me, then flew right past me to the other side of the road and back.

It appeared so interested in me that I raised my arm, thinking there might be a possibility it might even come and perch on me, but as it turned out, he wasn’t quite as tame as that common darter dragonfly!

Descending through the woods, I was arrested by a flash of white, black and pink. It couldn’t be… it was! A jay! It flew silently away from me, from tree to tree.

A clan of bullfinches escorted me down the hill.

***

Yesterday, while I was at school and the rain was clearing the last of the snow, my parents got quite a treat. Just look who showed up in our garden!

Waxwings in the garden! 25 Jan 2013

WAXWINGS!!! IN OUR GARDEN!!!!

The Internet is always awash with waxwing photos at this time of year. They come over to the British Isles from Scandinavia during winter, to feast on berries. And I can tell you they did a pretty good job clearing out our cotoneaster!

Apparently the collective term for waxwings is “a grosbeaks of waxwings”. Some people, like me, prefer “an earful of waxwings”. 🙂

If you haven’t yet seen these fantastic fellows, it’s well worth checking online to see if any have been spotted near you. They are fabulous!

And don’t forget the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend!

Home Garden, 26 Jan 2013

What’s-a-in your garden today?

2013 MOTHS: 1L
2013 BIRDS: 33

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A Smiley Caterpillar

Coxcomb Prominent caterpillar "Smiley", 6 Sep 2012

The spectacular Coxcomb Prominent caterpillar

After all the mad leafmining caterpillars I adopted over the summer, with varying success, it was nice to get back to the much simpler macro caterpillars. This is a Coxcomb Prominent caterpillar, which I collected from Murlough less than a month ago. It’s grown very fast since then (compare 10 Aug, below, with 6 Sep, above), moulting at least twice, and is probably still munching his hawthorn leaf as I type.

I called him Smiley as soon as I saw him. Why?

Coxcomb Prominent caterpillar "Smiley", 10 Aug 2012

Smiley!!!!

That’s why. 🙂

[Project 31A: Coxcomb Prominent]

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!!

Metamorphosis begins

Lesser Yellow Underwing caterpillar (project 21A), 7 Apr 2012

A face that only a moth-er could love!

In an earlier post I introduced “Lesley”, the Lesser Yellow Underwing caterpillar I found in my back yard last month. Since I brought him indoors he’s been devouring elder leaves, growing to an impressive 47mm!

Lesser Yellow Underwing caterpillar (project 21A), 8 Apr 2012

Part moth, part ostrich.

On 8 April I found him with his head buried in the compost I had put in the bottom of his container! The caterpillars of many moth species pupate underground, and this is exactly what Lesley was preparing to do. In the following 9 days he completely buried himself, and made a small ovoid cocoon of silk and compost which he diligently repaired each time I made a hole to look inside! On the evening of 17 April I had another look inside, and rather than a pale caterpillar it was a dark red pupa that I saw!

Lesser Yellow Underwing pupa (project 21A), 18 Apr 2012

Lesley's Makeover

And so, after this photo shoot, I moved him back outside, in a peanut butter jar with compost, a twig to climb on when he emerges as an adult moth, and the all-important Holes In The Lid.

That makes seven pupae in jars under the cotoniaster bush. I am going to be one busy father some day soon.

Project 21A: Lesser Yellow Underwing

New Blavatar

Ruby Tiger, 20 Feb 2010

I’ve been doing some fiddling about with widgets, categories and lists, plus this new blog image. Hope you liiiike!

After confirming my suspicions that Stigmella aurella is pretty much as common as muck…

Sigmella aurella vacated leaf mine, Slidderyford, Newcastle

Vacated Stigmella aurella leaf mine at Slidderyford

… I headed into Murlough yesterday to see what the Marsh Fritillary caterpillars were up to. As I did I heard the chuck of my first Stonechat of the year.

The last brood (2010-11) saw healthy numbers of caterpillars at the entrance to the No Dogs area at J398338. This time round I only found two webs where there had been six or seven before. And only one of those was up and about yesterday:

Marsh Fritillary caterpillars, Murlough, 25 Feb 2012

They're back!

Marsh Fritillary caterpillars feeding on devilsbit scabious, Murlough, 25 Feb 2012

Eat! Eat!

There were about 40 caterpillars here – mostly clustered together for warmth, but a few were getting tucked in to some devilsbit leaves, as you can see.

After a fruitless check for any other webs nearby, I walked north to J405343 – the main Marsh Fritillary colony in the reserve. It was cold, overcast, and there seemed to be dead rabbits around every corner. When I reached the south-facing bank where I had seen a web last brood, it didn’t take me too long to find another mass of black caterpillars like spilt caviare on the slope.

Pretty soon my camera ran out of battery, which mercifully stopped me filling my SD card with dozens of caterpillar photos! They really were common. I wasn’t sure whether to count individual masses as ‘groups’ of larvae, so I decided to count a group as any caterpillars within 1m of each other. To be sure I was giving an accurate idea of their abundance, however,  I basically counted them caterpillar by caterpillar. They amounted to 470 in total.

Finally I left the little caterpillars and dead rabbits and headed back to the caravan for lunch. The sight of a Kestrel hovering over the golf course greeted me when I arrived back.

2012 BRITISH BUTTERFLIES: 1L

2012 BRITISH BIRDS: 73