Category Archives: Caterpillars

Interesting things you can do with a Butterfly

Butterflies are not just for looking at 🙂

This is a post for the friends that I have made in the last few months, friends who have never seen this blog in the summertime.

Winter is so difficult for nature bloggers, it’s a wonder that we post anything. There is a different world coming and it is beautiful.

Butterflies have been big in my world this weekend. On Saturday I discovered a beautiful Small Tortoiseshell overwintering in my flat.

Small Tortoiseshell

Sunday was a beautiful sunny day here and while I was out a Comma flew in front of me.

This isn’t the one that I saw yesterday, that was over a hedge and lost in a field almost as soon as I saw it. This is just a picture of another Comma.
CommaIt is still much too early for Butterflies, there are no nectar plants about yet but it is okay they will just go back to sleep for a bit.

The Butterflies will be here in four weeks. It isn’t very long to wait.

It is not very unusual to see Butterflies here in the winter. Whilst many species overwinter as Caterpillars or as a Chrysalis we have five local species that overwinter as adult butterflies and they can wake up and have a little fly around on any warm winters day.

The other three are: The Red Admiral.

Red Admiral

The Brimstone.BrimstoneThe Peacock.

Peacock Butterfly

So what can you do with Butterflies besides look at them?

You can abduct them and raise them as your own 🙂

The Small Tortoiseshell is probably the first one that you will find.

Small Tortoiseshell LarvaThese are little yellow caterpillars that live in colonies on Stinging Nettles. If you want to try raising Butterflies in a different part of the world, pick a species that has an easy to obtain food plant, they eat a lot.

I made some mistakes when raising these and so I shall share the wisdom gained.

I chose large caterpillars, thinking that they would be quicker to raise than little ones. Most of my Caterpillars died and it wasn’t that much fun.

They died because they had already been attacked before I found them. In the wild there are a lot of insects that lay their eggs in Caterpillars and the larva grow inside and eat the Caterpillar.

This is a Tachinid fly injecting it’s eggs into a Small Tortoiseshell Caterpillar.

Tachinid

Pelatachina tibialis, Nasty little beast.
Pelatachina tibialisSo I did successfully raise Small Tortoiseshells but it wasn’t as much fun as I had hoped. Lesson Learnt, I went out to collect some Peacock Larvae.

Take the smallest ones that you can find, the less time they have been in the wild the less chance that they will have been got at.

Peacocks are the little black ones that also live on Stinging Nettles.

Peacock LarvaI only took a few, I thought, it turned out that I had about forty in my little jar and from those I released thirty three Butterflies, many more than would have made it if I had left them in the wild.

Peacock LarvaNow you can buy Butterfly raising kits. I don’t really like these. The most common species is the Painted Lady and this is because the Painted Lady can eat artificial food. So you generally get five little Caterpillars in  a jar and the bottom of the jar is smeared with artificial food, there is a piece of paper under the lid for them to attach themselves to and the jar is otherwise empty.

This is a horrible way to raise Caterpillars, in an empty jar. It deprives them of their youth. I am going to show you that Caterpillars are lively, intelligent animals. They have a social structure and they get great joy from swinging about in the jungle that is their home.

This is how I am going to do it.

Make them a home.

Caterpillar HouseThe tray of mud is because the nettles will need water but I can’t put them in water or the Caterpillars will drown themselves.

Caterpillar House

Caterpillar HouseThat is it. You don’t really have to worry about the Caterpillars escaping, they will stay on the food plant so long as you keep them provided with fresh greens.

I admit, I came down one morning and found this.

Peacock LarvaWhat on earth is going on here?

We are going to join the circus.

You bloomin’ well are not!

They had plenty of leaves they just weren’t fresh enough for them. You do have to keep on top of them.

Most of the time they like to hang together.

Peacock LarvaAlthough you do get the odd little one that has a mind of it’s own.

Peacock LarvaThey grow very quickly and they moult their skin four times. Each time that they moult there is a bigger and more beautiful Caterpillar inside.

Peacock LarvaThose are not dead baby Caterpillars in the next picture, they are just the discarded skins. The little black spots are called frasse and they are Caterpillar poo. They eat a lot, so guess what else they do a lot 🙂

Peacock LarvaYou need to clean them out regularly as well as change their leaves.

Peacock Larva

Peacock LarvaIt won’t be long before you want to take these beautiful animals out for a photo shoot.

Peacock Larva

Peacock Larva

Peacock LarvaNow things are about to get interesting and we have a problem.

When they are in their final moult they will decide to leave the food plant. They are going to shed their skin one more time but this time there will be a chrysalis inside and so now they have done eating and they need to spread out.

My solution was to put them in my kitchen cupboard. (This might be a problem if you live with a partner)

Peacock Larva nest

Peacock LarvaMy clever little animals knew what was expected of them and they hung themselves all around their new home.

Peacock Larva

Peacock Larva

Watch the Caterpillar shed it’s skin one last time. I have speeded this up X4 because the whole process took six minutes.

The Caterpillars now make themselves a little sticky pad of silk to hang from and the most critical moment of this final moult is the very last bit when the chrysalis must abandon it’s old skin and attach itself to the silk pad. That is what all the twisting at the end of this video is about.


What happens now is a miracle. The Caterpillar will completely dissolve inside it’s chrysalis, only a few cells remain and from these cells a Butterfly grows. Something really wonderful.

Peacock Chrysalis

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock ButterflyThis next video is speeded up x2.


Now I just have to show you how to pick up a Butterfly and then we can let them go.

Never touch it’s wings. They are covered with very fine scales that will be displaced if you try to pick it up that way, the Butterfly needs these scales, they are not just for shimmering colour.

Put your hand in front of the Butterfly and invite it to step on.

Orange TipSo long as you are known to the Butterflies this works every time.

If the Butterflies don’t know who you are then try rescuing a Butterfly Princess from the long grass, this will earn you a reputation  as a friend of the Butterflies and then it will be easy.

Green-veined White

Green-veined WhiteNow it is time to say goodbye.

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock ButterflyToday the sun is shining and it feels like April. Fizz and I are going to look for Butterflies.

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Chrysalis

My caterpillars have been entertaining me today.

They were very well behaved when the time came to pupate. For the last week they have been escaping and running all around my kitchen and causing me no end of problems. I was dreading the time when they decided to leave the host plant and pupate but they were all very good and stayed in their cupboard. They made life very easy for me.

This video runs for six minutes because that is how long it takes the caterpillar to shed it’s skin and then attach itself to the roof of the cupboard. I don’t expect people to watch a six minute video, just watch what you like but it is important that we have it.

I will just tell you what you are going to see. The caterpillar has attached a ball of silk to the roof and he is hanging from his two back prolegs. His skin will split and inside there is a chrysalis. There is a moment when the old skin has almost been shed when the caterpillar is quite vulnerable. It is the old skin that is attached to the silk and not the chrysalis, if it sheds too quickly the chrysalis will fall. At this stage it is a very soft bag filled with fluid, if it falls it will probably burst open and die. At the end of the chrysalis there is a hook like structure called a cremaster and before it falls the chrysalis must twist this cremaster into the silk pad and then the old skin can be dropped. That is what all the wriggling about is for toward the end of the video.


That is magic.

Here is one that I made earlier.

Peacock chrysalisNext we have to photograph the changes in the chrysalis as it ages and then film butterflies emerging from their chrysalis’s.

That shouldn’t be too difficult, as soon as one emerges I will know that the others are about to do the same. I hope 🙂

Shine for me

I thought that we should have some pictures of the larvae of the Peacock Butterfly and given how easy it would be for me to obtain these images….it would be a crime not to do it.

So I invited a baby Peacock outside for a photo shoot.

Peacock Larva

Peacock Larva

Peacock Larva

Peacock Larva

Peacock Larva

Peacock Larva

Peacock Larva

Peacock Larva

Peacock Larva

Peacock Larva

Peacock Larva

Peacock LarvaMy beautiful little animals are going a bit nuts at the moment, they keep trying to escape. They are quite big and I am not sure if they have got another moult in them or if they are ready to pupate. I have caterpillar proofed my cupboard with many more sheets of paper and I am keeping them well fed but they seem determined to wander 🙂

Caterpillar Solutions

This is just a “Raising Peacock Caterpillars” update.

I looked into buying a tailor made caterpillar house, well I only really looked as far as those caterpillar raising kits that you can buy and I didn’t like them much. The caterpillars arrive in a little clear plastic tub that is empty but for a brown layer of artificial food on the base and the animals live in this vacuum until they are ready to pupate. The kit also includes a net cage for the butterflies when they emerge. I don’t get it. You can’t keep a butterfly in a cage. You must let them go when they emerge. So I have to make my own.

The idea of keeping my caterpillars in an empty jar is appalling. Seeing the joy on their little faces as they scamper around in their nettles, surely that is what it is all about. Caterpillars are great and they have character.

On Wednesday I walked into the kitchen to be confronted with this scene.

Peacock caterpillarsI didn’t realise how many there were, about forty.

“What in the blazes do you think you are doing? Get back in your leaves at once!”

My first thought was that I had too many of them and I would have to get rid of some of them, Sort out who the ringleaders were and deal with them (That’s not as easy as you would think)

When I was a kid we had a tropical fish tank and I know that little fish don’t shoal unless you have a lot of them, my Small Tortoiseshells didn’t shoal but I only had a few and I want these to be able to behave naturally so I have decided that I must keep them but I have to make them secure.

Well I got them back in their leaves eventually and the next day they were swinging from leaf to leaf, happy little animals and their naughtiness was forgiven.

Peacock caterpillars

Peacock caterpillarsBy yesterday evening they had formed back into a ball and look like they are going to have another mass moult.

Peacock caterpillarsThey are getting quite big now and need a bit of attention.

This morning I set about dealing with the problem.

First to clean them out.

Peacock caterpillarsI took advantage of their torpor and popped them into a jam jar…

Peacock caterpillarsCleaned out the debris…

Peacock caterpillarsFreshened up their greens…

Peacock caterpillarsand popped them back in and they are none the wiser.

Peacock caterpillarsThey should really stay on their leaves but there are so many and they eat so quickly that I have to keep them well topped up.

When they are ready to pupate their natural behaviour will be to split up and move as far away from the food plant a they can. In the kit form all that they can do is climb up and stick themselves to the top of the jar. I need a big jar to keep them in.

Here it is.

Peacock caterpillars cageI found a handy sized cupboard in my kitchen that wasn’t really doing anything important. So I removed the shelf, lined it with kitchen paper, added a few sticks and there we are.

(I am no longer married so I can do this sort of thing with no raised eyebrows)

Peacock caterpillarsOf course they don’t have to live in there all of the time, I am sure that they like to feel the sun and  the breeze. I can just put them in there when I am going out or to bed, or if they are acting suspiciously.

The Pink Fingers in the Sky

This is just a quick caterpillar update before I go out to photograph a beautiful blue wildflower that I saw yesterday when it was raining.

I told you that they huddled together at night , probably because they were afraid of the dark but I was wrong.

Peacock Larvae

They stayed in that position all day yesterday and didn’t even wriggle, I was beginning to worry about them.  Had they all taken poison or something?

They behave like they are in a cult but if they are what on earth do they worship?

I needn’t have worried they were having a mass moult.Peacock LarvaeToday they are running all over the place leaving the debris of little, used caterpillar skins in a mess behind them.

Peacock Larvae

Peacock LarvaeThey have changed and what a wonderful transformation it has been.

This is what they looked like before the moult….Peacock LarvaeNow look at them. All bright and shiny in their new skins.

Peacock Larvae

Peacock Larvae

Peacock LarvaeNow I shall have to get them new leaves but I will do that after the blue flower.

Oh poop! There has just been an almighty peal of thunder. Must dash.

Great Mullein and the Mullein Moth

Great Mullien, Verbascum thapsusGreat MulleinGreat Mullein also known as Common Mullein is a hairy , tall spike of a flower. It spends it’s first year as a basal rosette of leaves and in it’s second year sends up a single stem of flowers that can reach six foot or more in the right conditions.

The stamens are an important identification feature of this species. It has five stamens of two different types. The top three stamens are covered in fine yellow or white hair and have small anthers while the bottom two stamens have no hair and larger anthers. It is a peculiar arrangement that helps with the ID.

Great Mullein

Great Mullein

Great Mullein

Great Mullein

Great MulleinThe plant has been used by men in a variety of different ways. Most importantly it has the power to ward of evil spirits. It has been used as a medicine for skin, throat and breathing problems. The crushed seeds have been used by different cultures to make a poison that paralyses fish. The flowers have been used to make dyes, the dried stems dipped into suet made torches or were used as hand drills to start a fire and the large, downy leaves were used to keep us warm.

Great MulleinSadly our leaves are not going to be much use for keeping us warm.

Great MulleinThey have been attacked by the big bright caterpillars of the Mullein Moth.

Mullein Moth Larvae

Mullein Moth LarvaeA couple of weeks ago there were dozens of these caterpillars just outside of my front door.

You might think, “well Col, why didn’t you catch some and watch them pupating?” There is a very good reason for that.

They go through a normal egg and caterpillar stage which lasts a few weeks and the caterpillars are usually around in June. They pupate underground and this can take quite a long time.

They have been observed in captivity pupating for five years before emerging as very well camouflaged moths that look a bit like a dead leaf.

I don’t know who observed this. I would have chucked them out after a couple of years (months) thinking this must be a dud. 🙂

Mullein Moth Larvae

Mullein Moth Larvae

Mullein Moth LarvaeThat is my post about Great Mullein and The Mullein Moth Larvae. Beautiful animals on beautiful flowers.

Mullein Moth Larvae

How Cute are Caterpillars?

This is just a quick behavioural study of my newest pets.

During the day they scamper from leaf to leaf and frolic like spring lambs in their new home but when evening comes they all cuddle together in a little caterpillar ball.

For warmth? Or perhaps they are afraid of the dark, I don’t know.

Peacock Larvae

Peacock LarvaeDon’t worry, this little one is just like me, an early riser.

Peacock LarvaI took these pictures at six o’clock this morning. They don’t live outside I just took them out because the light was poor in the kitchen.

As  you can see they are getting along fine.