Tag Archives: Caterpillar


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.

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

Wilding Treacle

The big news today has been butterflies emerging in my flat and the process of letting them go.

Small Tortoiseshell Small Tortoiseshell Small Tortoiseshell Small TortoiseshellBut let me just explain why butterflies are emerging in my flat for readers who have just joined us.

Some time ago I decided it would be a good idea to take some caterpillars from the wild and hopefully photograph their transformation into butterflies.

Finding willing subjects was easy enough.

Small Tortoiseshell LarvaI named my caterpillar Treacle but in truth Treacle wasn’t a single animal, he had body doubles (Like in the “Lassie” films)

TreacleI built him a home that I called the Treacle-arium.

Treacle-ariumSomewhere along the line things went pear shaped. The first four animals all died. They had been attacked by parasitoid flies before being taken from the wild. I had seen these animals in action.

ParasitoidI believe that the mistake that I had made was in taking late instar caterpillars, I had wanted quick results. Those caterpillars had spent their whole lives exposed to the dangers of the wild. I restocked with a dozen tiny subjects.

I stopped writing about Treacle’s progress because I was concerned by the high fatality rate and thought that I might have to write this story from a different angle than I had intended but the little ones did okay.

One night they staged a mass break out, when I checked them in the morning they were all gone. I thought that they wanted that vaulting horse for exercise but they were really digging a tunnel. I recovered three chrysalis’s and I didn’t know what had happened to the others.

I was very pleased to find a butterfly in the kitchen this morning. It was not from one of my chrysalis’s, the second one was. I am left with two and I still intend to do my best to photograph this miracle of emergence.

Come on, I will show you the world.

Small Tortoiseshell

Small Tortoiseshell

Small Tortoiseshell

Small Tortoiseshell

Small Tortoiseshell

Small Tortoiseshell

Small Tortoiseshell

Small Tortoiseshell

It is time to let go little animal.

I like a happy ending and it is not quite ended yet.

Treacle Update: 02.06

Treacle has escaped from the Treacle-arium and attached himself to my camera tripod.

TripodI was a bit annoyed with him at first because I need to use the tripod to watch the Swallows. The adult birds won’t go near the nest if I am there but I can leave my camera there and walk away and they don’t mind that.

You stupid Caterpillar!

Small Tortoiseshell LarvaOkay, now I can see where he’s coming from. He has done his best and he has actually done me a big favour. Now I can move him around put him in the best light and it is even easier to keep an eye on him.

Small Tortoiseshell Larva

The position that he has adopted, attaching his back end with silk and hanging upside down means that he is ready to pupate. The next thing that will happen is that he will moult his skin and inside there will be a chrysalis. He will turn to soup and regrow and emerge from his chrysalis as a butterfly.

He is a good caterpillar really and I couldn’t ask for better breaks all that I have to do now is not miss the action.

Small Tortoiseshell LarvaHe is on the table in front of me right now but I still have to go out and see the Badgers, walk the dog etc. Plus he will have to hold the camera steady when I film the birds and not fall off.

Treacle Update 22.05


Hi, I know that we have only just had Treacle but there has been a development.

Treacle has been behaving very childishly but let’s continue from where we left off. I didn’t see Treacle at all yesterday, I was not too worried, I have built him a little jungle and it is easy for him to get lost in it.

This morning I thought that I should have a proper look and see how he was doing. I am very pleased with the nettles, they seem to have taken to their new home.

Stinging NettleI had expected them to wilt within a few hours but these are the same nettles that I started with. Most of the time I keep the Treacle-arium covered loosely with cling film and I think that this creates a good atmosphere for them. I left them uncovered for a couple of hours this morning and they started to wilt quite quickly.

Stinging NettleSo where is Treacle?

The clever little caterpillar has stitched a nettle leaf with silk and he is hiding inside.

Stinging NettleSadly he doesn’t look very well. He looks very black and dry and well, dead…

Small Tortoiseshell CaterpillarI was just looking at him and wondering what had happened when I started to notice movement. I couldn’t see very well but it looked like something was crawling about on top of him.

Something has got Treacle! But no, it was worse than that, he was growing another head! I ran to get a torch.

Small Tortoiseshell Caterpillar

Treacle appeared to be involved in a life or death struggle with something much bigger than himself and there was only going to be one winner.

Small Tortoiseshell Caterpillar Small Tortoiseshell Caterpillar Small Tortoiseshell CaterpillarFrom the chaos of battle the victor emerged.

Small Tortoiseshell CaterpillarWell! I thought that you were a bit more grown up than that.

Hello new Treacle.

Small Tortoiseshell CaterpillarSo Treacle was not a fifth instar after all. He has shed his skin and now we have a new, bigger,better and brighter Treacle.

If I had my wits about me I would have opened the leaf and let some light in. I could have taken some really good pictures and shown you a miracle.

Instinct kicks in and my first instinct and cardinal rule is “Never stress an animal for the sake of a photograph,” He was vulnerable so I couldn’t interfere. In retrospect I very much doubt that it would have caused him any stress at all, he was busy and I should have taken the shots. There wasn’t time to think it through and I did what I always do, stood back and watched but I am sure to get another chance with one of his body doubles.

New Treacle is resting inside of his little nettle tent now. It must be quite exhausting, bursting out of your own belly. I will go and pick him some fresh leaves. Ouch Ouch Ouch.

Small Tortoiseshell Caterpillar Small Tortoiseshell Caterpillar Small Tortoiseshell Caterpillar

Building a Treacle-arium

I am a simple man. I just want to watch a caterpillar pupate.

Hello,would you like to come and live with me. I just want to do experiments on you and take photographs.

Small Tortoiseshell LarvaHmm, six thoracic legs, ten prolegs and an eating tube, it’s the right colour too.. This one will do nicely.

Small Tortoiseshell Larva

This is Treacle, my new pet.

Small Tortoiseshell LarvaShe is going to live in a flower pot in my kitchen.

Small Tortoiseshell LarvaThere is a little pot of wet earth in it to help keep her greens fresh. I can’t put them in water in case she falls in and drowns. I expect that I will have to buy her fresh flowers every day until she pupates.

Small Tortoiseshell LarvaI have added sticks for her to climb on and plenty of nettles. I have explained that here she will be safe from birds and those nasty wasps that want to lay eggs in her and that when she is a butterfly I will let her go again. I think that she likes her new home.

Small Tortoiseshell LarvaHa Ha! Now you are my prisoner!

Small Tortoiseshell LarvaToday Fizz and I are going to go out and see if we can find some more little Treacles, just to give me a better chance of catching things with my camera.

It will be like in the “Lassie” films, Lassie wasn’t always the same dog you know?


The Drinker

We had something to celebrate. I felt very close to Marmalade and was so happy to get the chance to photograph her reason for being.

Sho we went out to wet the babies  head.

Thish is my  good friend, my only friend and I love him like he wash my brother. He only hass one name, they call him THE DRINKER.

D’you know what else there ish about him and I’m only telling you this because it is a big secret…shhhh…

He has the secret of eternel youff. Eternal youth. Honestly …

I photographed him months ago and he looked exackly the same as he does today.

You know Peter Pan, you know Peter Pan don’t you? You know what’s special about him? I mean he is always a boy and he never grows up yeah but if there was one of his super powers that I would steal it wouldn’t be his youff…

He hasn’t got a shadow. Just imagine the photographs you could take if you didn’t have a shadow, you could get right up in some insets’ face on a bright sunny day.

What were we talking about?

Euthrix potatoria (The Drinker)

POTATO?  Are you sure?

The Drinker Moth (Larva) – Euthrix potatoria

Pictures taken on March 13th.


Drinker Moth Larva(There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done)

The Drinker LarvaDOES THAT LOOK LIKE FIZZ TO YOU? Sorry mate was I talking a bit loud?

(Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung)

The Drinker LarvaEuthrix Potato-Head….

The taxi’s here mate.

Pictures of the drinker taken last night.

(nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game)

Drinker moth larvaDrinker moth larva(It’s EASY)

Drinker moth larvaAll you need is love

Drinker moth larvaLove is all you need.

Wonderful News

Small Tortoiseshell LarvaIsn’t he the cutest little thing ever?

Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell LarvaLook at that little face.

Small Tortoiseshell LarvaI knew his mum.

Her name was Marmalade and she lived in my flat from November until March.

Small TortoiseshellHe is going to be the handsomest little fellow.

Just look at him go, He is a natural born jungle explorer. I think it was all of those stories that I used to tell his mum when I was trying to get her to go back to sleep.

Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell LarvaAs I found him on his own I am guessing that he is in his final instar and will soon be ready to pupate.

Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars go through four moults before they are fully grown and each stage between moults is called an instar. By moult I mean that the caterpillar sheds it’s skin and inside there is a bigger caterpillar, well a bigger skin that the animal can grow into.

Initially they live together. They spin a web amongst their food plant which is nettle and live within the safety of that web. It is only during the final instar that they separate and wander off to find a suitable place to pupate. So this is a fifth instar caterpillar.

He is not that far off becoming a beautiful butterfly.

Small TortoiseshellFirst his brains have to turn to mush. Well all of him has to turn to mush. A butterfly isn’t a caterpillar with wings on.

Our caterpillar will attach himself to a leaf with silk, hang upside down and his skin will split. Inside there will be not another caterpillar but a chrysalis, a hard case. Inside the chrysalis the caterpillar then releases enzymes which dissolve all of it’s tissue.The only part of the old caterpillar that remains are small groups of cells called “imaginal discs.” The caterpillar has one disc for each body part that it is going to need as a butterfly, one for each leg, eye, wing and so on. From these small groups of cells a whole new animal grows and it is a cracker. Just like his mum.

Small Tortoiseshell

So you are going to have wings and flight.. You will have compound eyes with seventeen thousand lenses. You will have 360 degree vision and you will be able to see everything at the same time. You will have radar like antennae covered in thousands of scent detecting sensors that will give you an understanding of your surroundings that mere humans cannot comprehend. You will be amazing.

It will be a bit different from being just a big fat eating tube won’t it?

Let’s have a look at you now.

Caterpillars really are just eating tubes.

Small Tortoiseshell LarvaThey have the usual  insect parts, a head, a thorax and an abdomen but it is a bit difficult to see where one part finishes and another part begins.

The knobbly bit on the end is his head and the next three sections are his thorax. He doesn’t really have a waist but under each section of his thorax he has a pair of legs called “Thoracic legs” and the rest of him is abdomen.

Show the nice people your thoracic legs.

Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell LarvaGood caterpillar.

Those thoracic legs help him to move obviously but their primary function is to grasp and manipulate the food that he is eating. Stinging Nettles.

At the back end he has five pairs of what are called “prolegs” and each proleg ends in a suction cup.These are not considered to be real legs because they don’t have joints and the caterpillar is a six legged animal.

Fortunately he doesn’t know that they are not real legs and he has absolute faith in them.

Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell Larva

Inside he has an itty bitty silk gland and the rest of him is just intestines. He is just an eating tube but he is destined to become so much more.

I kinda wish now that I had taken him home as a pet, so that I could photograph the pupation. I might just have a look for another one.

I can barely wait for the newly emerged butterflies they are perfect.

Catch you later.

Small Tortoiseshell Larva