Tag Archives: Small Tortoiseshell Larva

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: Critical Update 25.05

Today Treacle got a little bit bigger.

That video was actually taken yesterday. He has been eating more nettles today but in a subtly different way. He wrapped a leaf around himself and then from inside he started to eat it from the bottom up. Now he almost looks like he is hanging from the stem of the nettle inside what is left of his leaf but he has got it wrapped tightly around him like a poncho and I can hardly see what he is up to.

Sneaky Treacle.

Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell Larva

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

Ouch Ouch Ouch!

We have been exploring in the Stinging Nettles today.

We were looking for a companion for Treacle and we had a singular lack of success.

Stinging nettles are probably not my favourite wild flower. They are very nice and important to wild life but yes, you have guessed right, it’s the pain thing.

Urtica dioca

Urtica dioca

So let’s start with the Small Tortoiseshell. We found hundreds of them.

Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell Larva

But these are all overly small Small Tortoiseshells, early instars. They move around the nettles as they grow and keeping them supplied with fresh nettles and cleaning up the old ones (without throwing the baby out with the bathwater)would be a nightmare.

Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell Larva Small Tortoiseshell Larva

I am just not ready for that kind of commitment. When these reach their fifth instar they will split up and go off alone to find somewhere to pupate and that is when we shall try to catch them.

Now as quick as I can, I just want to show you some of the wonderful things that we saw while we were getting stung.

This lovely Common Carder Bumblebee on Bush Vetch didn’t sting us.

Common Carder Common Carder Common Carder

This is a Green Veined White drinking from Creeping Buttercup.

Green Veined White Green Veined White Green Veined White Green Veined White Green Veined WhiteSome wildflowers:

Herb Robert.

Herb Robert

Herb Bennet or Wood Avens.Herb Bennet

Herb Fizz.Fizz

Cut-leaved Crane’s-bill.
Cut-leaved Crane's-bill

“Knots in May” The lovely blossom of the May Tree (Hawthorn)Hawthorn Blossom Hawthorn Blossom Hawthorn BlossomBack to insects and this is the invasive Harlequin Ladybird.

Harlequin Ladybird Harlequin Ladybird Harlequin LadybirdThis is one of our threatened native species, the very pretty little seven spot.

Seven SpotLast one for tonight. I took lots of pictures of this little beetle and it will probably get it’s own post soon. This is the Red-headed Cardinal.

Red-headed Cardinal Red-headed Cardinal Red-headed CardinalAnd that has got to be it for tonight because I am sleepy.

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?


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