Friday, 29 April 2016

Owlmoth of the year: (Acantho)brahmaea europaea

Most people know this species as Acanthobrahmaea europaea. Quite recently, the Acanthobrahmaea genus has been lowered to the subgenus level. Now we have to call them Brahmaea europaea. Think what you want of this. I'm going to stick with the old name, one does not change a thirty year old habit overnight. The moths are smaller then the typical Asian Brahmaeas. They have a wingspan between six and a half and eight centimeter. This species has a very limited distribution and is only found in a very small, mountainous area in southern Italy. They have one flight early in spring, from the end of February to April.



Acanthobrahmaea europaea
Acanthobrahmaea europaea - Origin: Italy

Monday, 25 April 2016

Malacosoma disstria

It's strange how things sometimes go. Take this very common North American tent caterpillar for example. For years I have been trying to get some eggs, without any luck. And then suddenly this season I received not one egg mass, not two, but three. From two different locations within the USA. Each egg mass containing more then hundred eggs. So thank you very much, you two lovely people, for sharing this species. Because the forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria) can be locally abundant, this creature may not seem much to you, but for me it's already one of the highlights of this year's breeding season. 

These egg masses overwinter. Once taken out of the fridge they hatch within only a few days when kept at room temperature and an elevated humidity. The caterpillars aren't difficult. They eat almost every deciduous shrub and three. First instars stay together in and around a nest that they spin out of silk. The final instar needs a bit more space, but will tolerate company fairly well as long as the cage is not overcrowded. Early instars are best housed in small plastic containers. Later instars are less susceptible to diseases in netted cages. These larvae grow fast and reach their final length in four to five weeks, depending on the temperature and the quality of the food. Full grown they have an average length of five centimeter. The moths will emerge after a short pupal stage of only a few weeks.


Malacosoma disstria caterpillar
Malacosoma disstria final instar on Crataegus

Malacosoma disstria caterpillar
Malacosoma disstria final instar on Crataegus

Malacosoma disstria caterpillar
Malacosoma disstria final instar on Crataegus

Malacosoma disstria caterpillar
Malacosoma disstria final instar on Crataegus

Malacosoma disstria caterpillar
Malacosoma disstria final instar on Crataegus

Malacosoma disstria caterpillar
Malacosoma disstria L5 on Crataegus

Malacosoma disstria caterpillar
Malacosoma disstria L4 on Crataegus

Malacosoma disstria caterpillar
Malacosoma disstria L3 on Crataegus

Malacosoma disstria caterpillar
Malacosoma disstria L2 on Crataegus

Malacosoma disstria caterpillar
Malacosoma disstria egg mass with hatchlings

Friday, 22 April 2016

Silkmoth of the week: Paradirphia semirosea

It took longer then expected. I had a few males that hatched past autumn (I believe it was somewhere in November). Most pupae however decided to wait until spring. Not that unusual. Wild semirosea have their peak flight late spring. Captive bred populations don't necessarily follow the natural cycle, but these stayed close to it. It's a lovely, medium sized silkmoth with a wingspan between five and seven centimeter. There is a lot of confusion about the exact distribution of this species. Several very similar species occur in Central America, making older records somewhat unreliable. Semirosea is with certainty confirmed from southern Mexico. For the rest of Central America, things become a lot less certain. They may also occur in other countries southward to Panama. But it is also possible that in at least some countries they are replaced by similar species.


Paradirphia semirosea female
Paradirphia semirosea female - Origin: Mexico

Paradirphia semirosea female
Paradirphia semirosea female - Origin: Mexico

Paradirphia semirosea male
Paradirphia semirosea male - Origin: Mexico

Friday, 15 April 2016

The Sphingids: Hemaris fuciformis


The broad bordered bee hawkmoth (Hemaris fuciformis) is a fairly common species that can be found in gardens and along woodland margins, generally avoiding open areas. In gardens they are attracted to Buddleja and Phlox flowers. The distribution of this hawkmoth ranges from Northern Africa to Scandinavia (except the far north) and from Western Europe to the Russian Far East. Freshly emerged moths still have some scales covering the entire wings. Those come of during the first flight, making a large part of the wings translucent. This combined with a day flying habit gives the moths a bee like appearance, hence the name. This is a small hawkmoth, with a wingspan between 38 and 48 millimeter. They have one or two flights yearly, between April and early September, depending on local conditions.




Hemaris fuciformis - Origin: Belgium - after first flight

Hemaris fuciformis - Origin: Belgium - before first flight

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Poecilocampa populi

OK, no, wild Poecilocampa eggs don't hatch this early in spring. In a normal life cycle the caterpillars of this very common European species can be found from April to the end of June depending on local conditions. The eggs only need a few days of warmer weather before they start to hatch. You can use this to have an early brood, well before other species become available. This is a polyphagous species, accepting many deciduous shrubs and trees. As soon as the Hawthorn (Crataegus) or Hazel (Corylus) are coming into leaves again, take the eggs out of the fridge and go. They grow extremely fast when kept warm. At a normal living room temperature, they spin a cocoon already after three weeks. If you prefer to wait until other trees (like Quercus, Alnus, Betula, Malus, Populus, Salix, Tilia, ... ) have leaves, no problem, the eggs can spend months in the fridge without getting damaged. These cocoons will now lay dormant until late autumn. The normal flight time for this species is from late October until mid December.


Poecilocampa populi caterpillar
Poecilocampa populi final instar on Crataegus

Poecilocampa populi caterpillar
Poecilocampa populi final instar on Crataegus

Poecilocampa populi caterpillar
Poecilocampa populi final instar on Crataegus

Poecilocampa populi caterpillar
Poecilocampa populi L5 on Crataegus

Poecilocampa populi caterpillar
Poecilocampa populi L4 on Crataegus

Poecilocampa populi caterpillar
Poecilocampa populi L3 on Crataegus

Poecilocampa populi caterpillar
Poecilocampa populi L2 on Crataegus

Poecilocampa populi caterpillar
Poecilocampa populi L1 on Crataegus

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Gastropacha quercifolia

It almost went wrong with this brood. Gastropacha quercifolia caterpillars hatch late summer, early autumn and go dormant once temperatures get too cold. Early spring they wake up again to resume feeding and pupate somewhere in Mai/June depending on local conditions. However, this year we had an unusual warm winter with temperatures that stayed close to what we normally have in October. The caterpillars just continued searching for food. Luckily, I chose hawthorn (Crataegus) as food plant and not one of the other hosts (Quercus, Salix, Prunus spinosa, Sorbus, Rhamnus). The hawthorns remained in leave until early January, some even until mid January. Some bushes came back in leave two weeks later, the first week of February. There was a gap though of almost two weeks during which I had caterpillars searching for food but no Crataegus. I offered Pyracantha and some ate at least enough to stay alive, but not all of them. I lost about fifty percent of the caterpillars in these two weeks. Anyway, enough that pulled through to show some pictures. These larvae grow quite large and need to be kept in spacious, well ventilated plastic containers or, when larger, in netted cages.




Gastropacha quercifolia caterpillar
Gastropacha quercifolia final instar on Crataegus

Gastropacha quercifolia caterpillar
Gastropacha quercifolia final instar on Crataegus

Gastropacha quercifolia caterpillar
Gastropacha quercifolia final instar on Crataegus

Gastropacha quercifolia caterpillar
Gastropacha quercifolia final instar on Crataegus

Gastropacha quercifolia caterpillar
Gastropacha quercifolia L5 on Crataegus

Gastropacha quercifolia caterpillar
Gastropacha quercifolia L4 on Crataegus

Gastropacha quercifolia caterpillar
Gastropacha quercifolia L2 on Crataegus

Gastropacha quercifolia caterpillar
Gastropacha quercifolia L1 on Crataegus