Sunday, 29 May 2016

Bombyx mandarina

For a guy claiming to have a blog about silkmoths, I did a great job in completely ignoring the true silkmoths (Bombycidae). It wasn't intentional. There are only two species regularly available: Bombyx mori, the domesticated silkworm and the species in this post, Bombyx mandarina. Both species need Morus trees for their caterpillars and that had become a bit of a problem a few years ago, after my Morus plants suddenly died for no particular reason. Without these plants it was no longer possible to have easy Bombyx broods. Oh, sure, you sometimes find reports of other food plants on the Internet and believe me, I have tried them all. But, I can assure you, they do not grow well on Salix, Malus or Rubus, although it may seem like that at the start of the brood. Young caterpillars will start to eat, but mortality is high and most will die eventually. Sometimes one or two survive and pupate to produce small and weak moths. No, it's not worth the effort. And thus, I finally replaced my Morus trees by new ones. On Morus nigra a Bombyx mandarina brood is one of the easiest to have. They are quite tolerable for company, just don't exaggerate. Overcrowding is never a good idea. In four to five weeks the larvae grow to almost seven centimeter. It will not take long for the moths to emerge.


Bombyx mandarina caterpillar
Bombyx mandarina L5 on Morus nigra

Bombyx mandarina caterpillar
Bombyx mandarina L4 on Morus nigra

Bombyx mandarina caterpillar
Bombyx mandarina L4 on Morus nigra


Bombyx mandarina caterpillar
Bombyx mandarina L4 on Morus nigra

Bombyx mandarina caterpillar
Bombyx mandarina L4 on Morus nigra

Bombyx mandarina caterpillar
Bombyx mandarina L4 on Morus nigra

Bombyx mandarina caterpillar
Bombyx mandarina L3 on Morus nigra

Bombyx mandarina caterpillar
Bombyx mandarina L2 on Morus nigra


Bombyx mandarina caterpillar
Bombyx mandarina L1 on Morus nigra

Friday, 27 May 2016

Return of the evil entomologists


Once upon a time ...
in a land far far away ...
there was a group of entomologists that dedicated their lives to science. From early morning to late at night, they were seen running after butterflies and moths, waving their nets around, trying to catch as many different species as possible. After sunset, by candlelight, they spend hours and hours describing species and explaining why this one was different from that one. And when there was no difference they tried to breed them and by doing so they discovered that the caterpillars were different, justifying the description of a new species. Books full of species were written and the entomologists were happy. Life was good.

But darkness was lurking in the woods. A great evil was about to be discovered...

It was a warm day in May, when some of the entomologists went into a pristine forest in a place called Mexico. They had been talking about this for weeks. They were so excited. Imagine how many species they would find today. And they did indeed find something. Or maybe it found them. At first they did not realize what they had discovered. They called it DNA research, just because it sounded great after twenty shots of Tequila ... each. And they took it home. The elderlies warned them, nothing good could come of this. They should stick to the old methods, the scientific way, the way of the entomologist ...

Of course they did not listen. They were young and impatient. Why study for hours? Why describe only one species per year, when you can have hundreds? And the more they used this DNA research, the more it turned them. They kept on publishing paper after paper. Destroying the work of their elders by dividing well described species into thousands of new ones. They changed further and further. They became withdrawn, avoiding every contact with normal people. Becoming even more annoying then the typical entomologist. They became evil ...

And thus the first war of the entomologists began. It were dark times and all hope seemed to be lost. The army of the evil entomologists was too strong. Knowledge got destroyed, replaced by seemingly randomly described species. Books burned and websites hacked by their followers. Everywhere you could hear their insane laughter. But the forces of the Light gathered and came to the aid of the good entomologists. In one final battle, the army of the evil entomologists was destroyed. The remaining survivors captured and imprisoned. The elderlies were happy. You could see them again, running, holding their nets high, their long white beards waving in the wind. Life was good.

In his cell, the leader of the evil entomologists was plotting though. With some insider help, he managed to escape. And it wasn't long before he started practicing his evil DNA research again. Since then, in that forest in Mexico he has been planning his revenge. One day he would rule the scientific world. Working in the shadows he prepared to divide the few remaining species into new ones. And then, somewhere in 2014, the world became aware that the evil entomologists had returned and that they had become, once again, a force to be reckoned with. It was when they described Copaxa knorkei, a species that looks like Copaxa multifenestrata, with the same caterpillars, the same behavior, the same ... well, the same everything; it was only then that the world fully realized how ingenious and cruel the revenge of the evil entomologists was going to be. They were preparing to describe a series of new species, impossible to separate from the existing ones. When they publish these papers the world will fall into chaos. The forces of the Light are now preparing for the second war of the entomologists. It might already be too late to stop this great evil. The darkness has grown strong, maybe too strong this time ...


Copaxa knorkei female
Copaxa knorkei female - Origin: Mexico

Copaxa knorkei male
Copaxa knorkei male - Origin: Mexico

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Brahmaea tancrei

Here's another fast growing Brahmaea. This Asian species goes from hatchling to final instar in around four weeks. In their final instar, when they loose the long black scoli (those dreadlocks), they become a nice nine to ten centimeter long. Once they are fully grown, they stop eating and begin their search for a spot to pupate. Normally, this is underneath some leaf litter. In captivity they are best moved to individual containers lined with toilet paper. This way they will not disturb each other and form perfect pupae. Keep the first instars of this owl moth in well ventilated plastic containers. Later instars do well in netted cages. The larvae grow best on Ligustrum species, but will also accept Fraxinus. The pupae will stay dormant until next spring.

Brahmaea tancrei caterpillar
Brahmaea tancrei L5 on Ligustrum vulgare

Brahmaea tancrei caterpillar
Brahmaea tancrei L5 on Ligustrum vulgare

Brahmaea tancrei caterpillar
Brahmaea tancrei L5 on Ligustrum vulgare

Brahmaea tancrei caterpillar
Brahmaea tancrei L5 on Ligustrum vulgare

Brahmaea tancrei caterpillar
Brahmaea tancrei L4 on Ligustrum vulgare

Brahmaea tancrei caterpillar
Brahmaea tancrei L3 on Ligustrum vulgare

Brahmaea tancrei caterpillar
Brahmaea tancrei L3 on Ligustrum vulgare

Brahmaea tancrei caterpillar
Brahmaea tancrei L2 on Ligustrum vulgare

Brahmaea tancrei caterpillar
Brahmaea tancrei L1 on Ligustrum vulgare

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Sphingids: Sphinx ligustri

Well look at that! There are large and colorful moths in Belgium. The Privet Hawkmoth (Sphinx ligustri) is a fairly common sighting in my backyard. With a wingspan from nine to twelve centimeter they are difficult to confuse with any other moth in Western Europe. This species occurs from England eastward to Northern Japan, but is absent in the northern parts of Europe and Russia. The Privet Hawkmoth is fairly common in Western Europe, but becomes more rare eastward. In most of it's range it has only one flight in late spring, only in the south there is a (partial) second flight in August. Although the pink form is encountered most often, this species is very variable. The pink can (entirely or partially) be replaced by grey (f. grisea), white (f. albescens) or yellow (f. lutescens).

Sphinx ligustri
Sphinx ligustri - Origin: Belgium

Friday, 20 May 2016

Silkmoth of the week: Gonimbrasia tyrrhea

The Zigzag Emperor (Gonimbrasia tyrrhea) is a well known South African species that usually flies in one generation per year somewhere between December and April/May, depending on local conditions, in particular the start of the rainy season. Their wingspan goes from ten to twelve centimeter. I had only six pupae, three males and three females. I normally don't buy such small numbers. Anything less then 12 pupae, there is little chance of successful breeding. Buying small numbers is often a waste of money, with more failures then successes. Six pupae was a huge gamble. I didn't expect much of it. Not even that night when I had a fresh male sitting with two females. Not even when both females were no longer calling the next morning while an earlier female called for a male for over a week. Not even when there were almost five hundred eggs in the cage a few days later, not in sloppy piles as you often see with unfertile eggs, but in carefully deposited groups. Only a couple of weeks later, when all five hundred eggs hatched, it became clear that the male must have had a wonderful time that night...

Gonimbrasia tyrrhea female
Gonimbrasia tyrrhea female - Origin: South Africa

Gonimbrasia tyrrhea male
Gonimbrasia tyrrhea male - Origin: South Africa

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Lappet Show: Malacosoma disstria

Seriously? All this excitement for some small brownish moth? Believe it or not, I consider this species as the absolute highlight of this spring's breeding. What can I say, I have a soft spot for Lappets and Tent Caterpillars, in particular the smaller ones like these. The males with their wings folded fit on my thumb nail. The larger females have a wingspan up to three centimeter. The color is quite variable. Many shades of brown, from yellowish to darker brown occur. Some forms have a very contrast rich pattern, with a pronounced darker band over the forewings, while in other forms this band is hardly visible. The moths are on the wing from April to August, in one generation per year. The egg mass overwinters. This species is widely distributed throughout the USA and Canada, especially east of the Mississippi river.


Malacosoma disstria male
Malacosoma disstria male - Origin: USA

Malacosoma disstria female
Malacosoma disstria female - Origin: USA

Malacosoma disstria male
Malacosoma disstria male - Origin: USA

Malacosoma disstria female
Malacosoma disstria female - Origin: USA

Malacosoma disstria female
Malacosoma disstria female - Origin: USA

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Rothschildia roxana

This Rothschildia roxana stock from Belize is going around for quite some time now. So to be sure that I would have at least a few growing to a normal size, I sourced them from two different sellers. Most likely both batches originated from the same ancestors, but without proper collecting data it's hard to tell. Anyway, the hatch rate of the second batch was awful, but at the end the caterpillars reached a nice seven centimeter length, which is about normal for this species. The first batch had a much better hatch rate, but soon after that they got growing troubles and the few caterpillars that made it were small. Both Prunus laurocerasus and Prunus serotina worked well as food plants. Alternatively, I could have used Ligustrum, but these bushes were shedding the old leaves and the new ones were still to fresh and soft. Prunus was simply more convenient. The moths will emerge in a couple of weeks.


Rothschildia roxana caterpillar
Rothschildia roxana L5 on Prunus serotina

Rothschildia roxana caterpillar
Rothschildia roxana L5 on Prunus serotina

Rothschildia roxana caterpillar
Rothschildia roxana L5 on Prunus serotina

Rothschildia roxana caterpillar
Rothschildia roxana L5 on Prunus serotina

Rothschildia roxana caterpillar
Rothschildia roxana L5 on Prunus serotina

Rothschildia roxana caterpillar
Rothschildia roxana L4 on Prunus serotina

Rothschildia roxana caterpillar
Rothschildia roxana L3 on Prunus laurocerasus

Rothschildia roxana caterpillar
Rothschildia roxana L2 on Prunus laurocerasus

Rothschildia roxana caterpillar
Rothschildia roxana L1 on Prunus laurocerasus

Friday, 13 May 2016

Silkmoth of the week: Actias isis

Females, again ... This species is cursed. I think I had five or six broods of them over the last ten years and never, not once, did I got a male. Not that I don't recognize the males. After all they look very different from the females of this species. So, that's not it. Males and females can't be taken for one and other. No confusion possible. Simply no males. Never males. But I will continue, until I can finally show a male on this blog. Not that I mind. Who doesn't like to breed this species from Sulawesi? They are large and spectacular. Large females can have a wingspan up to fourteen centimeter. The darker males are a little smaller, usually around twelve centimeter. The only thing is that I need to get fresh stock now. That shouldn't be to difficult. In captivity they brood more or less continuously, with a flight every three to four months (depending on temperature and humidity). Somewhere this year, they should be available again. And then it's time for the next attempt, and the next, until one day ...


Actias isis female
Actias isis female - Origin: Indonesia

Monday, 9 May 2016

Hyles livornica

Purely hypothetical now: let's say there was a crazy, toothless lady waving a gun in my face while smoking a sigar, forcing me to choose a favorite hawkmoth. Oh my god, really, choosing a favorite hawkmoth! What sicko would think of such an unusual and cruel torture?  Alert Amnesty International!  So let's say that I was forced to have a favorite, I would probably choose Hyles livornica. Not because they grow extremely fast and don't keep you busy for much longer then three weeks (always nice when dealing with hawkmoths). Not because the caterpillars grow to a good size (65 -80 mm) and have a beautiful color pattern. Not because every moron with a half brain can breed these. Hmm, ok, maybe not you, but pretty much everybody else. Just as long as you keep them in very dry and warm conditions from the third instar on. Yes, that does imply a netted cage. And no, putting the cage on top of the central heating is not a good idea even though it sounded great in your head. Yes, it's warm and dry, but no, you can't do that. A spot in front of a south facing window does work very well though. No, the real reason why I would choose livornica, is because their major host plant is Rumex. That damn weed is pretty much useless when breeding silkmoths and relatives, but livornica thrives on it. And I have truck loads of this stuff. Of course, if you can't find any Rumex, you can always use Epilobium, Oenothera, Fuchsia (or every other plant out of the Onagraceae), Gallium, Rubia (or many other Rubiaceae), Vitis, Parthenocissus (and many other Vitaceae), Polygonum, Beta and many many more. The pupal stage will be short. The moths will be flying in a couple of weeks.

Hyles livornica caterpillar
Hyles livornica L5 on Rumex

Hyles livornica caterpillar
Hyles livornica L5 on Rumex

Hyles livornica caterpillar
Hyles livornica L5 on Rumex

Hyles livornica caterpillar
Hyles livornica L5 on Rumex

Hyles livornica caterpillar
Hyles livornica L4 on Rumex

Hyles livornica caterpillar
Hyles livornica L4 on Rumex

Hyles livornica caterpillar
Hyles livornica L3 on Rumex

Hyles livornica caterpillar
Hyles livornica L3 on Rumex

Hyles livornica caterpillar
Hyles livornica L2 on Rumex

Hyles livornica caterpillar
Hyles livornica L1 on Rumex

Friday, 6 May 2016

Silkmoth of the week: Copaxa multifenestrata

Copaxa multifenestrata is one of the best known species out of the Copaxa genus. Or shall I say, was one of the best known. Since the species has been divided into the multifenestrata group there is a lot of confusion. This group consists out of several species which - yes, you guessed it right - look nearly identical. So, this time, you may look at Copaxa multifenestrata or you may not. The moths in the pictures originate from Chiapas in Mexico, so there is a good chance they actually are multifenestrata. This species used to live from Mexico to northern Peru. But now? Who knows? Probably Mexico and Belize. In the rest of Central America they might be replaced by close relatives. Multifenestrata is not a large Copaxa. The males have a wingspan between eight and ten centimeter. The females are a little larger, to eleven centimeter. In captivity they have one or in the best case two generations and overwinter as cocoons.


Copaxa multifenestrata female
Copaxa multifenestrata female - Origin: Mexico

Copaxa multifenestrata male
Copaxa multifenestrata male - Origin: Mexico