Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Sphingids: Hyles exilis

Hyles exilis was first described as a subspecies of Hyles costata. Only in 1998 they were separated from costata based on small differences in color pattern and male genitalia. But only when caterpillars of both species were found it became absolutely certain that costata and exilis are two different species. Not only do their larvae look very different, they also use different host plants. Exilis feeds on Euphorbia species, while costata targets plants out the Polygonaceae family. The fact that the imagines of both species look so similar, makes it rather difficult to determine their exact distribution. Hyles exilis occurs in Mongolia, northeastern China and adjacent areas of Russia. You can read more about these species on the fantastic website of A.R. Pittaway and I.J. Kitching, Sphingidae of the Eastern Palaearctic. In case you did not know this website already, Google it and add it to your favorites. The website is a must read for everyone who likes Sphingidae.


Hyles exilis
Hyles exilis - Origin: Russia
Hyles exilis
Hyles exilis - Origin: Russia

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Mimas tiliae

I haven't had a Lime Hawkmoth (Mimas tiliae) brood since I was a kid, but each year I bring home at least a few caterpillars when I go out gathering branches for my other broods. So far I have only found larvae on Tilia, Betula and Prunus avium, which are their favorite food plants around here. In other parts of Europe they also use Fraxinus, Juglans, Quercus, Castanea, Malus, Pyrus, Sorbus, Alnus, Corylus, Acer and Ulmus as hosts. I usually keep the caterpillars and release the moths after hatching. It's one of the easiest hawkmoths to breed. They grow without any problems in well ventilated plastic containers, just as long as you avoid condensation and too high temperatures. Like most hawkmoths, they grow fast. After four weeks they change color and become pinkish brown, the sign that they are ready to pupate and time to move them to individual containers lined with toilet paper. The pupae overwinter, but in warmer parts of Europe they can also produce a (partial) second flight in July/August.

Mimas tiliae caterpillar
Mimas tiliae L5 on Tilia

Mimas tiliae caterpillar
Mimas tiliae L5 on Prunus avium

Mimas tiliae caterpillar
Mimas tiliae L5 on Tilia

Mimas tiliae caterpillar
Mimas tiliae L4 on Betula

Mimas tiliae caterpillar
Mimas tiliae L4 on Prunus avium

Mimas tiliae caterpillar
Mimas tiliae L3 on Betula

Mimas tiliae caterpillar
Mimas tiliae L3 on Betula

Mimas tiliae caterpillar
Mimas tiliae L2 on Prunus avium

Mimas tiliae caterpillar
Mimas tiliae L1 on Betula

Friday, 24 June 2016

Silkmoth of the week: Citheronia splendens sinaloensis

For some reason, the pupae of this species decided not to hatch last year. I don't know why. There were plenty of hot days last summer. So the moth in this post goes with the caterpillars I displayed on September 17th 2014. And they are a little of season. Normally you can expect them to hatch later in summer, from mid July to the end of August. But, I'm glad they finally decided to emerge. It's a large and very attractive moth. Females have a wingspan up to 12,5 centimeter. The males look the same, but are smaller with a wingspan between 8,5 and 11 centimeter. Citheronia splendens is a primarily Mexican species. The sinaloensis subspecies penetrates northwards into the USA, but not further then southern Arizona. 


Citheronia splendens sinaloensis male
Citheronia splendens sinaloensis male - Origin: USA

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Gonimbrasia tyrrhea

There I was, stuck with more then 400 freshly hatched caterpillars, after having two females being fertiled by one male in one night and me who totally missed the event. It may sound great such a huge number, but it is not. In fact it is the worst thinkable situation. This many larvae of one species has only one possible outcome: total failure. So I decided to get rid of most. I made some friends very happy and still had to kill hundred of them in the freezer (by far the most humane way of killing overstock). Hundred and fifty of them was a more manageable number and more then enough to do some food plant trials. I divided them in three groups on respectively Quercus robur, Prunus serotina and Crataegus. In books and on the Internet you can find many other food plants like Salix, Malus, Acacia and Laburnum. It is said that this species is very polyphagous. That is only partially true. It is true that young caterpillars will start to eat on many different plants, but they will not grow equally well on all of them. That much became clear during my trials. In otherwise same conditions the best food plant turned out to be Quercus robur. Caterpillars grow stronger, taller and faster on this plant. Mortality: less then 1%. The Crataegus brood was growing very difficult from the start and completely collapsed in the third instar. The Prunus brood did a little better. Compared to the Quercus brood they do grow much slower and seem to remain smaller. While the Quercus brood is already pupating the Prunus brood has still at least two weeks to go. The mortality is also a lot higher: around 50%. So if you have the choice, go for a plant out of the Fagaceae family (Quercus, Fagus, Castanea). The caterpillars pupate in underground chambers. When you see them wandering on the cage floor, move them to small individual containers lined with kitchen paper. That way they can pupate undisturbed. Although wild tyrrhea usually have only one flight per year, they can produce a second generation in captivity. These pupae may or may not hatch this year.


Gonimbrasia tyrrhea caterpillar
Gonimbrasia tyrrhea L5 on Quercus robur

Gonimbrasia tyrrhea caterpillar
Gonimbrasia tyrrhea L5 on Quercus robur

Gonimbrasia tyrrhea caterpillar
Gonimbrasia tyrrhea L5 on Quercus robur

Gonimbrasia tyrrhea caterpillar
Gonimbrasia tyrrhea L4 on Quercus robur

Gonimbrasia tyrrhea caterpillar
Gonimbrasia tyrrhea L4 on Quercus robur

Gonimbrasia tyrrhea L4 on Quercus robur

Gonimbrasia tyrrhea caterpillar
Gonimbrasia tyrrhea L4 on Quercus robur

Gonimbrasia tyrrhea caterpillar
Gonimbrasia tyrrhea L3 on Quercus robur

Gonimbrasia tyrrhea caterpillar
Gonimbrasia tyrrhea L3 on Quercus robur

Gonimbrasia tyrrhea caterpillar
Gonimbrasia tyrrhea L3 on Quercus robur

Gonimbrasia tyrrhea caterpillar
Gonimbrasia tyrrhea L2 on Prunus serotina

Gonimbrasia tyrrhea caterpillar
Gonimbrasia tyrrhea L1 on Crataegus

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Pachysphinx modesta

What they lack in color, they make up in size. The Modest or Poplar Sphinx (Pachysphinx modesta) is a large North American species. The caterpillars grow fast. In only four weeks they are full grown. This is a perfect species for everybody new to breeding hawkmoths. The caterpillars are fairly tolerant for rookie mistakes. Keep the first three instars in well ventilated plastic containers at moderate day temperatures (somewhere between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius is fine). Later instars should be moved to netted cages. The main reason for that is that they require a lot of food because of their large size. That many leaves stuffed in a plastic container will always cause condensation. Wet conditions can make your caterpillars sick. You don't have this problem with netted cages. The best food plants are poplars and cottonwoods (Populus species). They will also accept willow species (Salix), but are generally not very fond of them and clearly prefer cottonwoods.


Pachysphinx modesta caterpillar
Pachysphinx modesta L5 on Populus nigra

Pachysphinx modesta caterpillar
Pachysphinx modesta L5 on Populus nigra

Pachysphinx modesta caterpillar
Pachysphinx modesta L5 on Populus nigra

Pachysphinx modesta caterpillar
Pachysphinx modesta L4 on Populus nigra

Pachysphinx modesta caterpillar
Pachysphinx modesta L4 on Populus nigra

Pachysphinx modesta caterpillar
Pachysphinx modesta L4 on Populus nigra

Pachysphinx modesta caterpillar
Pachysphinx modesta L4 on Populus nigra

Pachysphinx modesta caterpillar
Pachysphinx modesta L3 on Populus nigra

Pachysphinx modesta caterpillar
Pachysphinx modesta L2 on Populus nigra

Pachysphinx modesta caterpillar
Pachysphinx modesta L1 on Populus nigra

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Silkmoth of the week: Lemaireodirphia albida

So far, only two pupae hatched. They are taking their time. This south Mexican species has only one flight per year, from May to July, with pupae hibernating through winter. Breaking dormancy isn't easy. Spraying the pupae seems not to help at all. I'm not sure what the trigger is. It's not the humidity itself, that much I know. And it's not higher temperatures alone either. It could be low air pressure associated with bad weather systems combined with warmer temperatures, but I'm just guessing. That both moths hatched after we had a thunderstorm could be a coincidence. They are worth the wait though. The moths are relatively large (six to nine centimeter), but can be quite variable in size. Albida is one of the many 'new' species, only described in 2012 and separated from Lemaireodirphia hoegei after DNA barcoding. I think it requires further investigation to determine whether this species is truly a valid species or just a form of hoegei. The differences, if there are any, are very small. It's doubtful that it is even possible to separate both species by visual characteristics alone.


Lemaireodirphia albida male
Lemaireodirphia albida male - Origin: Mexico

Lemaireodirphia albida female
Lemaireodirphia albida female - Origin: Mexico

Lemaireodirphia albida female
Lemaireodirphia albida female - Origin: Mexico

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

FUBAR

OK, listen up. The Cartoon Network has been lying to you for years now. I can prove it. Don't believe their propaganda. No matter how many times they show you how caterpillars and spiders spend the day together all laughing and drinking beer or whatever they do in those cartoons, it just isn't true. Caterpillars and spiders simply do not mix. Spiders are not friendly creatures. In fact they are merciless killers. Monsters that will eat all your young caterpillars.  Don't trust the Cartoon Network, don't believe their lies. I witnessed it myself. I had this fantastic Saturnia walterorum stock that J send me. Everything was perfect, all nice warm and dry, well protected within a sleeve, eating the leaves of a potted Liquidambar. Every few days I opened the sleeve to see them grow. I even took some pictures. Really, these caterpillars had a bright future ahead. But, each time I opened the sleeve it took me longer and longer to find a caterpillar. I didn't think too much of it. Afterall young caterpillars are small and I am old and my eyes ain't working so well anymore. So no panic, they are fine. After two weeks I started to worry though. Why are there still so many leaves on this Liquidambar? When was the last time I actually saw one of the caterpillars? Four days later I opened the sleeve and searched and searched, but did not find any of my walterorum. Instead there was a large, happy spider in the sleeve. No, I did not kill the monster. I took it into the garden. And released it. True, it was a very exposed spot and I could see the birds thinking what is that yummy looking creature doing there all alone. I may have done that on purpose. But hey, that's nature isn't it? Eat or be eaten ...


Saturnia walterorum
Saturnia walterorum L2 on Liquidambar

Saturnia walterorum
Saturnia walterorum L1 on Liquidambar

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Lebeda nobilis

Now this is what I call a caterpillar! The largest of them, probably the females, grow easily to a length of twelve centimeter. In case you ever manage to get some eggs of this fairly common Asian species, there are a few things you need to know. The eggs of Lebeda nobilis overwinter and should be placed in the fridge as soon as they arrive. For many species, a long stay in the fridge is not always that healthy and will result in a lower hatch rate. For this Lebeda it is the other way around. After two months in the fridge the hatch rate is ten percent. After five months almost all the eggs hatch. I had a lot of eggs from one female and tested this myself with two samples. Best practice is to take the eggs out of the fridge very early in spring, as soon as the hawthorn (Crataegus) starts to get new leaves. This is without any doubt one of their favorite food plants. Alternatively you can use other Rosaceae like Malus, Rubus or Rosa. They are also recorded on Camellia and Pinus.  The caterpillars grow slowly. Those that are taken out after only a short stay in the fridge even slower. Both groups pupated around the same time, the first two weeks of June. The young caterpillars grow well in well ventilated plastic containers with day temperatures between twenty and twenty five degrees Celsius and night temperatures above fifteen degrees.  Move them to netted cages as soon as they are around five centimeter. This avoids condensation in the cages and mortality in the last instar, which is very common with Lasiocampid caterpillars. These cocoons will remain dormant for a while now. The moths will hatch in August/September.


Lebeda nobilis caterpillar
Lebeda nobilis final instar on Crataegus

Lebeda nobilis caterpillar
Lebeda nobilis final instar on Crataegus

Lebeda nobilis caterpillar
Lebeda nobilis final instar on Crataegus

Lebeda nobilis caterpillar
Lebeda nobilis final instar on Rubus

Lebeda nobilis caterpillar
Lebeda nobilis final instar on Crataegus

Lebeda nobilis caterpillar
Lebeda nobilis L5 on Rubus

Lebeda nobilis caterpillar
Lebeda nobilis L4 on Rubus

Lebeda nobilis caterpillar
Lebeda nobilis L3 on Rubus

Lebeda nobilis caterpillar
Lebeda nobilis L2 on Rubus


Lebeda nobilis caterpillar
Lebeda nobilis L2 on Rubus

Lebeda nobilis caterpillar
Lebeda nobilis L1 on Crataegus