Lonesome George

At the end of June I caught an Eyed Hawk-moth in the trap as part of my regular Garden Moth Scheme trapping.  She (as it turns out) was a beautiful specimen with the characteristic eyes on the underwings and raised position of the upper wings. As it was about 4:30am, I put her in a pot for a couple of hours until I could photograph her at a more reasonable time of day.

When I came to photograph and release her I found she’d laid two perfect green eggs in the pot.

It seemed such a shame to just get rid of the eggs without giving them a chance, so I thought I’d have a go at rearing them. The eggs were transferred still in their pot into a larger container and I read up on how to rear hawk-moths. I checked on them every day and was starting to think they weren’t going to do anything when they both hatched about 2 weeks after they were laid. The two tiny green caterpillars of course needed food and apparently apple leaves are a favourite, which fortunately we could supply in plenty. Sadly one tiny caterpillar didn’t make it past the second day, but the remaining one, hereafter named Lonesome George (or possibly Georgina), is pictured below. So this blog post records George’s transformation. The photo below shows him at about 2 weeks old not long after hatching. The red dorsal spike is at the rear end.

George had a prodigious appetite, munching through as many apple leaves as he could get. By three weeks old he had started to develop striped markings.

By 4 weeks old the red rimmed spiracles were visible along his side and his dorsal spike had turned white.

By 5 and a half weeks, the dorsal spike at the end had started to turn blue. He had prolegs (not true legs) at the back and true legs at the front.

In this close up of  his head, you can see his true feet, used for gripping the leaves. His black jaws are just about visible in his mouth.

Caterpillars really are just eating machines.

Eyed Hawk-moth Caterpillar eating

By 6 weeks George was over 5cm long – a very handsome chunky caterpillar.

George wasn’t the only thing getting bigger – his poops were now over 5mm long, perfectly formed little packages of waste apple leaf!

At 7 weeks old George’s colour started to change, a sign apparently that he was getting ready to pupate.

So he was transferred to a larger container with compost in the bottom and a layer of leaf matter. Almost immediately he started burrowing into the compost until he was completely submerged.

Eyed Hawk-moth getting ready to pupate

Ten days later and George the caterpillar had turned into a chrysalis or pupa. Already you can see the outlines of wings forming and it bears no resemblance to the original caterpillar.

So that’s it for George for now. I just need to keep his chrysalis safe and dry until the early summer when he (or she) will hopefully emerge in all his glory as an adult Eyed Hawk-moth.

 

So this was going to be the end of this post on rearing moths, but then I caught a female Antler Moth.

As Antler Moths are such striking moths, I’d put her in a pot for an hour until I could take a photo. She surprised me in that short time by laying at least a dozen tiny eggs; I could see her abdomen still pulsating when I released her so hopefully she managed to lay more in the garden too.

So once again it seemed a shame for these eggs to have no chance at life, so I now have a pot of Antler Moth eggs as well as Lonesome George’s chrysalis. Antler Moths it seems overwinter as eggs, so I can do little for this clutch until the spring, other than to try not to let them get too dry or too damp. Come the spring I will have to find suitable food plants (grasses) for the caterpillars that will hopefully emerge. So watch this space…..

In the meantime here’s another Eyed Hawk-moth, just because they are so magnificent.

 

Incoming Insects

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for migrants (of the insect type) in our garden and around Malvern, so I thought I’d collate what we’ve been seeing.

First up an insect that is really only a migrant by name – the Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta). A beautiful dragonfly that used to be fairly uncommon in the UK – hence the name Migrant, but is now well established. This particular one was buzzing for insect prey on some rough ground at Chris’ workplace.

We’ve been blessed with at least one Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) in the garden most days for the last month or so, but apparently we are not alone. Every few years the country gets a “Painted Lady Summer” when they come over in huge numbers from abroad – and this is one of those summers. Some people have reported seeing them in their hundreds (a friend of mine in Edinburgh got driven inside by having so many of them on her patio it freaked her out!). Sadly we’ve not had that many, probably because we’re the wrong side of the country, so the most we managed to count on the buddleia was 5 at one time. But that’s a record for us, so we’re happy to see them even in low numbers.

We tend to be more lucky with the moths. First a very small migrant moth, but one which some years can come over in huge numbers. The Diamond-back Moth (Plutella xylostella) is only a few mm long, but somehow manages to survive the journey over from the continent and into our Malvern garden. Most years we only get 1 or 2 at a time; the most we’ve ever had in the moth trap in one night is 20, but they can apparently arrive in their thousands. Not the greatest photo of this one below, but you can at least make out the joined up diamond pattern on its back.

A larger macro moth – the Silver Y (Autographa gamma) is another one we see regularly in low numbers. They have a characteristic Y shaped mark on the wings (although admittedly it is upside down) and are often active during the day. The first one I ever saw, was nectaring on some lavender during the day – I thought initially it was a Hummingbird Hawkmoth from the way it moved, but  know better now!

We have seen genuine Hummingbird Hawkmoths this summer, but I’ve not managed to get any photos – they’re just too fast and I’m just too slow most of the time. But here’s one we did manage to catch a couple of years ago.

 

Undoubtedly though the highlight of my moth-ing career so far, and probably the best catch I’ll ever get, was one from a fortnight ago. I’d been enviously enjoying photos of Bedstraw Hawk-moths (Hyles gallii) on various social media for a couple of weeks, but never dreamt I’d be lucky enough to catch one in our garden. But at the beginning of August I got up to empty the trap and nearly fainted at the sight of a Bedstraw Hawk-moth sitting there. I was so nervous opening the trap in case it flew off – no-one would ever believe me unless I could get a photo of it! Fortunately it was a docile beauty that didn’t object too much to being potted up and photographed.

I posted some photos on Facebook and a few fellow moth enthusiasts came round to see it before I released it unharmed. When I put it out on some Rose Bay Willow-Herb, it vibrated its wings for a few seconds to warm up:

Then it shot off like a rocket. We have a large buddleia bush nearby and it circled that a few times. I watched in horror as 3 sparrows flew out from the bush trying to catch it, but thankfully the moth was quicker than the birds and it got away. Don’t think I could have lived with myself if I’d seen it get eaten by the sparrows!

I am told this was only the 5th record of a Bedstraw for Worcestershire and probably the first record for Malvern. I doubt I’ll ever see another one and unless a Death’s Head Hawkmoth lands in the garden, I doubt I’ll ever have a more exciting moth find. But each weekend from now on I will open the moth trap in hope because you just never know what is going to be in there!

 

 

 

Freda – A Hog’s Tale

If anyone reads this blog regularly, they will know that hedgehogs feature quite a lot. We feed the hogs, put water out for the hogs, provide houses for the hogs, pester the neighbours to put gaps in fences for hogs, watch the hogs on cameras and generally worry about our hogs and their well-being on a near daily basis.

When we got a hedgehog house with built in camera, we were thrilled to get one using it regularly. Never staying the whole night, but most nights he or she would come and have a rest for an hour or so, before continuing with the nightly foraging. Here’s a compilation from a few nights of resting and yawning!

Hedgehog Yawning compilation

This hog came at a similar time every night, so we think it was the same one. Following the events below, we hardly saw one using the box for months, our regular just stopped coming. So I think the yawning one above is the one who went on to have an eventful summer – Freda.

In the middle of May we caught a hedgehog with difficulties on one of the cameras. There was clearly something wrong with one back leg in the video below.

Hedgehog in need of help

I messaged Viv our local hedgehog rehabilitator and she kindly came round to help me look for our limping hog. I had thought I might have to sit up for nights trying to see the struggling hog, but thankfully Viv found it in one of our hedgehog houses. “It” turned out to be a “she” and so she was named Freda. Freda had one back foot missing completely. We’ll never know what happened – whether it was an animal attack or a strimming incident, but it was heart-breaking to see.

Hedgehogs can manage quite well with one back leg missing, but it is usually best to remove the leg entirely. If they are left with a stump it drags on the ground when they walk and the wound keeps getting opened up again and infections would set in. So it was decided that it would be best for Freda to have the leg amputated and she would stay at Viv’s until her wound had healed and her spines had grown back.

Poor Freda had more drama in store though. Having survived the operation successfully, it turned out she was pregnant. In June she gave birth to 5 hoglets. Unfortunately Freda had developed an infection and was unable to suckle the babies properly. Sadly by the time this was discovered it was too late to save the  hoglets.

Fortunately Freda herself responded well to antibiotics and began to recover from her ordeals. By the middle of July she was well enough to be fostered back to us in our hutch in the garden. We could feed and monitor her for a while and it would free up space at Viv’s for other hedgehogs in more need. I pointed a camera at the hutch to check how Freda was doing on her first nights in the hutch. Although she could move around the hutch well on 3 legs, unfortunately she seemed completely stressed out by it all. She could now smell the garden and like most wild animals was desperate to be free. She was climbing the front of the hutch and scratching at the walls trying to get out.

Freda in rehab hutch

Stress can be a killer for hedgehogs, so we couldn’t keep her cooped up like this any longer. Viv has someone with an enclosed garden that she uses to do soft releases for hedgehogs like Freda. Freda could be released into this garden and monitored to make sure she could cope back outside on her own and move around OK with only 3 legs. Fortunately Freda proved that she could cope very well, so after a week it was decided to catch her and bring her back to our place to release in the garden properly this time. It is always best to release hedgehogs back where they came from if at all possible, so Freda came back home.

I put her in the hedgehog house with the inside camera and blocked the entrance so she’d stay there until it got dark. She settled right in and had a bit of a nap as if she knew she was home. When it got dark enough, I unblocked the entrance and off she went.

Freda release night

The video below shows her emerging from the hedgehog house (ignore the date on one of the cameras, it wasn’t set right). Almost immediately she finds some smell she’s interested in and starts self-anointing – a good sign I think that she’s behaving naturally. Then off she trundles into the rest of the garden.

Freda release

We had cameras set up round the garden for the next few nights to check she was OK. Fortunately she seems happy to stay in our garden where there is plenty of food and water. Her gait may not be gainly but it doesn’t stop her moving around and finding food, water and shelter.

Freda getting about the garden

We weren’t the only ones pleased to have her back in the garden. By the second night she had already attracted an admirer. We’ve had a one-eyed hedgehog in the garden for some time – we hadn’t known whether it was male or female, but given the attention it was paying to Freda I think we can safely assume it’s a male. I’ve named him Wodan – the Anglo-Saxon variation on Odin the one eyed god! In the video below Freda goes into the hedgehog house and within minutes Wodan is running up and down looking for her, before realising she’s in the house and following her in.

First encounter

Wodan may be keen, but Freda is less so. A couple of nights after her return to the garden he pursued her for at least an hour and a half. They circled round and round with lots of annoyed huffing from Freda.

Persistent Pursuit

The same happened inside the house – she clearly wasn’t impressed and did her best to turf him out.

Freda & Wodan

Whether Wodan got his way with Freda in the end – well we won’t know unless of course she has another litter of hoglets. It’s getting late in the year for hoglets to be born now – they won’t have enough time to put on weight before the winter. So that will be the next worry for us and for Freda. Fingers crossed though that the dramas are over for Freda now and that she can live a long and healthy life in the relative safety of our garden.

A huge thank you to Viv at Malvern Hedgehog Rescue http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/  for all she’s done for Freda and all the other hedgehogs in her care. Hedgehog rescues like Viv’s tend to be self-funded so please consider supporting your local one. Donations of food, supplies or just good old financial support are always welcome.

Or why not consider becoming a supporter of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/ – raising awareness and campaigning on behalf of our native hedgehogs.

Or simply help the hedgehogs in your own garden. Put out shallow dishes of water; all year round but especially in hot dry weather. Supplement their natural food with either meaty cat or dog food, dry cat food or good quality hedgehog food. Leave a bit of your garden wild to provide natural food and shelter. Simple things that can make a big difference.