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.

 

Isle of Wight – Part 2 Thwarted By Fog

Our first full day on the Isle of Wight coincided with the first day of 30 Days Wild – the Wildlife Trusts’ annual event to get people to engage with nature.  Perfect day then to go looking for our next two species of butterfly – the Glanville Fritillary and the Adonis Blue. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas and a thick blanket of fog seemed to have covered most of the island. No self respecting butterfly was going to fly in that, so our chances of seeing them were virtually nil. We did make a short half-hearted attempt and had a bit of a wander around the chalky slopes on the southern coast. Fortunately we like all sorts of invertebrates besides butterflies and many of these are fog tolerant.

Snails of course don’t mind a bit of damp weather and we found two new (to us) species in the hedgerows. This beautifully coiled one is a Kentish Snail (Monacha cantiana).

This tiny pointy snail is in fact called a Pointed Snail (Cochlicella sp.). It was only about a centimetre long, but still managed to have at least 8 whorls on its shell.

The other group of invertebrates that braved the fog in reasonable numbers were moth caterpillars. We saw several species, but these two were particularly striking. We’ve never seen them before either in caterpillar form, nor as adult moths. The top one is the caterpillar of the Lackey Moth and the bottom one of a Dingy Flat-Body Moth (thank you to the good people of iSpot for identifying the second one for me).

The other notable invertebrate was a cricket – there were large numbers of these Dark Bush Crickets (Pholidoptera griseoaptera) in the undergrowth. We only saw immature stages such as this nymph.

After an hour of enjoyable but butterfly-less searching, we went to Plan B. Isle of Wight is also known for its thriving population of Red Squirrels. Thankfully the grey squirrels haven’t made it across the water yet, so for the time being the reds have free rein over the island. So we headed inland to Borthwood Copse, a small woodland managed to support the red squirrels. The first interesting animal we spotted when we got to the wood, was another insect. This female Scarce Chaser dragonfly (Libellula fulva) is, as its name suggests, fairly scarce, so it was a really nice find. With its yellow veining and dark tips to the wings, it was clearly different to any dragonfly we’d seen before.

The wood was full of birds, all singing their hearts out (or all shouting warnings that we were intruding possibly). We could hear, if not see, lots of species, but the only one we really managed to photograph was this male Great Spotted Woodpecker.

After a lot of dizzying staring up into trees, we eventually spotted our first red squirrel. I think we had both fondly imagined that the squirrels would come down and somehow just sit waiting to be photographed. Needless to say, they did no such thing and remained steadfastly high up in the branches. Over the course of the next hour we spotted a few (or possibly the same one taunting us over and over) and although they were a delight to watch, they never came close enough for any really good photos. But we did eventually get some recognisable red squirrel photos, so here are our best efforts. We watched this one for a while carrying a bundle of nesting material, jumping from branch to branch.

We followed it by eye until it disappeared with its bundle of nesting material into what looked like a denser patch of leaves. It stayed in there for ages, so we wondered whether this might have been a nest or drey? You can just about make out the denser patch in the photo below.

When it eventually emerged it no longer had the nesting material, but decided to sit nearby watching us below. I know the next picture is really dark, but you can see the squirrel staring directly at us.

 

We had a few more sightings after this. In some they were again carrying nesting material, although we lost track of them in the branches so couldn’t see if they took them back to the same place.

The final photo I know is really rubbish, but I just love the way it looks like he’s just dangling there, when obviously we just caught him mid-jump.

So Plan B worked out pretty well in the end. The fog may have stopped us seeing butterflies that day (don’t worry we got there in the end – see next blog post), but there was plenty of other wildlife to enjoy. That’s one of the things about wildlife watching I love, you are never really disappointed, as there is almost always something amazing to see if you look.

 

 

 

 

A Frost , A Moth and A Snail

Finally this week, the frosty morning I’ve been waiting for! Jack Frost had visited my beloved teasels leaving them glinting in the early morning sunshine.  The asparagus fronds (long overdue for a haircut)  took on an almost ethereal blue hue, making them far more attractive than they are in their non-wintry state.

Frosty teaselFrosty asparagus

The cold snap didn’t last long though and last night was mild enough to put out the moth trap, although I didn’t hold out much hope. But I got up this morning to the triumphant catch of one moth and one caterpillar!

The caterpillar turned out to be that of an Angle Shades moth – one of my favourites (I’m conscious of sounding a bit like Bruce Forsyth now “You’re my favourite” to every moth I find!) The photo of the caterpillar was taken this morning; next to it is an adult Angle Shades moth snapped in warmer months.

Angle Shades Caterpillar

Common Quaker 2The moth turned out to be a Common Quaker – quite early in the year for this species, which I guess just shows how mild the winter has really been here in Malvern at least. In hunting round to find a suitable leaf for my Quaker to sit on for his photo shoot, I also found this teeny, tiny snail. It was only a couple of millimetres long, so apologies for the less than perfect photograph. I think it may be a Common Chrysalis Snail (Lauria cylindracea), Tiny Snailbut it was so small and I’m so not good at mollusc identification, that I can’t be sure. If anyone has any other ideas, I’m happy to be corrected. There are probably lots of other species of mollusc lurking in the garden – I clearly need to rummage around in the leaf litter more!

 

One final random fact  – it is apparently a Wolf Moon this weekend.  Not expecting too many wolves to be baying at the moon in Worcestershire this weekend, but I like the idea that each full moon of the year traditionally had its own name.