Ideally, we probably should have done it immediately when we returned to Albany California in mid-December or perhaps even ask our mother to do it for us even earlier, but as of today we have begun refrigerating (40°F/4-5°C) our pupae that require it.
These include: all of the Saturniidae--cecropia (Hyalophora cecropia), luna (Actias luna), and regal (Citheronia regalis); Manduca sexta; and, we are assuming, the pale swallowtails (Papilio eurymedon), which come from Utah/Oregon, and eastern festoon (Allancastria cersyi). Although our Smerinthus opthalmica pupae are native stock that do not require cold treatment, we also decided to toss twenty of so of these in as well as a risk splitting measure because it is difficult to predict what the situation will be when the ones outside the refrigerator emerge. Ideally, we would have put all of the opthalmica pupae in the refrigerator as well as the diapausing pupae of the other species we have such as the western tigers (Papilio rutulus) and anise (Papilio zelicaon) swallowtails but because all of these are native, it could potentially be harmful in the long run.
We have returned to Albany, California from Ithaca, New York as per Cornell University's winter closing, giving us a chance to check on our overwintering pupae.
When we first decided to purchase the stock as eggs online from a pet store in June, it was mainly just for the sake of seeing one representative of the Sphinginae and because the species is exceptionally easy to rear, grows fast, and performs well on cultivated tomato (Solanum) which we happened to have. There was no serious obligation to continue breeding them once we had seen them out through one life cycle since the species, however interesting, is so easily obtainable at any time and thus readily disposable.
With this in mind, it would have made a lot of sense to force the larvae that we reared over the summer to diapause as pupae if we had known that we would never see them emerge anyway, after leaving to Ithaca, New York in August. We would miss out on perhaps the most important aspect of rearing this species through, which was to gain insight on how to care for the adults and experience on how to breed them--knowledge that may be useful in the future or to other, similar species. Fortunately, when the moths did emerge in September while we were away, our mother was able to try her hand at it and was able to successfully breed them as described in this old post. The moths that were not used for breeding were pinned (unprofessionally) so that we could view them upon our return. A few of these pinned moths are shown below.
At that point, we could have pulled the plug and thrown away the eggs, but because the tomato plants were still heavily leaved, we decided to give our mother the heads up for continuing the line. For someone who has no experience with rearing insects at all, she did an okay job, although she did report at some point that a bacterial infection killed a number of them off near the end. Fifteen pupae made it, which should be enough to continue the line some time in the future, which should be possible since these are diapausing.
Although they are diapausing, these pupae squirm intensely when making contact with them!
Albany, California Updates (9/27/17-9/30/17): Manduca sexta Prepupae and Mysterious Black Form Larva
Back in Albany, our Carolina sphinx moth (Manduca sexta) larva are becoming prepupa and a mysterious black form larva has appeared.
On September 27, our mother sent us these two pictures our the Manduca larvae. The first of the largest last instar larvae asking how close we would say they are to pupating (they seem to be quite close) and the other of a newly molted fifth instar that, for some reason, has a black body. The first thing that we would normally think when larva turn black, especially in sphingids, is that they are diseased, typically with a bacterial infection that kills them within a day or two after the color change. However, she told us that the larva only turned black after the molt and was behaving normally, crawling around and eating. . .
With some research, we have found a study that describes a sex-linked mutation in Manduca sexta (affects females more) that causes the cuticle to turn black but not the schlerotized portions, just like this larva. Because we bought the original eggs from a farm that probably heavily inbreeds them, it definitely could be possible that this is what we have. And now that we think about it, in last time's rearing, we did notice that that one of our larva was very melanized (perhaps abnormally so). This was the oldest larva that turned out to be a very small female, which again aligns with the study that indicates that mutants are fast growing and small.
However, on September 30, our mother sent us a follow up informing us that some of the larvae had become prepupa but also that the black larva now appears to be dead. The scherotized portions are now completely black, making it look like disease, so perhaps we were wrong about it being a mutant after all.
Albany, California Updates (9/18/17): Samia ricini Egg Hatchlings; Actias luna Update; Manduca sexta Larva; Papilio zelicaon Pupae
Back in Albany, our eri silkmoth (Samia ricini) eggs have begun to hatch, luna moth (Actias luna) eggs have proven infertile, Carolina sphinx moth (Manduca sexta) rearing continues, and anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) rearing finishes.
It's been a while since we have received updates from our mother about the ongoing rearing projects, but today she sent us pictures of several of the species.
The ricini's have finally begun to hatch, just short of two weeks since they were laid which is quite fast compared to previous rearings. This is probably because of the intense heat Albany is experiencing these days, with the temperatures hitting record high 80's and 90's °F at some point around the time during and after these were laid. Bear in mind that even 80 °F is a rare occurrence any time of year there.
As for the Manduca's, our tells us that there aren't as many left as she had hoped there would be. She only ever obtained one pairing and got about 70 eggs out of that and there are apparently much less than that now. Based on last time's rearing when we did it ourselves, this species can be troublesome in the first two instars because they are so small (proportional to how big the full grown larvae and the moths are) and thin-skinned such that accidental deaths and desiccation is common. It is hard to see in the picture, but I would say that they are mostly third and fourth instars in there already. Again, this is surprisingly fast considering that the eggs were laid on September 2, even for this species, and probably has to do with the extreme heat.
The luna (Actias luna) eggs were also laid on the 2nd and still have not hatched. When she told us this, we suspected that they may be infertile and these new photos confirm that. None of us know what exactly went wrong given that we know for a fact that at least one pairing occurred. These moths were second generation inbred (perhaps more if they were inbred before we received the original eggs), so that might have something to do with it? It seems somewhat doubtful though, but we really don't have any other explanations right now.
Finally, we have the zelicaon. It has been a long and messy ride with these with us making massive hand-pairings right and leaving a small plant in our front yard clobbered in hundreds of eggs right before we left. A good chunk of these eggs and resulting larva were clearly lost or killed somehow in the process (which is somewhat to be expected when rearing in bulk in an outdoor cage that doesn't provide complete protection from enemies) as she informed us a while ago that she only counted 80 or so larva of different sizes. Along the way, she also found a few wild larva and eggs scattered around our fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) plants, which makes the rearing even messier. At some point, we told her to take all the larva inside to try to minimize losses (especially when they are ready to pupate) and to try to get them to diapause with darkness. After all of this, it was a big relief when she told us that most of them had pupated and sent us this picture showing that a good enough amount of them had made it and that almost all of them were light tan (diapausing). When we asked her what she did to get them to diapause, she told us that she reared the larva in opaque tubs but put that she did it completely outside, opening the lids in the morning (around 8-9 AM) but making sure to put them in a shaded location as not to let them burn out from the sun. From this, we can only assume that the natural conditions of this time of year are probably enough to cue most larva into diapausing which is why this worked.
After a few more of our Carolina sphinx moths (Manduca sexta) eclosed back in Albany, California, our mother successfully created a pairing. Stock originated as eggs, June 2017.
Our Manduca's back at home started emerging a few days ago on August 29; our mother has been keeping us updated ever since. She reported that three more emerged the following morning on the 30th. Although she pinned the first one, she set the other three outside in the cage picture above outside at our request. We figured that if these are like other sphinx, a natural pairing in a large outdoor flight cage would probably be the best way to go. The next day, she put in more newly emerged moths into the cage, but there were no pairings. It not until the second night on August 31 that a pairing was finally obtained which is shown in the picture above. Based on our conversation, I don't think that she even fed the moths at any point so far, but that should be fine for the first few days and it certainly didn't stop them from pairing!
When our mother checked on the pairing on the morning (probably somewhere between 8-9 AM) after it occurred, the participants had already broken up. She couldn't tell which female was the one that had paired, so she took them all inside into a container with a branch of tomato. According to her, about 20-30 eggs were laid that night (September 1), scattered haphazardly and not all on the plant, although we are not sure to what extent the plant is even necessary for these crazy things. Sometime later on the next day (September 2), she changed her estimate to 50 eggs, but we don't know whether she miscounted at first or the moth laid more eggs during the day. On a side note, the weather in Albany are hitting record highs this week in the 90's and 100's ° F; we don't know if this could have had any influence on the breeding process.
Back in Albany, our Carolina sphinx moths (Manduca sexta) have begun to eclose. Stock originated as eggs, June 2017.
We had all but forgotten about our Manduca pupae after coming to Ithaca, so we were caught off guard when we received reports today that one of them has already eclosed. We were actually aware, though, that they would eclose sometime now; in the last few days before we left when we checked on them one last time and realized that some of them were already showing signs of development (such as darkening of the eye and solidification of the wing pads). These pupated between July 27 and August 7, so the timing is reasonable too. In hindsight, we should have tried to get these all to diapause given the inconvenience of having them eclose 10,000 miles away so close to the end of the season, especially because our tomato plants are on their last leg. With this species, it probably would have also been very easy to accomplish this with a simple photoperiod trick.
Ultimately, the biggest loss with having them emerge now though is that we don't get to see them. We have little experience with this group of sphinx, so it would have been a very valuable opportunity to learn how to feed and breed them and become familiar with their behavior. Because they are such a common laboratory reared species, we assume that they are easy to pair and lay eggs, so for now we have asked our mother to hold off on pinning them all and to leave a few to try to breed. Hopefully we will still be able to gain some insight on the subject when she reports back over the next few days.
Ithaca, New York
This timeline is a series of daily posts recording our observations and experiences with various insects around the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York, starting from the time we moved here in 2017. As this is a personal blog, we try to keep collections for our entomology course work to a minimum, and mainly focus on just the species we catch and raise for our own fun and interest. Posts prior to this time can be viewed at Timeline 2012-2017: Albany, California.
January 2018 (1)
December 2017 (8)
November 2017 (1)
October 2017 (5)
September 2017 (25)
August 2017 (18)
Full Species List
(Alphabetical by scientific name)
* New York nonnative/resident
** New York nonnative/nonresident
*** Albany update
Papilio polyxenes asterius × Papilio zelicaon***
Full Species List
(Alphabetical by scientific name)
* New York nonnative/resident
** New York nonnative/nonresident
*** Albany update
Butterflies & Moths
Common checkerspot skipper***
Great spangled fritillary
Milkweed tussock moth
Salt marsh moth
Virginia creeper sphinx
Western tiger swallowtail***
White-marked tussock moth
Butterfly & Moth Hybrids
Black swallowtail × anise swallowtail***
Grasshoppers, Katydids, & Crickets
Carolina band-winged grasshopper
Lesser meadow katydid
Sword-bearing conehead katydid
Two-spotted tree cricket
Cornell Botanic Gardens
Mundy Wildflower Garden
Albany, California Updates