While collecting on the Monkey Run Trail here in Ithaca, NY, we found a Virginia creeper sphinx (Darapsa myron) fourth instar larva on grapevine (Vitis).
We finally find our first sphinx in Ithaca - the Virginia creeper sphinx, Darapsa myron, supposedly one of the most common sphinx moths around here. Unlike back at home where there was literally only a single sphinx you could actually find (Smerinthus ophthalmica), there are probably over a dozen of them here. At least four or five of them (all Macroglossinae of course) feed on grape and related vines. It all makes since now that we've explored this place why there are so many grape feeders here - the vines grow wildly all over the place unlike back home in Albany, California where there were only cultivated grapes grown in gardens. Up until now, though, we hadn't found any larvae on the many grape and Virginia creepers around campus and many have minimal feeding damage.
Finally, today while collecting on the Monkey Run Trail (as part of the lab for our entomology class), we walked through a forested area and came across a large but not particularly succulent grapevine. At first we hardly bothered checking it since we were losing hope after having already checked many vines with no result, but when we flipped open one of the leaves, there sitting right in the center of it was a stunning fourth instar Darapsa myron larva preparing to molt. It was an incredible find for us, especially since it was the first time seeing this species.
The larva is a granulated bright green with two faint yellow dorsal stripes and transverse lateral stripes - a pretty typical patterning for many sphinx larvae. The caudal horn is well developed unlike in some similar grape feeders such as Eumorpha pandorus and Sphecodina abbottii, but like these species and many Macroglossinae sphinx, the thorax is plump and enlarged, allowing the larva to retract its head into it. Perhaps the most unique marking of the larva are the row of red and yellow spots on the dorsum. As far as size goes, this species is a small one. This larva at fourth instar is only about 2 cm and thus probably won't get too large in the final instar. Big or small, though, this is still a great species that we're very fortunate to have found.
Rearing notes for our silver spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) larvae. Originally found as larvae on black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) in Ithaca, New York.
Rearing Notes 8/24/17-8/30/17:
We found a colony of milkweed tussock (Euchaetes egle) larvae on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) at Mundy Wildflower Garden in Ithaca, New York.
Ever since coming to Ithaca, New York, we have noticed that this place has a lot of tussock moths (Arctiidae). They seem to be the only moth larvae we can find around here and we have seen perhaps half a dozen different species already. We don't usually bother to collect, sometimes because they are off the host plant and we wouldn't know what to feed them and other times because we are just too lazy due to how busy we are in real life these days.
With that said, we did decide to take home a colony of milkweed tussock (Euchaetes egle) larvae from Mundy Wildflower Garden today. The larvae, of course, are gregarious. We found them tightly packed together on the undersides of two or three common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) leaves located in a shady area inside the forest trail in apolysis. Several of them had actually crawled off the host plant to molt as well.
Like all of the Arctiidae we have seen so far, these milkweed tussocks are highly mobile, which is typically an adaptation to find host plant in cases where it would make sense. They are probably used to stripping through milkweed plants which can be quite small and are thus prepared to find more if needed.
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.
Today we found a whopping three dozen giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) eggs scattered among several rue (Ruta graveolens) plants at the Cornell Botanic Gardens.
It has been two days since we last visited the Cornell Botanic Gardens. We spent the weekend exploring other locations, thinking that we might have better luck finding new things since we have already been to the gardens many times since coming to Ithaca. When we came back for a brief checkup late this afternoon, we didn't really have high hopes for finding much, especially because it was not sunny and it had not been sunny in the previous days either.
We were thoroughly surprised when we found several rue (Ruta graveolens) plants that were clobbered in Papilio cresphontes eggs. Almost all of them look to fresh, and because we check the plants carefully every time we have ever been to the garden, it was quite apparent that some female(s) for some reason just decided to let herself go and spilled everything. This pattern of abrupt egg laying, while probably holds true to some extent in many swallowtails and other species, is actually quite interesting based on our experience with female cresphontes. The things don't emerge with a single matured egg in them (after that it seem to take ages to build the eggs up) and when skinny wild-caught females are put to work, they never lay or show any behavior indicating a desire to lay. In the wild, the females probably nectar for many days before they finally decide to fulfill their duty, which can explain what we saw. It just so happens that there weren't that many rue plants and the plants themselves are very small (relative to tree hosts), both of which are ideal conditions to seal the deal for finding eggs in large numbers. Keep in mind that although we alone have seen or captured several females over multiple days in this area and the cresphontes flight is at a peak at this time of year in New York, this is our first time in ten days of looking that we have seen something like this.
The eggs were consistently laid at the periphery of the plant, much like P. zelicaon and parsley (Petroselinum) (which has very similarly shaped leaves as rue). Also, most of the eggs seem to be laid on the bottom half of the plant, in what can be considered more hidden locations. Every single one was laid on the upper side of the leaf, which is typical of swallowtails. Like Battus philenor eggs, the grainy substance on the cresphontes eggs doesn't seem to give them a very good stick (at least on rue leaves) because a lot of the eggs fell off as or after they were collected.
After locating spicebush (Lindera benzoin) at the Mundy Wildflower Garden (Ithaca, New York) for the purposes of finding Papilio troilus larvae, we inadvertently stumbled across promethea silkmoth (Callosamia promethea) cocoons on them!
We had originally gone out today intending on collecting some spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) larvae at the Mundy Wildflower Garden, which is one of the few places around with lots of spicebush plants (Lindera benzoin). It took us a little while to find our very first troilus larvae, but the excitement didn't stop there, as we stumbled across six promethea silkmoth (Callosamia promethea) cocoons hanging from the spicebushes!
Despite that we have reared most of the North American Saturniids in captivity, we have never seen a wild cocoon in our lives. Back on the west there were only two species, Antheraea polyphemus and Hyalophora euryalus, but they appeared to be absent or extremely rare in our specific area, especially the latter one. Here on the east, we now have a strong representation of this family - there should probably be at least six or seven species. It's a complete shock to us that you can find cocoons simply hanging from a plant here so easily. the leaves haven't even fallen from the deciduous trees yet and the cocoons were still quite conspicuous due to the curling of the leaves and brown silk.
All six cocoons were directly on the spicebush plants, which was clearly the larval host, but one of them was empty and looked very old and faded (perhaps last year's assuming they are univoltine here in the north?). The leaves of some of the cocoons had already wilted and died, but the cocoons were still firmly fixed to the branch due to the shiny brown peduncle at the top of the cocoons, which are meant to hold to cocoons on throughout the winter. Though there were dozens of spicebushes along the trail, the cocoons were all located quite close to each other, suggesting they are siblings. It's interesting to note the choice of host here as promethea is a polyphagous species, feeding on mostly fragrant deciduous trees. Like most polyphagous Saturniids though, it is likely a regional specialist meaning it specializes on only a few hosts per region, and spicebush is probably a preferred hosts here.
After taking the cocoons home, we cut off most of the excess leaves and branches stuck to the cocoons, but left some on just to keep the natural look. We did a rough weighing (not accurate, though, since there was still plant material stuck to them), and they seemed all fairly large and healthy in size. Parasitized or diseased cocoon should usually be small and light, though ther's no gauruntee these aren't..
We have finally found a good source of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) trees; we also able found spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) larvae on these trees.
When we first visited the Cornell Botanic Garden about a week ago on August 21, we were perplexed to find a female spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) sucking nectar near the entrance but no spicebush (Lindera benzoin) or other host plant anywhere in the garden. Although the online plant database for the Cornell Botanic Garden lists spicebush very close to the section that we visited, it appeared that the online map and the map at the actual garden were not quite the same (the former is probably outdated) and we were unable to find the spicebush that is supposedly there. To make extra sure, we eventually asked a garden employee who confirmed that there was indeed no spicebush at this part but that there was spicebush at a far away (well, by that we mean by foot) arbetorium.
Yesterday, we spent the entire afternoon trying to get to the arboretum, but ended up taking a few wrong turns that made the trip so unnecessarily long that by the time we ended up at some form of an entrance, it was late in the day and we were very tired. We still took a brief look at some of the trees there, but we were only able to find some Prunus species, Japanese corktree (Phellodendron japonicum) (this is Rutaceae, but doubtful that Papilio cresphontes utilizes it; even if it does, the tree was far too large to search), and some other irrelevant things. The arboretum is actually a very enormous place, so we figured we would need to use the online database if we were to ever find anything specific, assuming that the database is still mostly accurate.
Today, we walked to the same entrance we were before, but turned to the right side of the street in accordance to the database to a section called the Mundy Wildflower Garden which we quickly realized was chalk full of spicebush trees (perhaps that is an exaggeration. . . there were probably only a little more than a dozen or so). There were large and small trees, some with mounds of fruit, that were growing in all types of different locations; some were in the shade, some in the sun, and some were isolated by themselves. At some point we saw a Papilio troilus adult fly by, which reassured us that the Papilio troilus population was real (that the female from before was not some kind of fluke) and that they were actually utilizing these spicebush trees. However, it took us almost an hour of checking the trees before we found our first larva, which was a second instar hidden in a tightly rolled up characteristic leaf nest on a very young, isolated tree in open sun. We simply had not developed an eye for these nests, but after finding this first larva we were very quickly able to locate a second one, this time a third instar, on a different small tree located in the shade. There also happened to be a huge sassafras (Sassafras) in the garden, but because it was so large and tall, we were not able to check it thoroughly and did not find anything on it. We were surprised that we were not able to find more larvae or any eggs, but that may be because the season is coming to an end; certainly, this is constitutes the last flight and the last brood of the year.
As this is our first time seeing Papilio troilus larvae in real life, we can't help but be bewildered by their appearance. While a lot of other immature swallowtail larvae are smooth and shiny, these larvae are especially so, giving off a slick, glossy sheen in light. They, of course, are bird dropping mimics with the orangish brown base color and white saddle and rear end but they also already have large black eyespots on their thorax. They have light orange head capsules, a yellow orange osmeterium, and the two rows of dorsal abdominal spots can already be seen. The glaucus group larvae do not get noticeable eyespots or abdominal spots until the third instar, are darker in base color, tend to have a lot more white, and have dark colored head capsules, making it seem like the troilus are ahead of the game in abandoning the bird dropping appearance for snake mimicry. The troilus also have a much more smooth coloration (not at all mottled) and the thorax is wide and flat rather than just a thick ball as in the glaucus group, a feature that will become much more obvious in later instars. In many ways, from the leaf nests to the almost comical appearance, the troilus larvae can be seen as a more extreme version of glaucus group larvae.
The troilus larvae eat in a strange fashion. For most of the day, they obviously rest inside their leaf nest, but when they are hungry, they crawl out and make messy, sometimes tunnel-like holes starting from the place that they cut out the leaf for the nest. Much of their frass is contained inside the nest.
After bring them home, we had to disturb them out of their nests in order to change out the leaves for fresher ones, which is very stressful for the larvae that seem to have a very hard time re-making the nest. Instead, we have found that the larvae like to wonder off the leaf and onto the side of the container to rest, which is the same behavior we saw in P. rutulus.
Albany, California Updates (8/26/17-8/27/17): Actias luna Eclosions; Papilio zelicaon Updates; Pyrgus communis Prepupa
Back in Albany, our luna moths (Actias luna) have begun to eclose, anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) rearing continues, and checkerspot skipper (Pyrgus communis) larva has become a prepupa.
Today, we got some exciting yet unsettling news that two lunas (Actias luna), a male and a female, have emerged back at home. When we reared these, we had put a great deal of effort into controlling the amount of daylight they received, making sure to keep them in a dark tub for at least 12 hours a day in order to increase the chances that would diapause. (Of course, the set up wasn't perfect as we were not always consistent about it and there are still many factors that might make it different that what they naturally experience that would cue diapause. For example, a diminishing photoperiod may have helped.) Even at the time, though, we had a bad feeling that not many of them cooperated, seeing as only a handful of the cocoons were the course and dark brown as they should be if they are diapausing. Because this is such an inconvenient time for them to be breeding and we would feel pretty terrible about making our mother deal with them, we decided the best thing to do for now is to get one pairing just to keep the line going and then pin the rest.
As for our Papilio zelicaon, the last few are still eclosing and our mother is trying her best to hand-pair them. She reportedly already paired a male polyxenes with a female zelicaon, but it has not begun to lay yet. The several hundred pure zelicaon eggs that we already had in the cage from the mass pairings we did before we left are making progress, but according to our mother, there are only about 80 or so caterpillars. Mysterious losses always seem to be high when rearing outdoors, even with a screen cage to protect them. . . She also found eight random caterpillars on a different fennel in our yard that we must have overlooked when we were there.
Rearing notes for our giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) larvae. Originally found as larvae on rue (Ruta graveolens) in Ithaca, New York.
Rearing notes 8/22/17-8/26/17:
After finding our first silver spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) larva yesterday, we went on another collecting trip and collected many more, among other lepidoptera.
Having figured out that the silver spotted sipper larvae can be found on the locust around here, we ventured out to Beebe Lake again today to find more. We made our way to the sunny part of the trail with locust that we were at yesterday and began searching for nests. At first we had trouble finding them, but eventually began finding a few. Soon after, we began to get good at spotting them and started finding them in large quantities - we had no idea they were so common!
Each plant had several larvae, usually of all different sizes, but mostly on the larger size (mostly fourth and fifth instars). The largest larvae we found we full grown fifth instars, which were absolutely enormous compared to other skipper larvae we have reared, weighing 1.3 g and over an inch long in length. The shelters of these giants were covered in silk, and practically looked like cocoons. We also found some quite small ones, one of which looked like a first instar with an empty egg shell nearby. The smaller larvae construct nests by cutting out a square of leaf (but not clipping it off completely) and folding it over themselves with a few thick strands of silk. We probably found about two dozen by the time we left the locust and moved on.
As we continued on the trail, we caught plenty of different interesting insects we had never seen at home (not that there really were any insects back there), mostly the common grasshoppers, some colorful beetles and true bugs, a few damselflies, and of course a storm of heminopterans at the flowers. As for lepidoptera, we mostly just saw cabbage whites and skippers (just like home), but as there was a lot of milkweed among the wildflowers, we did spot a full grown fifth instar. Unlike home where the only milkweed you ever see is the introduced tropical varieties (A. curassavica or tuberosa) in people's gardens, the milkweed here is native and common in natural areas. We've also noticed that monarchs here don't seem to be quite the same as the ones back home - there seems to be more variation in the size of the butterflies we've seen, and in general they seem smaller. The larva we found today looks a day or two from pupation and it is probably only two thirds the size of the ones back home (though if it is parasitized, that could explain it).
Near the end of the trail, we spotted a large Arctiid larva crawling rapidly across the gravel. It looked about and inch and a half long and was covered in long orange hairs. We didn't know what species it was at first, but after collecting it and taking a closer look, it appeared to be the larva of the salt marsh moth (Estigmene acrea), a species we had encountered back home as well. It was most likely crawling rapidly along the ground in search of food (they're extremely polyphagous).
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.
June 2018 (2)
May 2018 (15)
April 2018 (2)
January 2018 (2)
December 2017 (8)
November 2017 (1)
October 2017 (5)
September 2017 (25)
August 2017 (18)
Full Species List
(Alphabetical by scientific name)
Papilio polyxenes asterius × Papilio zelicaon
Full Species List
(Alphabetical by scientific name)
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