We have returned to Albany, California from Ithaca, New York as per Cornell University's winter closing, giving us a chance to see the preseved hybrid ♀ Papilio polyxenes × ♂ zelicaon that eclosed while we were in Ithaca.
In a post from last August (Albany Updates (8/23/17): ♀ Papilio polyxenes × ♂ zelicaon Adult Male), we mentioned how one of our hybrid pupae had eclosed back in Albany, California while our family was in Ithaca, New York. By the time our mother got home (of course, we stayed in Ithaca), the butterfly was evidently already beat itself up quite a bit based on photographs of the live specimen that our mother sent. But since we obviously did not want to opportunity to see this unique specimen go waste, we had our mother do the best she could to preserve it via pinning. She is nowhere near an experienced pinner, but her work is good enough so that we can more or less see everything on the butterfly.
Below are the photographs of the front and back of this male hybrid.
For some perspective, we also took shots of the hybrid next to pinned male P. polyxenes asterius and female P. zelicaon (wing pattern sexual dimorphism not too significant in zelicaon, so should be an okay comparison).
At first glance, the hybrid may resemble the polyxenes more, simply because of the blackness. However, it should not take long to realize how it appears to be more or less a perfect intermediate of the two species.
Return to Albany, California (Winter Break 2017-2018): Papilio zelicaon; Battus philenor hirsuta; Smerinthus opthalmica
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.
Although we have generally been unimpressed by the insect diversity in the Bay Area, it is hard to deny that we are concerned about the loss of stock of a few major species that we did have access to in Albany, California and not in Ithaca, New York. As of this winter break, we still maintain a decent number of wetern tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) pupae, reared from the summer, as described in this recent post; these are probably the most important considering how difficult it already would be to maintain a stock of them even if did not have to leave to Ithaca. As for the other native species, we still have a handful of anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) pupae reared or collected by our mother while we were in Ithaca, a fair number of pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor hirsuta) pupae from larvae reared in summer, and a large number of Smerinthus opthalmica pupae also from larvae reared in the summer.
It is especially important that we maintain this stock of anise because they are something that we could conceivably rear in Ithaca and would be very difficult to obtain otherwise (from other breeders). Further, if we encounter P. polyxenes asterius at some point in Ithaca, it would be a grand opportunity to conduct further experiments between the two, including hybridization. The main problem right now is that, at least historically and when reared in captivity, this local stock has proven to be quite poor in the execution of the winter diapause. Already we have thrown away a significant number of dead pupae while inspecting them today and can expect their numbers to continue to steadily decline before a chaotic emergence sometime in the spring. In fact, we have never had a huge success with breeding these from overwintering pupae and have always much more on collecting eggs as they appear in the wild in order to reinvigorate the colony. Nevertheless, the pupae that we have now are certainly better than nothing and if worst comes to worst, we can ask or mother to collect eggs for us as we still have fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) growing in our yard in Albany.
The pipevine pupae arguably suffer an even higher diapause mortality rate (and losses from stray emergences) than the anise since most of them already enter diapause very early in the year. Less than half of what we initially had in June have made it to this winter break. The good thing is that, although they are one of the few species truly unique to our time in Albany (most other species at least have a regional counterpart in Ithaca), our hopes of breeding these was never high, so we will not concern ourselves too much with them. In the past, we have never been able to get the females to lay eggs in captivity, and even if we somehow managed to do it, we do not have easy access to live pipevine (Aristolochia spp.) plants in Albany or Ithaca. Even if we were to stay in Albany, the most logical thing to do if we really did want to continue rearing them would be to just collect a fresh stock of them come Spring where the eggs and larvae are extremely easy to find in big numbers; the same cannot be said of the eggs and larvae of the other native species mentioned in this post.
The opthalmica, like the rutulus and anise, are very important. Not only are they the easiest of the three to breed, both in Albany and in Ithaca, we also have the largest number of them (200+), even after finding a few dead ones and one that had been fed on by some sort of flesh-eating fly larvae (presumably not parasites). We can afford to make mistakes with these so we are considering risk-splitting them with several treatments: some we will overwinter in the refrigerator, some we will keep outside, and some we might bring over to Ithaca.
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.
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.
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 (17)
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