One of our Cerisyi's sphinx (Smerinthus cerisyi) pupae has eclosed into a male. These originated from Colorado.
The male Smerinthus cerisyi eclosed this morning and is in perfect shape. Now all we have to wait for is the female to eclose tomorrow or the day after and we'll have a pairing. Below are pictures of the male cerisyi, which greatly resembles S. ophthalmica, though differences are apparent.
The differences between the male Smerinthus cerisyi and our west coast S. ophthalmica suddenly became quite obvious now that we have seen both with our own eyes. The sources and photos we have looked at are correct - the cerisyi's wings are more jagged along the lateral edges and the veins are paler and thus much more contrasting. This makes the ophthalmicas appear much more "smooth" in comparison. Also, this male cerisyi's antennae are proportionately large relative to the body. The abdomen tip where the genitalia is located doesn't look quite the same shape either. And, the most apparent difference (though hard to tell from the photo), is the large size difference between the wings and abdomen of cerisyi and ophthalmica. Their thoraxes and heads are actually about the same size, but this cerisyi's abdomen is smaller, and the wings are significantly shorter, with a forewing length of just 3.1 cm compared to our ophthalmica's 4.2 cm. The cerisyi's eyespots also seems to have more black around them and the pink is darker.
As far as behavioral differences, the cerisyi seems to be a much more quicker and urgent flyer, flying about all over our room the second it got dark unlike our ophthalmicas which were much more heavy weight and beat their wings more slowly. The cerisyi also reveals its eyespots when prodded on the head just like the ophtahlmicas, but in addition to the eyespot revealing, the moth also shakes its body up and down (not the vibration right before it takes flight), and holds the wings up at an angle.
Below is a comparison between S. cerisyi and S. ophthalmica.
Row 1: S. cerisyi male; Row 2: S. ophthalmica male; Row 3: S. ophthalmica female.
One of our one-eyed sphinx (Smerinthus cerisyi) pupa is near eclosion.
A few weeks ago we received four Smerinthus cerisyi pupa, three male and one female. One of the males got moldy and died within the first few days which we suspect may have already been dead upon arrival as it was a dark and slightly dried up looking. However, the other three have remained nice and healthy and today the larger of the two males began to show wing patterns, meaning it is close to eclosion. Unlike our S. ophthalmica pupae which have a much darker, almost jet black cuticle which makes it impossible to see wing pattern development, these ceriyis are a much lighter reddish brown, making the black wavy like pattern clearly visible on the wings. The abdomen of the pupa also feels much looser as the segments move around much more easily when gently pulled from side to side. The moth will probably come out within the next few days and we'll be waiting on the female pupa.
We have collected our first anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) eggs of the year.
Well, looks like the warm weather has really done it. Despite that this winter was one of the coldest and wettest in a long time, it just recently began to warm up in the past few days (20-25 °), which has caused a lot of butterflies to start showing up around here. A few days ago we saw an anise swallowtail fly by, yesterday a gulf fritillary showed up to lay eggs, this noon we saw what we thought could've been a pipevine swallowtail fly over head, and late this afternoon we strolled by our fennel and they were covered in anise eggs. Wow. That is a lot of stuff that came out of the blue overnight. In fact, these anise eggs are some of the earliest we've collected in the past few years. Last year, we didn't finding any on our fennel until early April, but this year it is only March.
Anyway, we rounded up the little pale yellow balls which were mostly laid on the biggest, isolated plant in the front, and put them in a petri dish. There were a bit over a dozen when we were finished which is not bad at all for just one sitting this early in the season. We'll probably be able to start up our anise business again soon if we're able to get these eggs to adult and hand-pair them to obtain eggs.
We have received ceanothus silkmoth (Hyalophora euryalus) eggs of northern California origin.
Ah yes, Hyalophora euryalus - the pride of the Pacific coast when it comes to Saturniidae. This large red moth is one of the largest in North America and a close relative to the better known eastern cecropia moth (H. cecropia). We've always wanted to rear and breed this species since we were little. Last summer we managed to get a handful of eggs to try, but since this species is a very disease prone and challenging species to rear, they all died off in the third or fourth instar. Several factors likely caused us to be unsuccessful, the main culprits probably being the lack of airflow due to indoor closed container rearing, and the overly high humidity which we discussed in this post.
Well, this year we have received another batch Hyalophora euryalus eggs and we have high hopes for our second rearing attempt for a number of reasons. First off, we will be rearing the larvae much earlier in the season than last year, about the same time that wild populations would be breeding around here. Thus, weather conditions couldn't be more favorable. Also, these euryalus originated from a local source not too far from our home, and thus they are well adapted to living in our exact climate and area. These two factors alone should hopefully boost our chances at least a bit for this tricky species.
We have also learned from our mistakes in the past, which should definitely help us out this year. Although outdoor sleeve rearing would be ideal, we do not have any hosts on our property so we will probably be forced to rear indoors again this year unless we get a potted host. But, this time we will make sure to give them some good ventilation in their containers by giving this screen lids and possibly putting them by a window. We'll also make sure to keep the humidity down but make sure the food stays fresh. This should minimize the risk of disease. Finally, we might experiment with new hosts this year that the larvae may do better on. Last year we just used the standard ceanothus (Ceanothus) which is extremely common here in California, and is a common wild host for the moth. However, the cuttings wilt quite quickly and the leaves usually get covered in mildew or are in poor quality as the season drags on. Thus, we might try willow (Salix) this year which is also common around here, but unlike ceanothus, will store well when placed in water and always has very vigorous, high quality foliage all season. We might also consider Prunus as it is a good host in general for Hyalophora, but it doesn't seem to be as commonly used by euryalus in the wild as other hosts. If we could find some around here, we could also consider madrone (Arbutus) or manzanita (Arctostaphylos), but we probably won't be able to.
Anyway, here are the eggs below. They are quite large and oval like other Attacini eggs. The ground color is a tannish off-white mottled messily in brown, probably both as a pattern of the shell and from the adhesive secreted by the moth. Interestingly, they don't look quite the same as the ones from last year, which had a darker ground color, were a more purplish shade of brown, and had less messy, crisper mottling. It is likely due to the differences in the strains' geographical origins.
A gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) visited our potted passion vine (Passiflora sp.) and began ovipositing on it.
Right as we returned from school, a medium sized butterfly flew right over our heads as we walked into our yard. A few moments later, it swooped back down and began circling our potted passion vine - it could've only been a gulf fritillary. Despite being a recently established species in California, the gulf fritillary has made it relatively short presence well known, as it is one of the most common butterflies in our locality. It is a member of the Heliconiinae, belonging to the tribe as the the well-known Central and South American longwings (Heliconius) that all utilize Passiflora as the sole larval host. Thus, we knew for certain that the butterfly was here to lay eggs on our passion vine.
We watched it for a moment as it landed and curled its abdomen to oviposit, then flew over to our lilac flowers to take a sip, and then flew back to our passion vine for more laying. In order to obtain a good number of eggs, we quickly caged the butterfly around the potted plant. Since it had not yet been acclimated to captivity yet, it flew about wildly for the remainder of the afternoon trying to escape and only laid a few more eggs on the screen of the cage. The total number of eggs including those and the ones laid on the plant was less than a dozen, but it was a good start. When evening came, we took the butterfly in and gave a good sip of honey-water solution, sealed it in a zip-lock bag, and placed it in a dark cabinet to acclimate it to captivity. We plan on keeping it at least for a few days in order to get a decent amount of eggs which we will rear directly on the potted passion vine.
It really took us by surprise to see this butterfly show up so abruptly at our doorsteps at this time of year as we usually have to go out to the Ohlone Greenway passion vines in summer and spend a long time to net them. It must be one of the first in flight this year, and one of the first butterflies to be in flight around here in general. It just recently began to warm up around here (20-25°C), so the higher temperatures will definitely cause a lot of butterflies to start showing up soon.
Because the seasonality of insects is ecologically linked with the seasonality of plants, we record prevernal plant growth to estimate when to expect certain insects and grow and familiarize ourselves with useful Lepidoptera host plants.
We have obtained a new strain of eri silkmoth (Samia ricini) eggs.
This was rather unexpected, but this week a very generous breeder of Samia ricini offered us some eggs since they had more than they could rear. Although we already have our own stock of Samia ricini, we took the kind offer anyway in order to add genetic diversity to our stock and to see any differences between the strains, since Samia species can sometimes be quite variable depending on their origin.
Well, when the eggs arrived, we moved them to a small petri dish and just from the naked eye they look more or less the same as the ones from our own stock, which is to be expected. However, enclosed with the package of eggs were also two very nice cocoon shells, and straight away we noticed quite a few differences between the silk texture and shape of the cocoons compared to ones from our old stock. First of all, the ones from the new stock are very large and thick, being noticeably more voluminous than even our largest cocoon. It's not so much that they are that much wider or longer, but they are more of a perfect egg-like shape rather than a flat tear-drop shape like ours, which gives them much more volume. The shells of the new cocoons are also much thicker and the silk used itself also seems much stronger and denser. In addition, the color of the new cocoons' silk is also a very pure shade of white, almost matching the paper color, while our old ones are a somewhat tannish off-white. It also amazes us how perfectly smooth and well-shaped the new cocoons are compared to our old ones which are mostly quite wrinkly and irregularly shaped, more closely resembling the cocoons of Samia cynthia.
We're not quite sure if all these differences between the cocoon shells of the two strains is attributed to genetics, or if the host plant they were reared on had a significant role. The new ones were reared on castor bean (Ricinus communis), Samia ricini's most preferred host plant, which we have never used. This might explain the new strain cocoon's superior size and silk quality. In fact, many studies out there have shown that larvae grow fastest, are less prone to disease, and produce the best quality cocoons when fed on castor bean. This could readily account for the differences we observed, but alternatively, the new strain could have also undergone much more intense selection for higher quality silk through the silk industry than our strain, which would also improve their cocoon size and silk quality. Whatever the case is, we'll rear both the old and new strains out this spring which should shed light on this topic. We'll also get to see the differences between the larvae and adults of the two strains, which should be at least as variable as the cocoons.
A very large anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) female eclosed today from a post-diapausing pupa.
This is the fifth of our Papilio zelicaon pupae to eclose this year. The first three were males, the fourth was a female, and this one is another female. The first four were all very small in size, eclosing from very small and lightweight pupae most likely saved from one of our final broods last year in which the individuals were small due to the unfavorable late season conditions. However, this one eclosed from an impressive sized green pupa probably saved from one of our large summer broods. The butterfly looks to be at least 20-30% larger looking than the previous four just by eyeballing it and is similar in size to the large summer brood individuals. Since it is beginning to warm up a bit and wild anise are probably about to break from their pupae as well, this one well probably have a more successful time finding a mate when released.
Our eri silkmoth (Samia ricini) pupae are very close to eclosion now.
About 40 days ago, the first of our winter Samia ricini brood larvae pupated. Since most Samia ricini strains probably rarely diapause due to domestication for commercial silk production, we didn't expect ours to either, even at around 13-18 °C. However, develop did take far longer than normally expected (would probably be only 3 weeks during summer temperatures). The two oldest pupae, (both males), were removed from their cocoons a few weeks ago to monitor develop, and now one is near pharate and the other is not far behind. The older one has black wings with very clear wing patterns and its eyes and limbs are all dark and developed. It should probably eclose in the next few days. The second to oldest one is almost as developed but still has brownish black wings.
Besides these two oldest ones, most all the other naked pupae extracted from their cocoons look slightly darker, especially around the eyes which are initial signs of development. Many of these are probably on their way to eclose within the next two weeks as well.
We have finally obtained a Smerinthus ophthalmica pairing and eggs!
At last, we finally did it! This morning when we checked our pairing cage, our captive raised Smerinthus ophthalmica female had paired with a wild male! When the female has first unexpectedly eclosed two days ago, we were almost certain we were about to loose this stock because it was probably a few weeks too early for the wild population to be in flight, and even if it was, the horrible weather this week would ruin any chance of pairings. Well, this fine looking determined male proved us wrong as it somehow found its way to our doorsteps. His appearance also confirms that the local flight has already begun.
We tried to get some good shots of the pairing while they were still hooked, but unfortunately, when we tried to move them onto a nice willow background, the female became irritated and separated from the male which also happened the last time we had a pairing when we tried to get a good shot. The separation at this point is completely harmless though, since the actual copulation had already finished long ago in the middle of the night, but we did loose a good shot!
Below we have the wild male, a very large grey form who looks freshly eclosed. The male's forewing length is 4.2 cm, the same as the female's, but it has a slightly larger thorax and head so perhaps in that sense you could say it's larger than the female. The males and females of this species are not very dimorphic - there are only a few subtle differences if examined closely. Mainly, the antennae are larger and pectinated, and the abdomen is much slimmer and curved upwards like a tail. Also, the wings are just slightly narrower and at rest, he angles them upwards posteriorly. Also, since Smerinthus ophthalmica adults are highly variable in color, it's hard to find two that look exactly alike. This male is much greyer (more melanic) than the female and the brown is much darker. In fact, when compared to the female, the female actually looks somewhat intermediate between a grey and brown form.
Okay - so back to the female. Immediately after splitting from the male, the female began to become frantic, flying around recklessly all over the room so we were forced to put it back in the container. However, about an hour later, we took it out again and placed it on some willow cuttings to take a photo with the male, but it became frantic again, but this time it began circling around the willow cutting and laying eggs on them! The way this moth oviposits seems very effortless; it hardly land or curls its abdomen - maybe for a split second - and out slips a flat shiny pale yellow egg.
It ended up laying 2-3 dozen on the leaves, mostly singly, but sometimes is larger clusters. When it got tired and uncooperative, we put it back in the container with willow cuttings and paper towels, and throughout the day it laid several more in there too, both on the cuttings and the paper towels. We didn't get an exact count (we will when she lays all her eggs), but it looked like at least 70-80 in there already. That means we already have about a hundred eggs on the first day, though the last female we had (the mother of the current one) only managed to lay this much before running out. So, the current female has probably laid over half of its eggs and will probably finish up in a day or two,
Finally, here are the shiny little eggs below. They are extremely smooth and are white the moment they are laid but quickly turn to a pale yellow after drying, There is a little bit of clear "glue" on the base sticking them to the substrate.
Overall, obtaining this pairing and eggs is extremely exciting for us since it was an incredibly rocky road to get here. The origin of this now thriving stock began with a single egg that we stumbled across by pure chance last June (we were actually looking for Papilio rutulus eggs then). At the time we didn't even know what species' egg we had found, but we kept it anyway and reared it out. It eclosed in late August and was very fortunately a female which allowed us a chance of pairing, but by the time a male came, the female had already deposited about a hundred infertile eggs. It laid just a single fertile egg after the pairing before dying. That single fertile egg was then reared into the fall and went into diapause, eclosing now as the current female (very lucky again to be female). The rest of the story is told above. Thus, finally having a successful pairing and oviposition is extremely fortunate and has been very long waited. We now have a nice batch of eggs ready to hatch in 7-10 days, meaning we'll have plenty of voracious green caterpillars in no time!
This timeline is a series of daily posts recording our observations on and experiences with various insects around our residence in Albany California, from 2012-2017. Starting in August 2017, we moved to Ithaca, New York; posts from there on can be viewed at Timeline 2017-present: Ithaca, New York.
August 2017 (49)
July 2017 (121)
June 2017 (79)
May 2017 (77)
April 2017 (91)
March 2017 (35)
February 2017 (12)
January 2017 (10)
December 2016 (12)
November 2016 (26)
October 2016 (49)
September 2016 (84)
August 2016 (94)
July 2016 (99)
June 2016 (53)
May 2016 (21)
April 2016 (4)
January 2016 (1)
August 2015 (3)
July 2015 (3)
June 2015 (2)
June 2014 (3)
May 2014 (1)
April 2014 (3)
March 2014 (3)
December 2013 (2)
November 2013 (2)
October 2013 (5)
September 2013 (11)
August 2013 (15)
July 2013 (9)
June 2013 (5)
May 2013 (4)
April 2013 (3)
March 2013 (2)
February 2013 (3)
January 2013 (2)
December 2012 (2)
November 2012 (1)
October 2012 (2)
September 2012 (2)
August 2012 (5)
July 2012 (1)
June 2012 (1)
Full Species List
(Alphabetical by scientific name)
* Bay Area nonnative/resident
** Bay Area nonnative/nonresident
Battus philenor hirsuta
Coenonympha tullia california
Langia zenzeroides formosana**
Orthosia hibisci quenquefasciata
Papilio machaon oregonius**
Papilio polyxenes asterius**
Samia cynthia advena**
Papilio glaucus** × Papilio rutulus
Papilio polyxenes asterius** × Papilio zelicaon
Araneae (Class: Arachnida)
Full Species List
(Alphabetical by common name)
* Bay Area nonnative/resident
** Bay Area nonnative/nonresident
Butterflies & Moths
African moon moth**
Cabbage looper moth
"California" pipevine swallowtail
Common checkerspot skipper
Eastern giant swallowtail**
Eastern tiger swallowtail**
Genista broom moth
Gray furcula moth
Indian tussar moth**
Peleides blue morpho**
Salt marsh moth
Speckled green fruitworm moth
Spotted tussock moth
"Taiwan" Saw-winged sphinx**
Yellow-edged giant owl**
West coast lady
Western giant swallowtail
Western tiger swallowtail
Western tussock moth
Butterfly & Moth Hybrids
Black swallowtail × anise swallowtail
Eastern tiger swallowtail× western tiger swallowtail
Grasshoppers, Katydids, & Crickets
Mexican bush katydid
Stick & Leaf Insects
Giant leaf insect**
Indian walking stick*
Ants, Bees, Wasps, & Sawflies
Black and white chalcid wasp
European paper wasp*
Pediobius chalcid wasp
Valley carpenter bee
Western honey bee*
Yellow-faced bumble bee
Common green bottle fly
Rough Stink Bug
Southern green stink bug*
Dragonflies & Damselflies
Convergent lady beetle
Seven-spotted lady beetle*
Spotted cucumber beetle
Western blood-red lady beetle
European garden spider*
Red-backed jumping spider