We have finally succeeded in getting Gulf Fritillaries (Augraulis vanillae) to mate in captivity after failing multiple times to hand-pair them!
Over the past few weeks, we have tried on multiple occasions to hand-pair Gulf Fritillaries (Augraulis vanillae) using newly emerged butterflies, old butterflies and wild caught males and nothing would work. It didn't matter how well fed they were either. The males seemed particularly eager to mate with the females when they were together, but when forcibly put in contact with he female's genitalia, the male would not do the work no matter how stimulated they were. He is supposed to work his claspers and grab on to a place between the female's hooks and ovipositor that appear when her abdomen is squished (the end unfolds and becomes inverted). Either the male was confused and uninterested or the female was rejecting him.
After failing so many times to pair them, we eventually decided to try something different today. Since the males normally seemed so willing to mate normally, we thought that perhaps they would mate readily in captivity if provided with enough space. By today, we had already accumulated a total of nine sibling butterflies born from the eggs laid by a wild caught female. The sex ratios were a bit skewed; there were two males, one which was a few days old and the other fresh and seven fresh females. This afternoon we put all nine into our Mexican Bush Katydid (Scuderria mexicana) enclosure that measures 2 x 2 x 4 feet with walls made of window screening.
When we first put them in, we witnessed what could have been courting behavior. The males would hover around and encircle the motionless females, some of which would wave her abdomen upward (this is actually probably a rejection pose though, since she is revealing her abdominal glands by doing this which release repellents!). In nature, the male is supposed to patrol for females and hover around them before landing next to her and using his pheromones by flapping his wings in rapid bursts to waft the perfume to the female's antennae. We aren't exactly sure whether this happened, but when we checked on them a while later, the older male had paired! They were still together four a few hours.
Gulf Fritillaries lay fairly large eggs for their size and therefore the females probably have relatively few eggs in their abdomen. But we can probably hope to squeeze out a good 100 or so eggs if our newly mated female lays most of hers. Of course, we are still hoping for some more pairings and might even go out to collect a few more wild males if new males don't emerge to help out.
Rearing notes for the massive brood of Anise Swallowtail caterpillars (Papilio zelicaon) propagated from dozens of captive hand-paired butterflies from 7/18/16-7/31/16.
Rearing Notes 7/18/16-7/31/16:
Today at Albany Hill, we discovered a colony of interesting looking true bugs (Hemiptera) of the Leptoglossus genus.
Identifying Hemiptera is a headache, especially for people who have never actually studied them like us. Here are some pictures of a colony of true bugs we found at Albany Hill on bramble (Rubus ursinus). They are definitely leaf-footed bugs (Coreidae) and are probably in the Leptoglossus genus, but the exact species we cannot determine.
We found a couple of nice looking eggs on Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) today at Albany Hill, but are having a hard time identifying them! So far we suspect a duskywing species (Erynnis), but there are several in our region that specialize on oaks.
Albany Hill is, without a question, Albany California's greatest landmark for wildlife. After all, the rest of the city is suburban; and yet, we have only investigated the place a few times since it is far from where we live. The few times that we have been there, we were collecting Western Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio rutulus). On those trips, we encountered several other lepidopteran species (well, butterflies since we have always gone in the day) such as the Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia), Monarch (Danaus plexippus), Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) and other Vanessas, Cabbage White (Pieris rapae), Umber Skipper (Poanes melane), Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus), among quite a few other smaller butterflies (mostly nymphalids and lycaenids).
Today, we decided to venture back to Albany Hill not with any of these particular species in mind; we would simply catch whatever we thought would be worth catching. Like many summer days in the East Bay, today was quite cool and cloudy, with the temperature in the mid 60's and humidity around 50% when we went out around 2 PM. This was not at all good weather to hunt for butterflies since most such diurnal insects are programmed to roost when day time weather is unfavorable like this, but there was a hint of sunlight earlier so we took our chances. When we arrived, we could not see a single flying insect in sight -- not one butterfly or even a damselfly which we saw dozens of on the other trips. It was a bad call.
Nonetheless, we stayed around just in case we should see something. We found a Monarch roosting in a tree that darted out when we came by because me must have startled it. We also caught a Fiery Skipper that we immediately released because we have no use of such a species. We actually spent the bulk of our stay investigating the vegetation for eggs or caterpillars. Since the part of Albany Hill we were at was bordering Cerrito Creek, it was an excellent riparian area dense with willow (Salix), a host of a ridiculous number of lepidopterans in our region including a few of those that we have encountered at the hill. Mixed in were also a lot of evergreen coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia), a much less popular host due to its divergence from its deciduous relatives (the foliage of many evergreen species, such as coast live oak, have evolved to be heavily defended against damage). None of the species we have encountered utilize it.
As we were searching, we found a single very young oak tree growing on the creek bed. It was a small tree and was actually putting on a substantial amount of new growth for this time during the season probably because the creek provided the necessary water (none of the trees growing away from the creek had any new growth whatsoever). There were several new, dark pink shoot tips. But that was not what initially interested in this plant; when we had first stepped upon it, we noticed a few fungal growths that we originally mistook for eggs (alas!). These fungal growths were more or less spherical, had a slight mottled appearance, could be easily detached from the leaf, and closely resembled some kind of Saturniid ova. However, when we looked closer, we realized that they could not possibly be eggs because they came in all different sizes, presumably because the smaller ones grow into the larger ones. Moreover, breaking them open did not yield any distinct egg shell or yolk piece at all; it was the same material all the way through the entire structure and it felt slightly rubbery rather than containing fluid.
As we were investigating these fungal growths, however, we noticed a bright yellow dot, conspicuously located on one of the pink new growths which would become the highlight of this trip. This time, it really was an egg, presumably lepidopteran. It was about the size of aVanessa egg, very spherical, and ribbed (shown below). Upon closer examination, we collected four more eggs, laid exclusively on the tender leaves of the new shoot tips. When we were leaving Albany Hill, we noticed another, much larger oak tree on the other side of the creek that was also putting on new growth and discovered two other eggs. One was blackened on one side and may be dead while the other one is a dark orange and is likely in a later developmental stage than the other bright yellow ones.
As discussed above, the evergreen coast live oak is a terrible host plant for most insects and it was the last tree at Albany Hill that we expected to find any eggs on. To defend against herbivory, this particular variety has incredibly tough and dry leaves adorned with spikes and seems quite indigestible. No wonder whatever laid the eggs has a preference for the tender new growths!
Upon returning, we flipped through our Lepidoptera field guides and did some quick internet searches to identify the eggs. Statistically speaking, most Lepidoptera found in the wild are moths as they constitute the majority of the order, but in this case we suspect a butterfly because the eggs were laid singly and strictly on new outer growing shoots which just doesn't seem very moth like (moths tend to be much more careless about where they lay eggs). So, we first looked at true butterflies (Papilionoidea), and the only few species in our region that specialize on oak are the California Sister (Adelpha californica) and a few random hairstreaks (Lycaenidae). However, we have never seen any California Sisters on any of our trips to Albany Hill and their eggs barely resemble ours, and the hairstreaks are far too small to lay eggs the size of ours and their eggs don't resemble ours anyhow. So, next we moved on the skippers (Hesperioidea), and we quickly found two likely candidates in the Erynnis genus (Duskywings): the Propertius Duskywing (E. propertius) and the Mournful Duskywing (E. tristis). They are very similar species that both commonly utilize live oaks and lay their eggs on the newest shoots. A few quick internet searches showed us eggs that look very similar to ours, though it is difficult to say for sure because they're so small are hard to see. Anyways, for now our best bet is that the eggs are that one of these two Duskywing species, though if they really are we probably won't be able to tell which one it is until they are adults.
- Alan, Brian
Response to Phytochemical Stimulants for Feeding in Anise Swallowtails (Papilio zelicaon) Investigation Notes
We are currently conducting an investigation to see if there is a difference in Anise Swallowtail caterpillar growth rate or overall size (in mass) when fed fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) cuttings coated in different phytochemical stimulants: fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) oil, basil (Ocimum basilicum) oil, and anethol. The control group is 30 caterpillars obtained at the second instar and fed non coated fennel cuttings. The experimental groups are three groups of 30 caterpillars reared under the same conditions except they will each be fed fennel cuttings coated in one of the three substances. These notes will aid us in writing an article on this experiment.
- Alan, Brian
The Painted Lady caterpillar (Vanessa cardui) that we collected from Tilden Regional Park (Berkeley, CA) on 7/9 has eclosed into the adult.
In exactly ten days since it pupated, the fifth instar caterpillar that we found on milk thistle (Silybum marianum) at Tilden Regional Park has eclosed into the adult (such speed that is!). It is a female.
The top row shows the very pharate chrysalis, just hours before it eclosed. The next two rows show it drying its wings in the sun while resting on a milk thistle in our yard. The last row shows a rare moment where it has opened its beautifully patterened wings; normally, the rest with their wings closed upright.
Out of curiosity, we decided to compare some of our hundreds of Anise Swallowtail chrysalises (Papilio zelicaon).
From left to right: Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus); 1.5g brown morph Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor), 1.5g brown morph Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon), 1.4g green morph Pipevin Swallowtail, 1.5g green morph Anise Swallowtail
The left image compares a 1.5g Anise Swallowtail chrysalis to a 0.8g, the respective minimum and maximum of our collection. The middle image shows 9 chrysalises with a 0.1g graduation from 0.8g to 1.5g. The left image shows two 1.5g chrysalises next to a penny.
These two photos show, in different lighting, the color range of Anise Swallowtail chrysalises from dark brown (has black stripes) to tan to bright green.
Color Thermoregulation Mechanisms in Anise Swallowtail Caterpillars (Papilio zelicaon) Investigation Notes
We are currently conducting an investigation to see if we can induce green morph fourth instar Anise Swallowtail caterpillars (Papilio zelicaon). The control group is 30 caterpillars obtained at the third instar and reared indoors on fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) cuttings. The experimental group is another 30 caterpillars reared under the same conditions except they will be placed outdoors. These notes will aid us in writing an article on this experiment.
7/29 (Day 1):
- Alan, Brian
Rearing notes for our fourth instar Ophthalm Sphinx caterpillar (Smerinthus ophthalmica) from 7/22/16-7/28/16. It was originally found as an egg mistakenly laid by the moth on Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) growing under a willow tree (Salix), the intended host, at the Eastside Permaculture Garden (Albany, CA) and has been reared indoors on willow cuttings.
Rearing Notes 7/22/16-7/28/16:
Our oldest second instar Polyphemus caterpillar (Antheraea polyphemus) has ecdysed into third instar.
At around 3:00 PM, we checked on our Polyphemus caterpillars and saw that the one that had entered apolysis on 7/26 looked pharate (two cuticles in one), with the third instar hairs clearly visible as black streaks on the thorax as seen below.
After waiting for about half an hour, the caterpillar inhaled air and began ecdysis. We started filming the process, but the camera's memory card maxed out before we could finish (should've cleared it out first!). A little more than half the caterpillar's body is out of the old cuticle by the end of the video, but we made sure to get shots of it when it was completely done as well.
Second Instar Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) Caterpillar Molting*
* Shown in 4x speed
The third instar caterpillar looks nearly identical to the second instar caterpillar which looked similar to the first instar as well. The only subtle changes are that the oblique lateral lines that connect the two rows of lateral tubercles is a little more obvious now and is yellow in color.
Later in the day when we changed the food, we decided to transfer the third instar onto a leaf stuck into a water bottle rather than put it back in the petri dishes with the others and plan to do this with the others after they molt into third instar.
Second instar wasn't not quite as long as first instar, taking about 6 days and 1 hour from 7/22-7/28. First instar took roughly 7 days and 2 hours from 7/15-7/22. Below is the count for today.
L2+ max mass: 0.15g
Count: L3: 1; L2+: 19; L2: 13; dead: 5 (1 died shortly after birth, 4 unknown)
This timeline is a series of daily posts recording our observations on and experiences with various insects in Albany California and surrounding areas, from 2012-2017. Since we did not publish this site until 2016, posts before that were constructed retroactively. 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)
- Not every species we encounter is necessarily presented on this site, rather a selection of those that were of particular interest to us and that we felt were worth documenting.
- We can't guarantee that all species have been identified accurately, particularly taxa we are not as familiar with.
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)