Rearing notes for Umber Skippers (Poanes melane) that were obtained as eggs laid by two wild caught females in captivity or found on various wild grasses in the Albany Eastside Permaculture Garden.
Rearing notes 11/13/16-11/30/16:
Our cynthia silkmoth (Samia cynthia advena) and Jacobs' silkmoth (Rothschildia jacobaeae) cocoons have arrived.
Today we had six cynthia and four Jacobs' silkmoth cocoons arrive. They are freshly spun but we do not know if they are diapausing, though we will know in the next few weeks based on if they eclose or not. Regardless of when they do, we plan to obtain pairings and eggs from them.
Above are the cocoons of the cynthia silkmoth (Samia cynthia advena). The Samia genus is taxonimically ambiguous, but these should be the subspecies advena, which refers to the population in eastern North America that was introduced from China in the late 1800s in attempt to start a silk industry. They are very closely related to the eri silkmoth (Samia ricini) that we have and are currently rearing which is also a species used in the silk industry.
The cocoons are somewhat irregularly shaped, being generally narrow and tapered at both ends, though more so at the top. Three are still wrapped in the leaf of some plant. They are slightly narrower and more compact than our old eri Silkmoth cocoons as seen in the comparison in the bottom two photos. As for color, the cynthia cocoons are a light tan while the eri's are almost white. In grams, they weigh 1.5, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9, 2.7, and 2.8 respectively, which averages to 2.07 each. However, the masses are clearly bimodal, with heavier suggesting female and lighter suggesting male, meaning we likely have two females and four males.
The general life history of the S. c. adevena is probably extremely similar to that of S. ricini, and will therefore also be extremely easy to rear. The caterpillars utilize ailanthus (Ailanthus altissima) in the wild but will take a variety of alternatives in captivity such as Prunus and Ligustrum which we will use if the moths eclose next spring. However, if they are not diapausing and we must rear the caterpillars this winter, we might have to experiment with citrus (Citrus) which we are currently feeding our ricinis. We look forward to seeing the differences between each life stage of S. c. advena and S. ricini.
And here (above) are the Jacobs' silkmoth (Rothschildia jacobaeae) cocoons. This species is endemic to Argentina and is part of the very diverse Latin American genus Rothschildia (Rothchild's silkmoths). The genus is said to be the New World relative of the Asiatic genus Attacus based on adult morphology (they look quite similar, being primarily brown with large transparent portions on each wing), though this could be symplesiomorphic so their taxonomic relationship is still debated.
The cocoons are shaped somewhat like those of Hyalophora cecropia but are much smoother and less tapered at the top. They are a light brown and quite thin, caving in easily when pressed. It does not look like there were ever leaves attached to them due to the very perfectly smooth surface, though there are indentations on the ventral sides where the twigs were removed. In grams, they weigh 2.5, 2.8, 3.6, and 3.8 respectively which averages to 3.18 each. However, just like the cynthia cocoons, the masses are bimodal, with heavier suggesting female and lighter suggesting male, meaning we likely have two females and two males.
We have not yet raised a Rothschildia species yet (though we have unsuccessfully attempted to rear the allied Eupackardia calleta once), so we really don't know much about them let alone any specific characteristics of this particular species. For example, we aren't even sure what hosts plants R. jacobaeae utilizes in captivity. Though fortunately, the caterpillars (like most Attacini silkmoth larvae) should be able to use various plants in the Oleeae tribe (family: Oleaceae) such as ashes (Fraxinus sp.), privets (Ligustrum sp.), common lilac (Syringus vulgare), and possibly others. If any of these fail, we can try other typical Rothschildia or Attacini hosts if they are available, such as Prunus and possibly Citrus. In the case that these cocoons are not diapausing and we have to rear them this winter, then we plan to use glossy privet (Ligustrum lucidum), the only local species of privet we have, or citrus. Until then, we have both these and the cynthia cocoons placed in a plastic box lined with paper towels and lightly misted.
Rearing notes for our two two-tailed swallowtails (Papilio mauticaudata) that emerged from chrysalises that were in diapause when first received in August from Arizona.
Rearing notes 11/24/16-11/27/16:
Rearing notes for our Indian Walking sticks (Carausius morosus). These are offspring of an adult we have been rearing since March 2016 and a wild caught brown form adult no longer with us.
Rearing Notes 11/23/16-11/26/16:
Today we finally harvested the handful of chrysalises from our very late brood of anise swallowtail caterpillars (Papilio zelicaon).
Ever since the weather started going downhill at the start of this month, our October brood of anise swallowtails (Papilio zelicaon) have been experiencing some seriously slow growth rate (they are being reared outdoors). Daily temperatures are around 60 degrees Fahrenheit now and it rains often.
When we first released the three dozen or so fourth instar caterpillars onto our sweet fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), they were extremely close, probably only a day or two apart in development at the most. After all, they are all siblings that hatched from eggs laid on the same day. But at this point, the faster growing ones in the fifth instar have long pupated while the slower ones have lagged behind dramatically. As of today we still have two very young fifth instar caterpillars outside, a few that are prepupae, and the rest already chrysalises.
Because of the late season environment, we noted a few weeks ago about the particularly dark forms of these caterpillars. We even took a few pictures of then fifth instars which had very thick black bands. Well, it turns out that some of the more recent fifth instars such as the two young ones we still have right now are even darker.
But what is even more interesting is that some of the chrysalises formed by these late season caterpillars are also extremely dark in color, more so than what we normally saw in the summer. We collected seventeen chrysalises today on our screen cage that were formed by these caterpillars and almost all of them were very dark brown/black forms and not just a tan. Of these seventeen, two were especially black, the blackest anise chrysalises we have ever seen. They are shown below:
The pupation site substrate has well documented as being an influential factor on the color of the pupae in certain swallowtails, including machaon-group species (of which zelicaon is a member of), but we have never read anything about what can effect the overall intensity of the color. In our experience, putting a prepupal caterpillar on a dark green substrate versus a lighter green substrate usually both produce green forms but very clearly does not seem to produce any noticeable effect on the shade of the green; the same holds true in the case of a pitch black substrate versus a brown substrate. That leaves us to conclude that what is more likely the case with our chrysalises probably has something to do with seasonal factors like temperature and photoperiod, the same phenomenon we saw which produced the dark form caterpillars that formed these chrysalises.
The first of our two post-diapause two-tailed swallowtail chrysalises (Papilio multicaudata) has eclosed. The chrysalises were received in diapause in August from Arizona but must have broken diapause in mid-October.
Today we witnessed our first ever real life two-tailed swallowtail. Emerging around 2 PM on this relatively sunny afternoon, this gigantic butterfly is this largest we have seen in our life.
A rough measurement of this individual (a female) was about 5.5 inches. It came from our largest chrysalis which was 2.9 grams before it emerged (that is very massive!). This is larger than any Eastern tiger (Papilio glaucus) or giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), two of the more well known large swallowtails, that we have seen. Although Papilio multicaudata is much less frequently mentioned as being the largest swallowtail in North America, we wouldn't have our doubts even with our small sample size.
Compared to the Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus), the two-tailed swallowtail comes off as being a much more yellow insect since the black stripes on the dorsal side are much less thick in proportion to the yellow portions. P. rutulus actually resembles the anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) quite closely because of its smaller size and higher concentrations of black, but on the other hand you would never mistake a two-tailed swallowtail for an anise! However, the black borders on the edges are the wings seem quite thick and the black stripes on the ventral sides of the wings don't seem to be any less thick than those of P. rutulus.
After its wings had hardened, we took it outside and took a few pictures. . .
This butterfly doesn't actually have two tails as the name suggests. The scientific name multicaudata is probably more accurate; a quick glance tells us that it actually has four sets of tails. In reality, it only has one true pair, the one seen in most swallowtails, which is much longer than the other three pairs. But because of its overall large wing size, the points at the vein lines on the hind wings (seen in all swallowtails) have been much exaggerated that they are long enough to look like they are tails.
As for breeding these things, we are in a very bad situation as of now. The other chrysalis that has been developing doesn't look like it is going to emerge for another few days, and assuming that it is a male we would have to wait another few days for his sperm count to rise before attempting to hand-pair him with the female that eclosed today. If we can get past the hand-pairing, we will need to find a host plant to try to get the female to lay her eggs on, which will probably prove to be a very difficult task in December. We currently don't really have any of multicaudata's host plants like Prunus virginiana and Fraxinus, and even if we did we would have a hard time finding leaves in this season. Of our two potential options, Klamath plum (Prunus subcordata) and privet (Ligustrum lucidum), the former may be ruled out based on the fact that some studies state that multicaudata is actually selective within the Rosaceae family and will only lay on a few species of Prunus. Privet is evergreen, but it too is highly questionable as a host; it has not been reportedly extensively as a host plant in literature and the only fact backing up the plausibility that it is indeed a potential host is that it is loosely related to Fraxinus (they are in the same family). Then, even if we manage to scrape up something, we would need to provide a warm enough environment to stimulate any activity. It is only about 60 degrees Fahrenheit these days and is only going to get colder in the coming weeks, so this would obviously require a heating system such as a reptile heat lamp.
We continue to search for a suitable host plant for our Eri caterpillars (Samia ricini). Due to a large hatching today, we should be able to get a more accurate idea of their preferences using a larger sample since.
Yesterday a few of our Eri caterpillars hatched and we offered a choice of five host plants in a petri dish: ornamental rose (Rosa), citrus (Citrus), ceanothus (Ceanothus), elderberry (Sambucus), and an unidentified tree in the laurel family (Lauraceae). When we checked on the larvae this afternoon, we were quite disappointed (and worried) to find that there was virtually no feeding on any of the host leaves, nor was there any frass. There were maybe a few minute sized holes on the citrus leaf and a hole on the rose and unidentified Lauraceae. Ceanothus and elderberry were completely untouched. However, the caterpillars were not wandering aimlessly around the dish as they would had if it were empty, but instead were all settled down on one of the host leaves. Several were on the citrus, and a few were on rose and the Lauraceae. This affinity towards the leaves is a hopeful sign that perhaps they may still be utilizable. So, since only the citrus, rose, and Lauraceae had caterpillars on them, we tossed out the ceanothus and elderberry and got some fresh leaves of the former three hosts.
As expected, there was a much larger hatching today (60+) of the unsterilized second eclosed female's eggs, so we merged these with the ones that hatched yesterday and divided them up onto the three hosts. This larger sample size should give us a more accurate idea of their preferences. We put 30 on the citrus since it seemed to be the most popular based on yesterday's hatchling's behavior (most holes and caterpillars on it), 25 on rose and 18 on the Lauraceae. Just like yesterday, immediately after placing the caterpillars on the hosts, several began nibbling at the edges but it was nothing extremely significant. We would need to wait until tomroow to see if they actually eat a decent portion of the leaf and leave frass. For now, the caterpillars seem quite content on the different hosts, especially the citrus, followed by the Lauraceae and the rose. Due to the larger numbers today, they have aggregated into large, tight groups on the underside of the leaves. Hopefully, by tomorrow at least one of the hosts will be eaten.
Rearing notes for our Indian Walking sticks (Carausius morosus). These are offspring of an adult we have been rearing since March 2016 and a wild caught brown form adult no longer with us.
Rearing Notes 11/15/16-11/22/16:
Rearing notes for our three remaining Two-tailed Swallowtail chrysalises (Papilio mauticaudatus). They were in diapause when first received in August from Arizona.
Rearing Notes 11/20/16-11/22/16:
The eggs laid by the Eri Silkmoths (Samia ricini) we reared in September-October have begun hatching, beginning our second brood of this species this year. We now face the challenge of finding a suitable host plant during this season to rear them on.
After a long fifteen days, eleven of the 200+ unsterilized eggs laid by the second eclosed Eri Silkmoth hatched today.
This hatching marks the beginning of our second brood of S. ricini this year and conditions couldn't be less ideal. We have way more eggs than we can possibly handle (~1000), the weather is a bit too cold and humid, and finding enough host plants is a serious challenge. However, we are still going to try our best and pull this brood through the winter so that we can continue this species line. The non-ideal winter weather will cause slower growth, but that's fine as long as they survive. We are mainly concerned with finding host plants, since there have never been local sources of Castor Bean (Ricinis) or Ailanthus (Ailanthus). Further, the commonly used alternative Ligustrum is very limited to us, and Prunus which we used the first time around has almost completely senesced. So, we are completely out of options except experiment with evergreen plants around our neighborhood to see what they we accept.
After searching everywhere for evergreen plants that we thought looked reasonably "edible", we transferred the neonate larvae into a petri dish and begin putting in various leaves. First, we stuck in some ornamental rose (Rosa) that is sometimes reported as an accepted alternative, though it is not very abundant since it is a bush, not a tree. Then we added some citrus (Citrus) since some members of other Attacine genera such as Rothschildia, Attacus, and Epiphora will accept related Rutaceae plants, and it is extremely common around here. We also added some ceanothus (Ceanothus) because most members of the Attacine genera Epiphora and Hyalophora accept it. Next was elderberry (Sambucus) for no particular reason except that the leaves still look healthy, and last was an unidentified evergreen Lauraceae tree that is quite common around here that we've been wanting to identify and make use of for quite some time. There were also several other random evergreen plants we could've added such as camellia (Camellia), another unidentified Lauraceae, coast live oak (Quercus), etc., but we thought five hosts was already enough to test for now.
Soon after adding new different hosts, we immediately witnessed one of the neonate larva initiate feeding on the unidentified Lauraceae which really took us by surprise, since it was just a random tree that we couldn't even identify. A few minutes later, a different one took a nibble out of the rose which we were hoping for since it has been reported as a suitable host by some. A while later, one of them seemed to be biting at the cut stem end of the ceanothus, though we're not completely sure. Finally, one of them took a pretty large bite out of the citrus which we were quite excited about since this is the one host that is very abundant here and grows in this season. None initiated feeding on the elderberry, though interestingly, several of them have crawled on it and are staying contently. So far, we do not know if any of the larvae that began feeding on one of the hosts will actually continue to feed on it and develop healthily, but at least they started. When more caterpillars hatch tomorrow we will definitely experiment more with host plants and hopefully it will be more clear which hosts they will accept with a larger sample size.
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)