Rearing notes for mourning cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa). Originated from an egg cluster collected on willow (Salix) along the Ohlone Greenway Trail (Berkeley, California), June 29, 2017.
Rearing Notes 8/4/17-8/13/17:
We collected the mass data of our anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) pupae.
Now that most all of our anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) larvae have pupated, we have a lot of pupa mass data. We have a very large sample size that includes larvae of many different lineages, so it should be fairly representative of our region's population when fed on fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), which they almost always use in the wild already. The only concern was our accuracy in sexing the pupae. For some reason, anise pupae are particularly ambiguous compared to other swallowtails we have reared and because the pupae were weighed on the day of pupation, some of them still had not completely gotten into shape which could have made it hard. But even with an 80-90% accuracy, it was still quite clear that females are larger on average than males when you consider a whopping t = 90637 (df = 179; n = 181; p<0.0001) in a 2-sample t-test for the difference in means. A table summarizing our data is shown below.
Summary Statistics for Papilio zelicaon Pupa Mass
Mean Std Dev Median Min Max N
Male 0.9612903226 0.1132832714 1 0.7 1.2 93
Female 1.123863636 0.1259395204 1.1 0.9 1.5 88
All 1.040331492 0.1444449167 1 0.7 1.5 181
Although the difference in size between the two sexes was statistically significant, the difference isn't huge in real life, especially with the large standard deviations. Just eyeing them, the only ones that can be instantly sexed without looking at the genitalia are the massive females; even though there is only a 0.16 difference in means, the difference in maximums was 0.3. Disproportionately high female potential seems to be a common trend in the species we have reared.
What surprised us as we were collecting was how many of the pupae were exactly 1 gram, regardless of sex. For this kind of data, it would definitely have helped to use a more precise scale (perhaps to .001). This would have made the curve much smoother in the charts below and may have helped in showing the difference in size between the sexes. It is especially strange that so many of the females were 1 g, making it is hard to draw any conclusions from their distribution other than that we may have messed up. The male curve and the combined curve are both much more unimodal albeit sightly skewed.
We went to Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley, California for one last time before leaving.
It has been a while since we stepped foot into Tilden, but we decided to go today because we only have a few days left. At this time of year, there aren't really any swallowtails around of any species in flight but to our surprise, we did still find a few pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor hirsuta) caterpillars on the pipevine (Aristolochia californica) growing at the Nature Area's butterfly garden. Last year, they were basically completely gone by this time. It seems that only a few of them ever emerge to make the flight in August; the overwhelming majority of the larvae we reared in the Spring went into diapause. Admittedly, the pipevine at the garden was in very good condition with lots of new growth, perhaps after suffering from disease in the Spring that got it off to a late start, unlike the stuff at Albany Hill which also started growing earlier and got larvae earlier.
After the garden, we went down a trail. There is a lake there, so a lot of the grass was still somewhat green and there is willow (Salix) and stinging nettle (Urtica dioca). Though not nearly as common as they were a few months ago here, we did across a western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) still flying this late into the season. We also found a satyr comma (Polygonia satyrus), but there was nothing on the nettles on the trail or at the garden (and strangely, no red admirals [Vanessa atalanta] either).
After the lake, things get a lot more dry and it starts looking like a typical California landscape -- yellow grass everywhere with tons of tiny prairie butterflies hopping around. There were perhaps hundreds of blue hairstreaks there courting, nectaring, and just going about their business. They were probably all acmon blues (Plebejus acmon). There is also a lot of thistle (Asteraceae) in that particular area with very obvious frass filled silk nests by painted lady (Vanessa cardui) larvae, but we could not actually find any larvae (they must have already pupated).
A little past this segment, there starts to be less grass and more trees consisting mostly of live oaks (Quercus) and a few California buckeyes (Aesculus californica) and pines (Pinus). Here, the dominate species were California ringlets (Coenonympha tullia california) as well as some mylitta and field crescents (Phyciodes mylitta, pulchella) which were courting. There must have been a hundred of all of these too.
On the way back, we past the lake again. There is a bridge there, but the water underneath it has apparently all dried up. The area is shaded with lots of green trees that we don't know, so no leps.
After that, we hurried to the Tilden botanical garden which closes at 5 PM. Most of the pipevine there is in atrocious condition, about the same level as the pipevine at Albany Hill, except for the stuff growing right next the water which looked almost as good as Spring. There was nothing flying there whatsoever, but it was still a nice chance to explore some paths that we hadn't walked before.
Our luna moth (Actias luna) larvae have all finished spinning cocoons.
Since all the larvae have spun up, we went ahead and collected all the cocoons from the tubs and ripped off all the leaves. There are just 19 cocoons total which is very few for how many we started with, but we're not too worried though as it is not the most valuable species.
While rearing the larvae, we had put them in an opaque tub starting in the fourth instar which blocked out light when closed, allowing us to limit the light to only a few hours a day. Thus, we expected that all the cocoons would diapause and be made of tough, brown silk than the thin beige of the normal, non-diapausing ones. However, after inspecting all the cocoons, we saw that there was a very large variation in silk color, with some being extremely dark brown, others being almost white, and many being an intermediate orange-brown. The dark brown and probably also orange-brown ones should be in diapause, but we can't be sure about the beige ones. They look just like the spring cocoons that did not diapause, but perhaps the silk just hasn't hardened and tanned yet.
Some other interesting things about this rearing's cocoons are that one of the cocoons is extremely large, thin, and baggy, rather than the normal round and compact. It sort of resembles the baggy form of Hyalophora cecropia cocoons, though this form is not supposed to exist in luna. Perhaps something about the way the available attachment points were arranged while the prepupa was spinning caused it to produce such an odd cocoon. Other unusual cocoons were two pairs of fused cocoons due to the larvae spinning right next to each other. We were able to split them apart without damaging them with some difficulty.
Anyway, on to the mass data. After collecting the cocoons, we weighed and recorded their masses and calculated some summary statistics, shown below:
Summary Statistics for Actias luna Cocoon Mass (Summer 2017):
Mean Std Dev Median Min Max N
2.750 0.541 2.68 1.98 3.86 19
For comparison, we pulled up the spring stats as well:
Summary Statistics for Actias luna Cocoon Mass (Spring 2017):
Mean Std Dev Median Min Max N
3.525 0.411 3.4 3.0 4.2 12
What's the first thing we noticed? That's right - a ridiculously lower summer cocoon mass compared to spring. Sample size is small, but the difference is still quite extreme. A two-sample t-test for the difference of means between spring and summer cocoon mass also supports that the difference is statistically significant (t = 4.2357; df = 29; p=0.0002).
Right now the first explanation to come to mind is simply the severe overcrowding the summer larvae experienced in later instars. But really, it wasn't too much worse by the fifth instar compared to in the spring rearing. Food quality should have been about the same, so the only other difference was the temperature and humidity. The spring larvae were incubated at constant 27°C and high humidity during the first three to four instars while the summer larvae were at room temperature their entire lives. However, this seems to be a contradictory factor, since from what we've seen, the high constant temperature of the incubator tends to speed larval growth drastically at the cost of size. Plus, by the fifth instar - the critical growing period, both spring and summer larvae were at room temperature. The only other factor that could have played a significant role in size reduction was inbreeding. The summer larvae were inbred offspring of the outbred spring larvae. It is hard to say how exactly the recessive gene stacking affects the larvae, but from what we suspect and what some other hobbyists claim based on observation is that inbreeding tends to reduces size. We only inbred for one generation, but perhaps that was enough to cause this extreme drop in size.
Our male ♀ Papilio polyxenes asterius × ♂ Papilio zelicaon hybrid finally eclosed, but unfortunately did not expand its wings.
We are extremely disappointed to say that our ♀ Papilio polyxenes asterius × ♂ Papilio zelicaon hybrid male eclosed today but could not expand its wings fully. We don't know why it became crippled or if hybridization could have caused it, though usually the males of machaon group hybrids should have no problem eclosing. Despite the crumpled wings, it is still possible to see the body and the general pattern on the wings. We tried to get shots from many different aspects, shown below.
From what we can see, the hybrid appears to resemble polyxenes more so than zelicaon. Both fore and hind wings have a considerable amount of yellow, but it is hard to say exactly how much since they are not fully expanded. The males of the parent species both have yellow on their wings, with zelicaon having more. The hybrid definitely seems to have less yellow than a zelicaon would have and looks more like polyxenes. However, perhaps if the wings were expanded, there would actually be a lot more yellow than it looks, and perhaps some of the grayish looking parts could expand to a yellow-gray, intermediate of the parent species. We do not know.
As for the ventral aspect the wings, they again seem to resemble polyxenes more, with the forewing having only small amounts of yellow and the hindwing having orange spots. However, probably the orange spots on the hind wing will expand into a pale yellow orange based on how light they are even when not expanded, which would be intermediate of the parent species, since polyxenes' spots are well-defined and dark, while zelicaon only have traces of orange.
Looking at the body - mainly the abdomen, the hybrid again resembles polyxenes slightly more. In the parent species, polyxenes has several rows of yellow spots down the length of its abdomen while in zelicaon, it is a single solid yellow stripe on each side with a poorly defined solid stripe on the ventral side. The hybrid very clearly has rows of spots rather than solid yellow, but the spots appear to be slightly larger and more rectangular and "dash" like than than in polyxenes. The head and thorax region looks more polyxenes as well. In polyxenes, there are broken pale yellow spots on the thorax while in zelicaon it is two solid dark yellow stripes. The hybrid has spots rather than solid stripes, but they appear slightly thicker and darker than normally would be in polyxenes.
We spotted a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) flying around our backyard.
It's always nice to see a butterfly that you haven't seen in awhile. Of the three Vanessa species in Albany, atalanta tends to be most common in midsummer while the painted lady (V. cardui) comes in spring and west coast lady (V. annabella) comes in fall and winter. Atalanta doesn't seem to be too common here in the city as there are no hosts accept exotic pellitory (Parietaria), but the little weed is only found spottily and often removed by the city. We saw many eggs on them earlier in the summer (see Red Admiral Eggs on Pellitory), but they've since then disappeared and most of the pellitory has been removed anyway. We never collected any then because our time here in Albany is short and supplying them with enough pellitory would be difficult. Maybe one day we'll rear up some of these nice little butterflies again, but our chance for this year has past.
Rearing notes for our luna moth (Actias luna) larvae. The stock originated as eggs from Alabama, April 2017.
Rearing Notes 8/1/17-8/12/17:
Comparison of the pharate pupae of the black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes asterius), anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) and a ♀ Papilio polyxenes asterius × ♂ Papilio zelicaon hybrid cross.
The hybrid is almost here now. Just another day and it should be out. As of tonight it is pharate and the wing patterns can already be seen. We currently also have pharate zelicaon and a close to pharate polyxenes (the two parent species) for comparison, plus an actually pharate male and female polyxenes photo from a month ago (bottom center). All pupa shown are male except for the female polyxenes.
The main thing to compare here is the amount of yellow on the wings. It's the number one difference that separates zelicaon and polyxenes adults (and many other closely related western and eastern swallowtails) and thus the also main area of focus on the hybrid wing patterns as well. In zelicaon, the fore and hind wings of both males and females are predominantly yellow. In polyxenes, both males and females are predominantly black, but the male has a thin row of yellow on both fore and hind wings while the female is almost entirely black. See Papilio zelicaon and Papilio polyxenes asterius Side by Side Pictures for a visual.
On the developing pupae, the zelicaon very clearly has a large yellow portion on the hindwing while the male polyxenes only has a small strip of yellow spots. The hybrid, on the other hand appears to be a perfect intermediate, having the yellow portion of the zelicaon wing pattern but rather than a bright rich yellow, it is partially masked by black, turning it into a greyish yellow. The hybrid also has the marginal row of yellow spots, a trait shared by both parent species.
An anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) with particularly large, crescent-shaped marginal yellow spots eclosed today.
We probably seen hundreds of zelicaon in our time here, and we've noticed quite a lot of variation in the adult wing patterns. One of the most variable traits is the marginal row of yellow spots. The spots can be big or small; rounded, rectangular or crescent-shaped; short or elongated - you get the point. Today, we had a female eclose, and it had some very large marginal spots - some of the largest we've seen. What's more was that they were very crescent-shaped, especially the ones on hindwing, with the crescent on the tail cell stretching deep into the tail. It happens sometimes in individuals with very crescent shaped spots, but they're really large on this one.
Below is a comparison to a more typical looking zelicaon (right) with smaller, less crescent-shaped marginal yellow spots (though the ones on the forewing are perhaps slightly smaller than usual).
Rearing notes for regal moth (Citheronia regalis) fifth instar larvae. Stock originated from Ohio, July 2017.
Rearing notes 8/2/17-8/11/17:
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)