Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Buried treasure

In my lifelong absorption with butterflies and moths, I have never known anything as effective at catching them (temporarily) as the light trap which brought joy into my life thanks to Penny's secret birthday planning, five years ago. But there are other methods which also don't have the downside of my schoolboy net, which meant curtains (it was muslin, appropriately) for the insects.

You can track down caterpillars, for example, by checking their foodplants at the right time of the year. Nettles in late May and June are specially good for the Vanessids - Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Peacock - though remember that they sting. The nettles, not the caterpillars. It is also rare to pass a year without meeting a 'woolly bear', one of those hairy moth caterpillars which are intrepid pedestrians. They always seem to be going somewhere. Keeping caterpillars to pupation is a bit like having pets - constant feeding, familiarity with poo etc - but the reward of actually watching a butterfly or moth hatch is stupendous.

And now, this post's photograph. Pupa-hunting always struck me as a boy as the dreariest of pursuits. Romantic accounts of digging beneath appropriate trees didn't acknowledge the boredom and lack of rewards. But there are people who like fishing in canals, which seems to have about the same level of excitement. Serendipitous pupa-finding, however; that's another thing altogether. And here are two chrysalises, both vacated by their former occupants, which I just found while cleaning out flowerpots. One was an inch below the surface - imagine the force of instinct which gets a caterpillar to bury itself. The other was under the pot, tucked up inside the rim. I've displayed them on an extract from The Butterfly Collector's Vade Mecum which Miss Laetita Ford published in 1836. It's a great book.


Bennyboymothman said...

Heh, more coccons that I can't ID! agreed they are painstakingly hard to find, the only one i've ever found was situated in the gap of my car door! and turned out to be a lovely Black Arches.
I hope the bulb is still working!

MartinWainwright said...

Hi B I think it's like those badgers on the Now Show, or whichever TV comedy it is/was - the ones which only appear when the TV naturalist isn't looking. I don't think I've ever found a chrysalis by deliberately looking; but I've come across hundreds in the course of other duties. Cleaning mostly. All best as ever M

MartinWainwright said...

Forgot to add that the bulb is fine, but busy-ness and the chillier weather have stopped me trapping for a night or too. Hope to put that right shortly. I've also been looking at the Recent Sightings on the Yorkshire butterfly and moth site and notice how we're all getting similar moths, not surprisingly - Hebrew Character, Quakers, Clouded Drab, Early Grey et al. No doubt similar your way? All best again M