Saturday, 25 April 2015

It's a boy!

I was beginning to wonder about the five Emperor Moth cocoons which have overwintered here in a cardboard box after I distributed the other 25 or so from a brood of caterpillars which I mothered last season.  Two of the recipients havereported hatchings on the excellent Upper Thames Moths blog, one of them almost a fortnight ago. Yet mine slept on.

Not any more. I checked the cocoons yesterday afternoon as best I could; most of them have curled-up, long-dead hawthorn leaves and even grains of soil woven into their protective armour, and all appeared to be intact. But in the evening, as Penny and I were putting away tools in the garden shed, I heard a tremendous fluttering from the muslin-covered cardboard box.

I still couldn't tell which cocoon had ruptured but here is the new arrival: a healthy male with fabulous antennae - a physical feature which we human beings sadly lack. I like to think that my benign wrinkles and slowly greying hair already make me look wise. A nice pair of elaborate antennae would complete the (misleading) impression.

Here's my moth
 above its painted
 counterpart on
 the cover of
the Moth Bible
I am hoping that the four remaining cocoons include a female, so that I can try the procedure known as 'calling'. This involves placing the moth in a muslin bag or similar temporary prison from which her extremely powerful pheromones can waft. These attract passing males, sometimes from great distances, and the breeding cycle starts again. The urge to reproduce in Emperor Moths is exceptionally powerful; they have been seen at it before a female's wings have fully unfolded after hatching from her cramped cocoon. Given that the adult moths do not eat and therefore only live a short time, reproduction is their overwhelming instinct - a short but I hope enjoyable finale to their amazing, year-long development from egg, via caterpillar and cocoon to adulthood.

One of the authors of the Moth Bible, Martin Townsend, took a few cocoons from me last year and well describes 'calling' on the UTM blog here.


Ragged Robin said...

Great news about your Emperor Moths starting to emerge and super photos :) I raised some from eggs last year - sadly the first one to emerge from the cocoon had crumpled wings which failed to enlarge and the next one failed to even get out of the cocoon - very sad :( Hope you get a female and Good Luck with assembling :)

Just hoping now some of mine emerge successfully.

Martin Wainwright said...

Hi there and many thanks - interesting about your experiences. They do have extremely tough cocoons, at least by the look of them. Good luck this year

all warm wishes