Friday, October 13, 2017

Moon or Luna?



As much as I am enjoying sitting here listening to a bit of Bob Dylan on the iPod, sooner or later, one of us must know (a little clue to the song there) that it's time to knuckle down and write up another blog entry. Just before we get to the subject matter of this update, a question: what do you think is the significance of this next photo?

Well according to the BBC, who recently broadcast a programme about marbles in which presenters showed how a marble was held by the crooked index finger and flicked by the thumb, "this is where the phrase 'knuckle down' came from". 

Let's get to it then: let's talk about caterpillars...
Actually, these are not strictly caterpillars, but larvae: still, carry on John, nobody will have noticed. 

I recently obtained some early instar Actias selene (Indian Moon-moth) larvae. These would be fantastic to observe I thought, and as they seem to like a wide variety of food-plants, many of which I could obtain easily, would be a safe bet. I had a care-sheet from the Amateur Entomologists Society that stated the preferred food-plants:

The caterpillars will feed on a variety of plants, including:-
  • Walnut
  • Apple
  • Hawthorn
  • Cherry
  • Cherry Plum
  • Willow
  • Hibiscus
  • Rhododendron (Rhodendron ponticum)
  • Holm or evergreen oak (Quercus ilex)
On arrival I treated them all to a mix of walnut, apple, cherry, willow and rhododendron, and waited to see which they preferred. None of them was the answer! I added hawthorn and a couple of the larvae seemed to take to it but weren't eating very much and soon began wandering off in search of something better.

This is how most looked when they arrived...



The following day I was starting to think I had made a mistake taking these on as they were definitely not feeding. Then I did a bit of detective work and found that they will also use liquidamber, or sweet gum. 

Where could I acquire sweet gum though? Any ideas? Nor me! Hang on though...isn't eucalyptus a gum tree? That was rhetorical of course, because we  already know the answer . Just need to find some now. Hmmm... might be a problem. 

I pounded the streets, but that did no good and so I repaired them and moved on. I racked my brain...but even putting it on the rack had no effect, I couldn't recall where, or indeed, if, I had seen any locally. I decided the only thing to do was to have a drive around looking for some. My salvation came in St. Michael's near Tenterden, when I spotted this tree outside a house, beside the local garage...


I rang the doorbell. "Hi" said the guy who answered, only half interested as he browsed his phone. "This is gonna sound like a strange request" I said. "try me" he replied, still not looking up from his phone. "Could I possibly steal a few sprigs of your eucalyptus tree?" Finally! his interest had piqued. With a half-smile, he said "Take the whole tree if ya like". Thanking him, I felt I owed an explanation: although, he didn't seem at all interested in knowing my reasons. I mumbled something about caterpillars as he turned and shut the door and I cut myself some eucalyptus.

Success! In fact, a great success. All but a couple were eating like there was no tomorrow and the remainder soon joined in.

It was September 16th when I acquired the caterpillars and by the end of the 17th some were already moulting...






By the 19th of September, many had moulted and were now shades of green...




Time to separate them into individual containers, as I had read that they can be cannibalistic once they start to mature. They were all looking much healthier now and growing fast. All except for the little runt that is. He was still way behind the others and looked like this...


In fact, this is how it stayed right through until September 26th. It was eating, but not a lot. His/her plight was not helped when on the 19th, it somehow managed to circumnavigate the obstacles I placed at the top of the water jar that contained the food plant, and fell right into the water. I have no idea how long it was there before I rescued it, but I dried it as best I could and assumed that it  had possibly drowned as there was no sign of life. 

However, the next time I checked, it was feeding. A miracle. It did eventually moult and became green like all the others, even though it was now a couple of moults behind the rest, who were quite variable in size and colour but doing much better than the runt...





Freshly moulted 29th Sept.

Freshly moulted 29th Sept.


The largest ones were now really impressive beasts. Those feet are brilliant and once fixed to a leaf or stem, there is no moving them. I had also read that they could be aggressive, gnashing their mandibles and swiveling their heads round if threatened, but I had no problems and didn't find any displaying those traits.

October 7th saw my first completed cocoon...


Today (Oct 13th) most have now pupated and I have just three with a bit more growing to do. Now I have to wait and see if any adult moths emerge in around a month's time, or whether they will overwinter and eclose come spring 2018.