"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Emperor Moth Caterpillars and an Interesting Book on Living Churchyards

I promised Amanda the other day that I would post some photos of the cages I've used/will use for rearing my Emperor Moth caterpillars. You don't really need any fancy equipment to raise caterpillars - when the children were little we often used to collect 1 or 2 caterpillars and raise them to adulthood and we just used a very large empty bottled water container or you could use a large sweet jar. The reason I bought a "special" cage (well, actually in the end I had to buy 2!) for the Emperor moth caterpillars was because they grew very large and I also had a large quantity (I can't remember the exact number but it was between 40 and 50). I also had to take them on holiday with us so I could keep them supplied with food (they were voracious eaters of bramble leaves) and it was far easier to transport them in cages with handles than in a sweet jar!

As I am eagerly awaiting the emergence of the adult moths from pupae I thought I'd also do a little recap of the caterpillars.

They started to emerge from the eggs about the 13th May last year and they were tiny - at this stage I was able to keep them in large moth pots!

Getting bigger on the 24th May.

On the 3rd June

and 16th June. It was very interesting to see how they also changed colour as they developed.

They started to pupate at the end of June and the process continued into mid-July.

Here's a photo of one of the cages I used to rear the caterpillars - now full of pupae. Sorry about all the kitchen paper - its an attempt to keep out any predators such as spiders!

At the moment they are still outside in the coal house but I will bring them indoors in mid-April, put them in a new large "cage" and start spraying them with tepid water each day. Hopefully, they will then start emerging at the same time as the wild population. The person who gave me the caterpillars has advised that they need a cage with mesh sides so that the freshly emerged moths can crawl up the sides and dry their wings. Initially, B was going to make something but when I looked into the price of cages on the internet we decided it would be almost as cheap to buy one.

So here's the new "cage" - rather OTT I am afraid!! but luckily it folds flat when not in use so won't take up too much room. I've bought the cage mainly because the adult moths are large with wingspans up to 41 mm and once they start emerging I will need a cage where they can fly around until I take them to the release site (where there is already a resident population). I also plan to put a female in the "cage" in the garden in the hope that if there is a population near to where I live the males will be attracted to the pheromones the female produces and will visit the garden.

I've recently bought an interesting little book from NHBS on the Nature of God's Acre Project. Its entirely different from the Francesca Greenoak book (which is one of my favourites) but if you are interested in wildlife in churchyards its well worth buying (its only £4.99 plus postage and packing). The project explored the relationship between the spiritual and natural value of churchyards. Churches in Sussex were sent questionnaires on wildlife found in their churchyards and the value visitors put on this. The book details the results of the survey with a section on each of the churches and their churchyards that participated. Its a pity I don't live nearer to Sussex but I am really enjoying reading the book and it is full of interesting information that can be related to your own local churchyards.

Thanks so much for your good wishes by the way - apart from E who was the last to go down with the virus, we are all a lot better and had a day out locally today which I think was just what we all needed.


Simon Douglas Thompson said...

Really hope the captive female project works, and you can increase your garden visitors!

Ragged Robin said...

Simon Douglas Thompson - Thanks very much Simon. To be honest I think its unlikely but I live in hope!

John Wooldridge said...

Hi Robin, going to have to look up the Emperor moth as I haven't a clue what they look like!

Margaret Adamson said...

Very interesting and informative post.

amanda peters said...

Thanks RR, for the post. It has been very interesting reading what you do.

Think I will try and get a Small White caterpillar or something similar, and had watch that.

The book dose look interesting, we will have to choose a church each to visit during the summer months.
Amanda xx

Ragged Robin said...

John Wooldridge - Thanks for the comment John - the moths are rather beautiful :) My OH has said he doesn't want to see a photo before they emerge :)

Margaret Adamson - Thank you Margaret.

Amanda Peters - Thanks very much Amanda. Watching any species of butterfly go through the life cycle is absolutely fascinating especially when they emerge from the pupae - a moment of sheer magic :) Good Luck :)

Yes, agree about the church - a fun idea. I will try and pick one from the Francesca Greenoak book - I think there may be one or two in Oxfordshire? I went to St Giles today to see the primroses will do a post sooon.

SeagullSuzie said...

...and I thought looking after herring gull chicks was difficult! How fabulous and exciting.

Countryside Tales said...

Fascinating and informative post. I've still got my two pupae (one is I think a Large Yellow UW, not sure about the other) in a small cage I bought for them. Think I may need to transfer them into a mesh one before they pupate, so will have a look on line for something similar to yours- thanks for the photos btw, v useful to see what you're using. I love the colour of the late instar pillars- aren't they beautiful- and the pupae are rather interesting too. Presumably the cats are poisonous to birds, or at least pretending to be!
The Churchyard book looks fab. I'm slowly making my way through Gods Acre and feel very enthused about the possibilities re church yards and wildlife.
Hope E makes a speedy recovery soon.

Ragged Robin said...

SeagullSuzie - Thanks so much - I would imagine raising the herring gull chicks was exceedingly rewarding :)

Countryside Tales - Thanks CT. I got the pop-up Cubic cage from Watkins and Doncaster (they do a bigger rectangular one but its dearer!). Its the one being used by someone else who was given some eggs by the County Recorder. The little plastic one (I think you have something similar) you can buy from pet shops etc. We were going to make one using insect mesh but with B being so poorly its probably as well I did buy one as they could emerge any day.

Are you reading the Greenoak book? - I just loved it - so beautiful and interesting. Just makes you want to go and visit as many wildlife friendly churchyards as you can. The one illustrated in the post is totally different but well worth reading. You live nearer to Sussex too :)

Thanks for good wishes to E - poor girl is struggling into work and she's had it 10 days now :(

Millymollymandy said...

Really interesting post and I'd love to know if you found the eggs, or purchased them? I hadn't realised this species was found in the UK - they look so exotic! I've only raised Swallowtails but that has been a fascinating journey and experience. Good luck!

Ragged Robin said...

Millymollymandy - Thanks so much for leaving a comment and your good wishes - I am so glad you enjoyed the post.

The Emperor Moth is the only member of the family Saturniidae to be found in Britain - as you say they are very exotic. I really am excited and so hope some emerge. I noticed on a Warks moth forum that the County Recorder had mentioned he had some eggs if anyone wanted them - so I leaped at the chance!! I understand he's been captive rearing them for some years.

You are so lucky to have raised Swallowtails - what a superb experience that must have been. After Purple Emperor Swallowtail is the one species of butterfly I would love to see.

Thanks again. Best wishes Caroline

Millymollymandy said...

I'm lucky there because I'm in Brittany so the continental Swallowtails are relatively common on this side of the channel. Hoping to get a moth box soon so maybe I might find an emperor moth one day, if they are around in this part of France, I'll have to check!

Ragged Robin said...

Millymollymandy - Swallowtails are pretty rare over here - would need a trip to Norfolk fens to see them. You probably know but there were a lot of Continental Swallowtails on England's south coast the year before last and I seem to remember that some overwintered. With warming temperatures due to Climate Change we may get more species colonising here from Europe.

Great news about moth box purchase - I've had mine for about 6 years and moth trapping is very addictive and its amazing the species you can attract. Would be very interested to see what you trap in France. Emperor moths are just starting to emerge over here in the wild - there is just the one generation. I'll be bringing my pupae indoors this weekend I think if mild weather continues. Hope you manage to see one local to you.