Sunday, May 20, 2018

Getting Ahead...

Folks, I found a near-full grown iris larva in W Sussex yesterday. 

In this weather it will be pupating within a week.  Also, my captive and N Wilts larvae have recently gone into into, or are skin changing into, the final instar now.  

And the weather forecast is for another warm and dry week.

At this rate the butterfly will start to appear around June 18th, but I'll issue my final prediction for the start of the 2018 Purple Emperor season at the end of the month. Numbers could be pretty good...

Get ready to kill the fatted calf - we're going to use it as bait...

Monday, May 7, 2018

Ahead and behind

Two of the cats I'm following, Faith and Willow (who I got the wrong way round in my last post), have now entered fifth grade. Faith shed her skin two or three days ago and Willow followed up today.

This was Willow yesterday:

And today:

She has outgrown her seat leaf:

The next two pictures show Faith, today:

Allowing 17-18 days for the 5th instar and two or three for pupation, both these caterpillars should pupate in May.

At the other extreme, I found a freshly moulted 3rd grader, Xander, the other day. He must have spent the winter as a second grader - something that happens relatively frequently here:

He is feeding up fast and will probably shed his skin again before very long, to enter 4th grade:

Most of my other cats are currently in 4th grade.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Spring in CH

After a disastrous autumn and winter, when all the caterpillars I was following towards hibernation died, I have managed to find just four new caterpillars so far this spring. Two are high in trees and their instar is difficult to determine. Two are lower down and are causing me some confusion.

This is Faith. She is a big, fat 4th grader, a little over an inch long:

This is Willow. She is also a little over an inch long, but has been laid up for ecdysis for a couple of days:

Before she adopted the prayer posture I had assumed she was 4th instar. Given the date, she must be 3rd instar, preparing for 4th - but I can't recall seeing such a large 3rd grader.

I'll be keeping a close eye on her.


Zero Tolerance!

The Committee of the People of Purple Persuasion recently met at Knepp Castle. We've no idea who was in the Chair: we'd never seen him before and he slumbered drunkenly throughout. Also present were Sir Charles Burrell, Mr Hulme, Mr Oates, a blonde young lady and two 3rd instar Purple Emperor larvae.

As usual, the issue of the Reserve B (Offshore) Account was discussed at length. No further progress can be reported on this long-running saga. The account, which may never have existed and may or may not have any money in it, has seemingly disappeared into the ether.

The other item discussed was Male Behaviour, a much more serious matter. It was unanimously agreed that to date Purple Emperor males have been far too modest and restrained in their behaviour, and at times almost effete. 

The caterpillars present proposed a strongly worded resolution that from henceforth the males should adopt a policy of Zero Tolerance, towards anything. The motion was carried. We can look forward to an exuberance of appallingly bad behaviour this season, and thereafter.

The insect is, incidentally, currently changing from the 3rd to 4th instar, having been held up by the recent poor weather. It should catch up and make considerable progress during the spell of fine weather that is forecast to start over the weekend.

At this stage, the butterfly is likely to start to emerge at the end of June, but much depends on the weather during May and June.  Watch this space...  I should be able to predict a start date by the beginning of June.

Meanwhile, I'm off to the Costa Brava to do battle with Charaxes jasius, a big pansy of a butterfly that wouldn't last thirty seconds in the midsummer oak canopy anywhere in the Purple Empire. I'm also visiting a stunning valley in the Catalan Pyrenees where iris is, apparently, abundant, and feeds regularly from Woolly Thistle flowers.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Throwing Black - remembering Iole

July 3rd, 2017 in Cotgrave Woods, Notts will always be most memorable for me, as I saw my first ab. Iole (lugenda). At the time, I did not realise how extraordinarily rarely these aberrations occur. I knew immediately it was an extreme aberration and, in case he flew, I took the record shot, below. I remember being struck by his darkness; almost jet black.

 The first males in Cotgrave emerged on June 24th so my sighting was on the 10th day, consistent with the observation that Iole and semi-Iole aberrations usually emerge late. He took salts for 3 hours allowing me to take lots of photos and I'll share a few more below.

Looking at museum specimens of Iole, this chap was fairly extreme with only two white spots and third faint spot on the forewing and a few bluish white hairs on the hind wings, in place of the normal white band. Heslop states that he saw only 2 or 3 Iole (lugenda) in his career so I feel very lucky to have seen one.  Fingers crossed for this season and hopefully catch up with a few of you at Knepp, Fermyn or maybe even Cotgrave :-)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Feeding Nicely...

Emperor larvae have made a lot of progress during the fine weather of this last week. They're fully greened-up and have been feeding well to approach the next skin change, into the 4th instar. 

However, the wretched jet stream has how jumped south - as it usually does at this time of year. That will slow them right down...  They are still, though, on time.  

Here's how they're looking right now:- 


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Out of Hibernation & Starting to Feed

Emperor larva are coming out of hibernation. Some are starting to feed. They are not particularly late and are actually  a week ahead of where they were in 2013, when March was even colder, and feeding didn't start until 23rd April. In 2015 feeding commenced on 15th April, in 2010 and 2012 it commenced on the 18th.

Here's one from Savernake yesterday, the 14th, who has already started to feed (note damage to outer leaf of swelling leaf bud):

And here's Sav No 13, who I'm desperately trying not to call Stumpy. He lost most of one of his horns in mysterious circumstances late last September, but carried on regardless. It will be interesting to see how he looks once he changes to the 4th instar, around May Day. He too has jumped the gun and has fed from a swelling bud:

The really good news is that this winter's predation rate was only 25%, albeit from a small sample. This is the lowest predation rate in hibernation I've recorded in nine year's of following larvae in the wild. It suggests that this could be a very good Emperor season, weather permitting.

So, do what I've just done and ditch your job (I've retired, early - had enough...) and cast yourself into the Purple Sea... There is no alternative...