Mystery Caterpillar

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Louise sent in this lovely picture of a caterpillar she had found in her garden. We have identified it as a Blair's Shoulder-knot, a relatively recent colonist to the British Isles. This particular type of caterpillar likes to eat a plant called Cypress. Which is funny because Louise actually lives on a road with Cypress in the name!

Can butterflies survive the winter?

Peacock hibernating_Martin Warren
"What happens to butterflies in autumn? I have a pair of tortoiseshells which I attempt to feed on tissue moistened with Lucozade, indoors, (hopefully the glucose gives them energy!) Can they survive the winter?" We were sent this question by Chris, a concerned reader, and thought that there might be other people who would be interested in the answer. Different species of butterflies have different strategies to survive our cold winters. Some will hibernate in a sheltered place such as a shed or garage. It needs to be cold enough that they don’t mistakenly wake up thinking it is spring, but warm enough that their bodies will not actually freeze. Sometimes they will accidentally find their way into a house, but winter heating will disrupt their hibernation so they should be gently moved outside or into a shed. These include Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma (usually the larger species). Some species are migratory and fly over the channel from Europe in the spring and breed in the UK over the summer. Their offspring will then usually make the return journey as it gets colder in the autumn. Most notable of these is the Painted Lady. Those that cannot survive as an adult, either by hibernating or migrating, must time their lifecycle so that a different developmental stage has the job of getting through the winter. Most often this will be the pupa (or chrysalis) as this offers the most protection, either stuck to a sheltered part of a structure (fencepost, shed, windowsill), in dense vegetation or buried underground or in the leaf litter. Some, like the Brown Hairstreak, lay eggs on branches in the autumn that will hatch out in spring when the leaves are available for their caterpillars to eat, but a few caterpillars, such as the Fox Moth, will remain active all autumn and winter, feeding on evergreen plants such as brambles. You can find out more on Butterfly Conservation's hibernation blog post.  

ID needed!

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Wendy from London found this pretty caterpillar munching away on her pelargoniums and wanted to see if we could ID it for her. It's the caterpillar of the Knot Grass moth. The adults fly from May to July, and then again in August and early September in the South. The caterpillars will pupate in a cocoon they make among plant litter.

Mysterious Houseguest

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Matt sent us this pic of a mysterious tiny caterpillar climbing his sitting room wall. It was protruding from a tiny tube and moving around inside it like a snail carrying its shell. This not so welcome house guest is in fact a Case-bearing Clothes Moth. The caterpillars feed on natural materials of animal origin such as wool and prefer dark, undisturbed places. Regular checking and cleaning can deter them, as will cedar balls.

What have we found?

Mystery Specimen
This photo of a mystery specimen has been sent in by Louise and her son. It is in fact a Sawfly larvae - the giveaway is the number of pairs of legs - too many to be a moth or butterfly caterpillar! Sawflies are in the same insect family as wasps and ants - Hymenoptera. We are not 100% sure on the species, but it looks like it might be Diprion pini, the Pine Sawfly.