Grellada imitans

Grellada imitans by Robin Allen

Robin is a very talented moth breeder from the United Kingdom; I’m always very pleased to see his experience on social media. He has bred various species that I always struggled with for years. Today, Robin shared with me the breeding of an African Lappet moth: “Grellada imitans”. Thank you Robin! 

Grellada imitans is a large Lasiocampid moth from Africa. I obtained eggs of this species from the inimitable Andrew Spicer in the UK through his contact with Lucien Mballa in Obout Village, Cameroon and their work on the Cameroon Ark project. One female was captured, and laid eggs.

When the eggs arrived, we were still unsure of the species. Perhaps it was going to be Pachyna subfascia. Perhaps Pallastica mesoleuca. Or perhaps some other relative of these species. Not much is known about many African species, so it would be intriguing to find out what these were.

The eggs were large, round, pale brown mottled with darker brown. They were kept like many other eggs: in a closed sealed container, with occasional humidity from breath on the inside of the lid. These eggs had already travelled from Cameroon to the UK, and travelled again within the UK, so it was not long before these eggs hatched on the 22nd April.

Like many Lasiocampids, the young larvae had a line of long hairs along each side. These were longer around the front segments. The mid section of the body was striped white, yellow and black.

At first, the larvae did not seem keen to feed on any foodplant. Many plants were offered, with no sign of interest. Perhaps the larvae were confused or just needed to spend some time exploring, but eventually they settled for Paulownia leaves. I expect they would have happily settled on many other plants, but Paulownia was a good choice as I have an infinite supply available.

After a few days, the larvae were into the second instar. At this stage, the larvae developed two red stripes on the back of the thoracic segments behind the head, as well as a more intricate patterning along the back.

By 5th May, some of the L2 larvae were reaching L3 instar. At this stage, the larvae became more hairy, starting to develop a more cryptic camouflage.

At 22 days old, the L4 instar brought with it much greater camouflage, with the long side hairs now able to blend into any surface.

The larvae would often rest on tissue which was used to improve cleanliness. I presume that they detected the woody fibres and texture of the tissue as resembling tree bark. For this reason, it is advisable to place a network of sticks across the bottom of the cage. This provides places for the larvae to take up their natural resting positions, without spending time in amongst their frass. Tissue should be avoided, as it encourages the larvae to return to the floor, where health is at risk.

At the L5 instar, the larvae started to develop small black spines criss-crossing along their back amongst the finer hairs.

The red stripes behind the head, up until now being not very concerning, also became much more advanced; each contained two ‘christmas trees’ of red spines. When threatened, the larvae would evert these spine organs outward, providing a striking visual display. Any predator would instantly reconsider an attack.

Sometimes, when disturbed, the larvae would whip their frontal segments side-to-side at high speed. This created a fast drumming vibration as well as a visual display drawing attention to their red spines.

By 7th June (46 days), the larvae gave a reminder of how slow growing Lasiocampids can be. L5 was not the end. These were moulting to L6, and setting in for the long haul.

At this time, some larvae exhibited an even more advanced defensive behaviour. If threatened, they would raise up the front half of their body off the ground, in a shape like a Cobra. They would strike backwards or sideways with their red spines everted, whipping their body around to make contact wherever they felt the touch of an attacker.

These larvae were incredibly variable in their colour forms. Although the basic pattern always remained the same, many different colours were seen; from almost pure white, through to shades of green, brown, and even some hints of purple or maroon.

In the latter instars, the larvae enjoyed hiding on bark / stems during daylight hours, only feeding during the night. I expect if one were to extend the night-time hours and shorten the day length, these larvae would grow faster. Half of their time is spent resting motionless during the day; this must have great value against predators in the wild, but perhaps serves no purpose in captivity.

The camouflage of these larvae is helped by the structure of the ‘hairs’. These modified structures have flattenned areas which lay flat and break up the lines of hairs, creating a perfect match for lichens and tree barks.

Despite their spines and their behaviours, these larvae were easy to raise and welcomed handling. They were keen to explore new objects, be they sticks, leaves, or human fingers. Their spines were not a worry. They grew to an impressive size, as much as 12cm when relaxed, and perhaps up to 15cm when reaching out at full stretch.

Thankfully, L6 was the last instar. 60 days after the eggs hatched, the first cocoons were being formed in late June. The first to pupate were the males, with some females taking many days longer to reach full size. Handling the cocoons was the first time that the spines became a real problem. I would recommend just leaving the cocoons alone! But, while these spines would readily piece the skin, the reaction was not intense. Handling a dozen cocoons would fill fingers with spines, but a wash under cold water would easily break away the loose ends of the spines and wash them away. They did not cause any allergic reaction, but those who do know they are allergic to other species should exercise caution.

Pupae were an interesting shape, and just like the larvae they had a good head of hair!

Below: Male left, female right (because females are always right!)

Of course, the first to emerge were some of the quite small males. These had excellent camouflage as a chip of wood, and would easily disappear on the right colour of bark. The claspers were peculiarly adapted to form part of this camouflage.

When disturbed, the males immediate reaction was often to drop to the ground, closing their wings and legs as tightly as possible. This gave the impression of a piece of wood / bark / dead leaf, and would be impossible to detect in leaf litter. Some would even rotate their head 90 degrees around to the side, which made normally symmetrical features of eyes and antennae difficult to recognise.

If disturbed further, the moth would invert its wings behind its back and feign death. This would also combine with a purple and green iridescence on the underside of the forewings and hindwings, perhaps giving an impression of a rotting deceased corpse. The male would also open his claspers wide.

The female of the species was much heavier and larger than the male. Another thing to notice with this species, was the incredible strength of the tarsal claws, especially of the female.

When upset, the female would display wasp-like markings on her hairy abdomen. She would also push her ovipositor at the attacker, perhaps mimicking a stinging insect. Of course, this was accompanied by the usual release of fluids, but in nowhere near the quantity of the infamous Argema mittrei.

The sexual dimorphism is striking when the male and female are seen side by side. An early naturalist could easily be excused for believing these were two completely unrelated species, with such drastic differences in body size, shape, weight and wing pattern.

By the time the females were emerging, many of the males had damaged their wings. The males are short-lived, so a good recommendation would be to cool the male pupae with an aim to delay them by a few days to better coincide with emergence of the females.

Pairing was achieved on the first night in a small 30x30x30cm cage containing two females and several males, on a cool summer’s night at 16 deg C, even despite rainy weather. Pairing seemed quite easy to achieve.

Egg laying commenced the next night, with around 200 eggs being oviposited in a single night. The eggs were laid in circular clusters approximately 1 inch across, on cage netting.

The next generation of eggs took only 12 days to hatch (at indoor room temperature). I found common Ivy (Hedera helix) to be loved by the young caterpillars.
Rearing this moth was thoroughly enjoyable, in part because the larvae were very predictable and easy to raise. Their day-time sleep and night-time feed pattern meant that it was easy to predict how much fuel they would need for the night ahead.

Environmental conditions in my rearing were far from the perfect ideal needed by some less resilient species. Plastic boxes with relatively low ventilation caused no ill effects. Even when condensation built up enough to cause matting of their hair, the larvae thrived in damp conditions just as well as in the dry. With a matrix of sticks across the bottom of the cage, the larvae were not hampered by frass on the bottom of their container, allowing a great degree of laziness in cleaning their enclosure. Apart from a very small number of losses in the earliest instars, the larvae seemed virtually indestructible once they were half grown.

Other than the spiny cocoons, they were easy to handle at all stages. Larvae were explorative and ‘friendly’, rather than those which drop to the floor at the slightest disturbance or spit out the contents of their guts or refuse to move. Adult males that pretend to be dead are far easier to move from cage to cage than the flighty insanity of Actias isis or the flappy nonsense of Antheraea species. Females would dislike being moved, but once their claws were de-tangled from netting they were relaxed and calm to handle. I would certainly recommend!

Dear reader – thank you very much for visiting! Your readership is appreciated. Are you perhaps….. 

Was this information helpful to you? Then please consider contributing here (click!) to keep this information free and support the future of this website. This website is completely free to use, and crowdfunded. Contributions can be made via paypal, patreon, and several other ways. 

Papilio epiphorbas — “Teardrop swallowtail”

Papilio epiphorpbas, the “teardrop swallowtail”, is a swallowtail endemic to the island of  Madagascar (Africa). While little is known about this species and obtaining livestock may be hard,  raising them is possible, though the lack of concrete information may make it  challenging.

Adult female Papilio epiphorbas

  • Difficulty rating: 7/10  (Harder to breed due to lack of information)
  • Host plants: Rutaceae – There are hardly any referenced to the natural host plant, which is speculated to be Vepris sp. – in captivity they feed on  Choisya, and Citrus but with a low succes rate
  •  Natural range:  Madagascar only (endemic)
  • Polyphagous:   Yes but probably only Rutaceae
  • Generations: Seems to be multivoltine in captivity (continuous breeding). May or may not avoid the dry season in the wild
  • Family: Papilionidae (swallowtails)
  • Pupation:  Chrysalis 
  • Prefered climate: Afrotropical (prefers warm and humid)
  • Special notes: This species is probably not hard to breed if you have the right host plant and conditions, but the lack of information makes this more difficult
  • Estimated wingspan: 80 – 100mm (on the smaller side)

Papilio epiphorbas, the teardrop swallowtail, is a swallowtail butterfly that is endemic to the island of Madagascar. Because of their obscure and endemic  nature, they are not commonly bred or reared. While literature is lacking, they are rumoured to feed on Vepris (Rutaceae – unconfirmed). In captivity they will accept Citrus or Choisya, though one may experience significant losses when rearing them on these host plants – some individuals will still survive. Perhaps, by selecting these individuals, one may produce a F2 generation that has adapted better to Choisya or Citrus, making them easier to breed.

The beautiful final instar larva of Papilio epiphorbas

The larvae are best raised freely on the host plant, or as alternative, in bottled cuttings of host plant. Interestingly however this species seems to do well in plastic boxes too – something that is Papilionidae larvae do not commonly tolerate, as they are prone to getting infected and sick when reared in plastic boxes. Papilio epiphorbas seems to be an exception to this rule. The larvae are beautiful and in the final instar their thorax is decorated by bright pink dots and yellow ocelli; and in the skin fold between their thorax and abdominal segments they have a bright blue skin flap that is revealed when the larvae assume their threat pose.

Female Papilio epiphorbas

The butterflies are reported to pair and oviposit easily, if one has a greenhouse-like setup for butterflies. Experimenting with host plants should be worthwhile, since not a lot is known about the host plants of Papilio epiphorbas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinal instar larva of Papilio epiphorbas

After feeding for about 1.5 month (depending on temperature) on the host plant, the larvae will spin a girdle and pupate against a surface (like many Papilionidae do). The pupae will hatch in about 3 to 4 weeks time (once again depending on temperature).

The pupa of Papilio epiphorbas

All in all, Papilio epiphorbas is a pretty fun and obscure species from Madagascar, and an excellent opportunity to breed something unique.

Female of Papilio epiphorbas

 

Thank you for visiting my website! Are you perhaps..

Was this information helpful to you? Then consider contributing here (click!) to keep this information free and support the future of this website.

 

 

 

 

RATING SYSTEM

NOTE: The difficulty meter is EXTREMELY SUBJECTIVE, and based on the experience of one person only (me, Bart Coppens). There is no such thing as objective difficulty; and how hard it is to breed a certain species also depends on how familiar you are with the species in question, your breeding experience, and your geographical location!

If you are in a hot and dry place, say  a desert like Arizona or New Mexico – then it will be very easy to breed species from there, since you live in the perfect climate and can provide them with the conditions they require. But it will be harder for you to breed species that are from humid areas like the neotropics, since the dry air can easily dessicate your livestock if exposed to it without climate control! If you are from Japan, breeding Japanese butterflies and moths will be much easier than for everybody else – people in America and Europe will struggle to find host plants and give them substitutes that may not be ideal for them. The author of this website lives in the Netherlands. The measurement scale is here to encourage you or discourage you from breeding certain species if you are not sure – but  it cannot be used as objective measurement.

SCALE:

1/10 – This rating means that breeding this species could not have been easier in any other way – even people with no experience with keeping Lepidoptera at all can do it with great succes and little effort, and that it would be harder to fail than to succeed at breeding this species.  

2/10 – This rating means that this species is one of the easiest to breed species available in the hobby, and that succes almost always can be guaranteed if one follows the basic instructions and requirements needed for breeding it, even if you have no experience with Lepidoptera at all in your life.  

3/10 – This means that this species is extremely easy to breed  – even for beginners with minimal experience. If you follow the instructions of  caresheets, succes is nearly guaranteed and it is easy to provide for the basic needs of this species.

4/10 – This rating means that this species is easy to breed – but you will need a little experience and basic knowledge of moths to be succesful, but not much else. It is easy to be succesful if you put in the effort of meeting the basic requirements for this species.

5/10 – This rating means that this species is not hard to breed, but you will need some experience with Lepidoptera or just common sense when it comes to insects to be succesful. While it is not hard to be succesful, you will still need to put in a little effort to be able to  make it, although it is not hard to provide the basic needs of this species.

6/10 – This rating means that this species is more difficult than average to breed, and you will need to understand the biology of this species and immerse yourself in their life cycle in order to be succesful. You will need all the basic knowledge and experience.  While it is not hard to be succesful, you will need to do a little research in order archieve succes.

7/10 – This rating means that this species is challening to breed, and that you will need some advanced experience in order to be succesful.  This species can be picky or sensitive, and livestock may quickly die or struggle if the conditions are not met. It also means that succes is never guaranteed with this species, even for experienced breeders, since they can be prone to death.

8/10 – This means that this species is hard to breed, and that you will probably need to have a lot of experience in order to be succesful. This species will be hard to keep alive, even for the most experienced breeders and that it is hard to be succesful with them.

9/10 – This means that this species is extremely hard to breed, and that you will need extensive experience just to keep them alive. Even the most experienced and knowledgeable people will struggle to breed this species, although it is possible to do so if you have studied them well.

10/10 – This rating means that it is possible to breed the species in theory, although it is nearly impossible in practice, and (almost) nobody has done so before with succes. This could be because it is a species with extraordinary needs that can hardly be met in captivity, or because they are very sensitive to certain conditions  and very hard to keep alive. Even experts fail at breeding it. In order to breed it, you will have to push past the limits all currently available knowledge, and come up with a solution nobody has thought of or tried before.

???/10 – This rating means that I have no clue what to rate them, because either I have A) not completed the lifecycle myself, so I have not experienced the “complete” picture and cannot rate it, or because B) This species has such a weird and unique biology that is different from all other Lepidoptera, that it is impossible to compare it with all other species I have bred.

Rothschildia cincta

Rothschildia cincta is a predominantly Mexican species of Rothschildia moth. However, a part of its range extends across the border of Mexico into a small part of North America (Arizona), making it one the few Rothschildia recorded in the United States.

26005174981_8410a08666_o.jpg

  • Difficulty rating: 4/10 (Easy to breed)
  • Host plants: Ligustrum, Salix, Syringa, Prunus, Quercus, Mimosa, Schinus, Sapium and many more
  • Natural range:  Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and other places in South America. 
  • Polyphagous: yes  
  • Generations: Bivoltine (Has two to three generations per year in the wild, overwinters as coocoon)
  • Family: Saturniidae (silkmoths)
  • Pupation: Cocoon (silk encasing)
  • Prefered climate: Dry, hot and arid environments with mild to cold winters (Mexico, Arizona)
  • Special notes: The caterpillars can have a very rare yellow colour form. 

Citheronia laocoon

Citheronia laocoon is a beautiful Citheronia species from South America. Remarkable are its colours, but also the sexual dimorphism – while males of Saturniidae are generally smaller than the females, Citheronia laocoon takes it to the next level with males that are half the size of females. They seem to be very easy to breed.

25468774193_2b0b2d46d1_o (2)Adult female of Citheronia laocoon

Citheronia laocoon occurs in South America, mainly in Brazil, French Guiana, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay. They seem to be very polyphagous – in the wild they are commonly found feeding on Ricinus communis (castor bean). They will take a wide variety of plants and feed on Rosaceae too; I myself have raised them on Prunus padus and Liquidambar. Ligustrum has also been reported.

A fully grown caterpillar of Citheronia laocoon on Prunus padus

The most important thing is to keep this species well ventilated. While they tolerate high humidity extremely well, Citheronia dislikes stale air and lack of ventilation. It is best to cage or sleeve them. The small caterpillars should be reared in closed boxes until the third instar – the last two instars should be sleeved or caged. Compared to other Citheronia species, the moths and caterpillars are on the smaller side.

26121656896_aa3cd8d4e8_o Two females and one small female of Citheronia laocoon

Citheronia laocoon seems to pair very easily at different times of the day – I’ve seen them couple up at dusk, in the middle of the night and even the early morning.

25542681824_5e2e52f971_o.jpgCopula of Citheronia laocoon

 

 

 

The awesome and impressive female of Pallastica mesoleuca – a giant among Lasiocampidae.

The credit for this rearing goes to my friend Marcel van Bijnen, who kindly provided me these images. When he was traveling through Uganda, he encountered an impressive caterpillar, one that turned out to be of the Lasiocampidae moth Pallastica mesoleuca.

The caterpillar of Pallastica mesoleuca, an impressive beast covered with spines.

Not much at all is known about the biology of this moth. My friend Marcel from the Netherlands has encountered and reared this moth in the wild. This small article illustrates the larva, cocoon and adult female that hatched from it.

 The pupa and cocoon of Pallastica mesaleuca, including a leaf  of the natural host plant that remains unidentified.

The live female of Pallastica mesoleuca

The larva spinning a thick cocoon inside the container

The adult moth of Pallastica mesoleuca prepared for collection 

 

Paradirphia semirosea

Paradirphia semirosea is a very small, cute, and nice Saturniidae moth from Central America. When disturbed they will assume a threat pose and reveal their bright red abdomen with black stripes; a colour warning that may scare off some predators. From the soft pink colours to the creamy golden/white stripes on the wings, red legs and beautiful fluff on their back t is a shame they are rarely offered as livestock.

The threat pose of Paradirphia reveals a beautifully decorated abdomen

The good news is that Paradirphia semirosea is easily reared in captivity. The larvae are gregarious like many species of Hemileucinae, although in the final instar they become solitary and will need a little bit more space for themselves, although they still tolerate living in a high density of larvae. They do grow a  little slowly, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Important is not to keep them wet. I reared them in plastic boxes though they should do even better in cages.

Adult Paradirphia semirosea in resting position. Pretty in pink!

When fully grown, the larvae of Paradirphia semirosea will burrow and form a naked pupa in the soil, without spinning a cocoon. The tiny pupae seem very hardy and will survive for a long time in room conditions and may even take a long time to emerge too. Simulating a rainy season (keep them dry for a long time and then suddenly spray with warm water) may trigger them to emerge faster and more synchronised.

Larvae of Paradirphia in several instars feasting on oak

Like most Hemileucinae the larvae have urticating spines. The sting is not that bad though and is comparable to that of a common stinging nettle. It will make you uncomfortable for a few minutes, but it is tolerable, and not very painful. That being said the sting is worse than the average Automeris however.

Like many tiny species of Saturniidae  the moths are short lived. Pairings should be easy to archieve in an airy cage. The most tricky thing is getting a pair out since the emergence time can be a little sporadic and they are short lived.

Paradirphia semirosea larvae: a  handfull of stingers!

“Assassin caterpillar” or, in Spanish, “taturana”—these are the names appointed to caterpillars of the genus Lonomia. It’s a name rightfully deserved: Species of the South American genus Lonomia are of medical significance due to their larval forms that may cause severe envenomation and even death to humans. Lonomia is often considered to be the most venomous genus of Lepidoptera, in particular L. obliqua, of which the hemotoxin is known to inflict severe envenomation and cause disseminated intravascular coagulation and haemorrhagic disease in victims.

Lonomia electra: amazing polymorphism showing a diversity in leaf camouflage

Lonomia electra is the first species I have reared from this genus, and I fell in love with them. After studying their life cycle for 1.5 years and publishing this data, I now have extensive knowledge of this species. For those interested, here is some background reading and my publication: Up close and personal with venomous moths (AES) or for the .pdf file of the scientific publication: Click here for science!

These Lonomia from Costa Rica seemed to do quite well on Ligustrum ovalifolium in captivity. A lot of patience is needed to rear them as they larvae have an extremely slow development rate for a Saturniidae (I recorded over 100 days). Eggs seem to take a month to hatch aswell.

A larval congegration of Lonomia electra on my hand

Lonomia seems gregarious up until the final instar – this means they exihibit social behaviour for the entirety of them being caterpillars. They seem to tolerate being reared in plastic boxes with no ventilation at all quite well and withstand the highest degree of humidity. The rearing takes quite a lot of patience, however it seems that the pupae hatch quite fast (in a month). Pupae should be sprayed frequently as this species seems to prefer a higher degree of humidity and pupae dessicate rather fast. The larvae do not spin a cocoon before pupating; in fact they will lazily lie down on the floor and pupate on the spot. They do not even seem to attempt to burrow that much – I theorise that in their natural habitat the larvae pupate between the leaf litter covering the forest floor, giving them the opportunity to just lie down somewhere on the ground and pupate.

The adults seem to exihibit nice polymorhism. The females are always grey (though significantly larger than the males) while the males have two different colour forms: one orange/brownish rusty colour, and one lighter yellow form.

In the picture: one larger, greyish female (botton left) and three males (top) – showing both colour forms the males can have, the orange and yellow form.

Video:

Picture: pupae of Lonomia electra

 

Actias maenas — “Malaysian moon moth”

Actias maenas, the Malaysian moon moth, is a species with a broad range from the mainland of most parts of the Indomalayan ecozone. They are highly sexually dimorphic, and one of the larger moon moths of the genus Actias.

dsc02707Actias maenas female

Actias maenas is quite easy to rear in captivity, and accepts host plants within Rosaceae such as Prunus, Malus and more, and also Liquidambar, which is to be recommended for this species.  Their larvae will grow quite large, but do grow slowly compared to other Actias species. I myself prefer to rear them on plant cuttings in a water bottle. The only thing that seems to be more difficult with this species is archieving pairings, it’s best to have a lot of flight space and a bit of ventilation for them. This fragile species will tatter quite fast. Males often break off their hindwing tails within a few days.

dsc02657Actias maenas male

28208256964_5797a0c810_oFully grown larvae of Actias maenas  on Liquidambar

28208329994_5801cbd0f7_oA tree full of Actias maenas larvae

The aim of this website is to provide information about many species of moths and butterflies around the world, with a slight focus on rearing them in captivity.