August 09, 2021

POLL: New Observation Field - host plant identification

Hello caterpillar-rearing friends,

I have a question: I am considering adding a new Observation Field to this project to record host plant the observed caterpillar fed on in one single location. This will make it easier for any interested parties to analyse data down the track, and encourages users to note down this important information.

In the spirit of recycling, I have looked at some existing Observation Fields that could be used and they fall broadly into two categories - free text fields or taxon fields.

Name of Host Plant: https://www.inaturalist.org/observation_fields/6609 [text]
Caterpillar host plant (text field): https://www.inaturalist.org/observation_fields/4513 [text]
Host plant: https://www.inaturalist.org/observation_fields/254 [taxon]

The benefits and downsides of each, in my opinion:
Free text - great if you don't know the exact name of a plant. May be easier to use for adding multiple species or non-plant hosts e.g. fungi, lichen, carnivorous, did not feed in this life stage/at all? However, may lead to inconsistency or incorrect names being applied.
Taxon - ensures names used are consistent, updated when taxonomy is updated. Can add on any taxon level (species, genus, family, kingdom). Not useful where the name of the plant is not known, or the caterpillar fed on something other than a plant (or didn't feed at all while in captivity).

I can set it up so the field is not mandatory (can be left blank) if users are unsure of the name of the host plant.

Would you prefer a free text field, taxon field, combination of both? Or neither!

Have a look at the linked observation fields and check out some of the observations and how they've used the field. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below - do you like this idea? Which option do you prefer? Should the field be mandatory? And anything else you might like to add.

@daviaker @dlync @williamsmoths @scottwgavins @cobaltducks @ellurasanctuary @rattyexplores @ronigreer @helencross

Posted on August 09, 2021 13:24 by claudiarose claudiarose | 9 comments | Leave a comment

June 21, 2021

How I Raise Caterpillars Q & A

Introduction

I am basically an amateur naturalist, although I do have qualifications and experience in Environmental Management I don’t work in that field. I have been an Environmental Volunteer for many years and one of my passions is Tarra-Bulga National Park. An interest in identifying and monitoring flora, fungi, birds and mammals developed over the years and I have now continued to develop an intense interest in insects and other invertebrates.

 

How did you get interested in rearing caterpillars?

After five or so years of putting up a light at my home (and other places) to survey moths and other insects, I began to think more about the whole life cycle of the moths I was finding. It became apparent to me that Moth species are described as adults, for many species there is no records of what their larva look like and many other aspects of their biology and life cycles remain unknown. I was taking pictures of caterpillars that I found and for many even identifying them to family level was difficult. I saw that a few amateurs were obviously successfully rearing moths, so I thought why not have a go myself.

 

Why is rearing caterpillars interesting/important to you?

Caterpillars are a very important part of ecosystems, but as I have already mentioned we really don’t seem to know much about them. I also just find the whole process fascinating to observe and document. Some species of caterpillars look amazing, and they make brilliant subjects to photograph. It is also quite a challenge to rear some species and it can be an elating experience to find a newly emerged moth or butterfly that you have successfully nurtured, especially when it is a species that no one to your knowledge has ever successfully reared before.

 

Where do you find the caterpillars you rear?

To date almost every caterpillar I’ve raised has been found on my property. The property adjoins a large tract of State Forest and I have also planted my property extensively with a diverse range on indigenous vegetation. Hunting for caterpillars with a torch or headlamp at night can be a good way to find them but using a beating net can be successful and others I find when weeding my garden. I have in some cases raised moths from eggs that I have found on leaves. I have also taken female moths off my light sheet and placed them in a container for them to lay eggs to raise. I would like in future to rear species found in one of my local National Parks, but to do that I would need a permit to collect any specimens or plant material required. I would also need to work out how I was going to keep the larvae supplied with fresh plant material for species I don’t have growing at home.

 

What sort of containers/set up do you use? Photos?

These days I use plastic containers which I have brought online. They are tall plastic ones with screw top lids. I have a range of containers 600ml, 1000ml and 1800ml. In place of a lid, I use a rubber band to secure a square of fine insect mesh over the top. Inside the container I usually use a small plastic floral tube in a home-made holder as a way of keeping the food plants fresh for longer. Sometimes I put peat mixed with sand in the bottom of the containers. This can be good for species that like to burrow, and some species prefer to pupate in soil. I do find having medium in the bottom of the container can make it harder to locate you larva and also makes it harder to clean out any droppings (frass). I usually put a twig in the containers after the pupa has formed, this can provide a place for newly emerged adults to perch when they stretch out their wings.

 

What do you feed the caterpillars - how do you know/guess what they'll eat, and where do you find the food plants?

If I am raising a caterpillar that I have found I usually feed it the species that it was found on. Or in some cases (e.g. if it wasn’t found on a plant) I try some of the common species growing nearby. I have not had much success at raising Lichen Moths but at least now realise that I need to be finding suitable lichens for them to feed on. https://australian.museum/learn/animals/insects/lichen-moths-from-insects-website/ I have also had only limited success when raising caterpillars from eggs. Some species e.g. Uraba lugens (Gum leaf skeletonizer) are easy but for others I have found it is difficult to find what new larva like to eat. Recently for some species I have added thin slices of apple and rose petals which are known as universal foods that many species will feed on. You can often get an idea of what a preferred species might be from using references such as http://lepidoptera.butterflyhouse.com.au/moths.html or the Moths of Victoria books, as well as books like McQullian et al (2019) and Coupar & Coupar (1992).

 

How do you keep track of your caterpillars?

When I started to raise caterpillars, I used collapsible mesh cages and I was adding multiple larvae of several different species in the one cage. I learnt eventually that it was impossible to keep track of individuals this way. I realised that the only way to track things properly was to use smaller containers with only one caterpillar. Sometimes if I am rearing species from eggs, I will have lots of caterpillars in the one container, in these cases I can only make my observations of the group rather than individuals. Each container I use is labelled with a code number. When I take photographs of the container contents, I take a photo of the label first. On my computer I can then work out which photos came from which container.

 

How do you photograph the lepidoptera - how often? - what camera?

I try and take a photograph of each container I have every third day (at the same time as I freshen up their food plants). If I am in a rush, I use an Olympus compact digital camera (TG-6) which has an excellent macro mode. For higher quality shots I use a Pentax DSLR with a Macro lens and flash. The flash is important as that way I can use a smaller aperture and get more of the caterpillar in focus. I crop all my photos with a photo editor before adding them to iNaturalist. This is to make sure that all the detail is as clear as possible.

 

What additional data do you like to collect for each rearing?

I have limited time to do my caterpillar raising so I tend to rely on the photographs for my record keeping. I do label the foodplant used on the container, this helps me remember what to feed it. When I upload results on the iNaturalist I go through the photos and use the photo dates to add the dates for hatching, pupation, emergence etc. As well as anything interesting about the way they formed their pupa. If I had more time, I would take length measurements of everything as they develop and take notes on other aspects of their activity and behaviour.

 

Anything else e.g. temperature/humidity considerations? Anything you've learnt along the way from successes and failures?

I have learnt a lot since starting out. Controlling humidity has certainly been a learning curve. When I first started using containers it was winter and I found that you could get away with having a plastic lid on the containers and everything would stay quite nice. I found that in springtime however lack of ventilation and higher temperatures meant condensation build up and problems with mould developing, so I quickly switched to having fine mesh lids on all my containers. Keeping containers moist is more of a challenge in summer. I did not realise that Pupa need some moisture to survive, and I think I killed quite a few Pupae last summer because I let them get to dry. I now use a spray bottle to increase the humidity if things have gotten a bit dry. I keep my containers under a veranda that protects them from direct sunlight. I have also learnt that you need to be careful when handling your caterpillars. Unfortunately, when I have gotten a bit rushed or careless at times some have been accidently squashed or have managed to escape from their containers. Some of them can be quite fragile.

Posted on June 21, 2021 07:33 by daviaker daviaker | 4 comments | Leave a comment

September 30, 2020

How to Use this Project as a Resource for Identifying Caterpillars and Pupae

Hi everyone!

I am really excited to see some more observations being added to this project.
Even though it is still early days yet, I thought it would be interesting to share a short guide on how to browse the observations in this project to use a resource when trying to identify a caterpillar or a pupa (also called cocoons or chrysalises).

To browse caterpillars or pupae (on the website):

  1. Click on View all observations first
    2a. To filter down to just caterpillar observations, add the following text to the end of the URL: &term_id=1&term_value_id=6 OR
    2b. To filter down to just pupae observations, add the following text to the end of the URL: &term_id=1&term_value_id=4

  2. You can then further refine by clicking on the Species tab, and clicking on "[number] observations" just under the taxon image to view caterpillars of that species OR
  3. You can filter further by typing a taxon name into the Species search bar e.g. "Geometridae" or "Cryptic Bark Moth"

Link to caterpillars:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&project_id=lepidoptera-life-cycles-australia&subview=grid&term_id=1&term_value_id=6&verifiable=any

Link to pupae:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&project_id=lepidoptera-life-cycles-australia&subview=grid&term_id=1&term_value_id=4&verifiable=any

To browse caterpillars or pupae (on the app):
1a. Navigate to the Project landing page, and scroll down until you can click "See More Observations" OR
1b. From the Explore page, click the Filters icon, then type the Project name into the Project field

  1. In the Filters tab, scroll down to "With Annotation", set it to Life Stage, then select Larva or Pupa
  2. Hit Apply filters to see all caterpillars/pupa of all observation sets
  3. You can filter further by clicking the Search icon, and typing a taxon name into the Search bar e.g. "Geometridae" or "Cryptic Bark Moth"

UPDATE: You can view all the species included in this project in a taxonomic view using this URL:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/taxa?place_id=any&projects=87411
This is useful when trying to browse the project by family or other taxonomic groupings.

Looking forward to seeing more metamorphoses!
-Claudia

Posted on September 30, 2020 11:24 by claudiarose claudiarose | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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