Surviving winter is a challenge for people of entomological disposition.  Those of us who spent our youth coarse fishing (and fishing is good for youths, it teaches them patience, how to be still in Nature, and much wildlife) will remember the long wait inflicted by the close season, from mid March to mid June.  Winter is much worse than that for most butterfly folk, but no longer holds any terrors to me: I have no close season as I butterfly all year round. As Eliot put it, ‘Only through time time is conquered.’ (Burnt Norton I).  I go butterflying in all seasons and weathers, albeit looking for immature stages – for the circle of metamorphosis is ever unbroken. And I am not just talking about searching for easy-peasy Brown Hairstreak eggs.

Searching for White Admiral larvae in their tiny hibernacula – spun up small leaves of Honeysuckle – is excellent butterflying, especially in a winter like this, after the leaves came off cleanly in autumn (after drought summers myriad withered Honeysuckle leaves stay on the shrubs, and hibernacula are almost impossible to find). Here’s a hibernaculum I found in mid January –

White Admiral hibernaculum Alice Holt Forest 13.1.13

You can see strands of white caterpillar silk attaching it to the stem. Somewhere up that tube is a tiny spiny brown and grey caterpillar, who will come out and start to feed in April.  Bless it.

But that day I also found something more significant, this –

Copy of WA pupal case Straits 13.1.13

which is the remains of one of last summer’s White Admiral pupal cases, just the basal third.  Now this is significant, as there are precious few records of the pupae of many of our butterfly species actually being found in the wild.  It is also amazing on two fronts.  First, the leaf is still attached to the stem, which shows the strength of caterpillar silk.  Second, the basal part of the pupal skin, made of chitin, has survived – and the pupa was probably formed last early June and probably hatched in late June (or early July).  So much for the wet summer and autumn…

But, I can go one better – 

PE pupal case

PE pupal case

This is the remains of one of last year’s Purple Emperor pupae high up in a sallow tree in Savernake Forest.  Again, this pupa was formed last mid June, the leaf was attached to the twig by silk and the basal portion of the pupa (which I think held a female Emperor) has survived.  Bottom right are some old leaves on which an Emperor caterpillar has been feeding, held on to the twigs by silk. 

My case rests.

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