Breeding Red Admirals

This topic contains 79 replies, has 0 voices, and was last updated by  Jane 7 years, 1 month ago.

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  • #15034

    Rob
    Participant

    Made a trip to the King Country to collect Admiral caterpillars. I collected 10 large Red Admiral Caterpillars (4th 5th instar) and 20 mini pint sized Red Admiral caterpillars(2nd &3nd instars. Thought this would be enough to start a home population and breed them. Had a few teething problems but managed to get the more mature caterpillars to pupate and now have 4 butterflies hatched and one more to come. Hopefully out of the 5 I should be able to start up a Red Admiral breeding colony and get the experience I am after. My biggest learning curve (and problem)out of this venture is that 20 baby caterpillars just dissapeared. My shadehouse is on concrete and I had the caterpillars on a small leafed annual nettle dug up from the King Country.I couldent figure out just where they went. They just dissapeared. I have had a few years breeding Yellow Admirals ON GRASS in my shadehouse and never had this problem. I think that in a concrete world there is more competition for food. I assume ants have been snacking on my babies. Have now moated my nettles for egg laying….what a hassel!!! If I can get any eggs!!!! Will have to pay the butterflies an early morning visit for a sexing eercise. My main problem for now is what happened to all those babies? Are ants the culprit?

Viewing 25 replies - 51 through 75 (of 79 total)
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  • #28814

    NormTwigge
    Keymaster

    Admiral eggs are green, so the white ones could be the silver Y moth which loves nettles also. The clear ones are probably empty Admiral eggs, and if so you can look at them through a magnifying glass and see the hole in the top where the larva chewed its way out.
    I have a couple of what I think are U. ferox x U. australis hybrid plants, with the leaves being the rounder shape of australis but with unmistakable ferox spines along the centre of the leaf and down the stems, which have probably cross pollinated when close together.

    #28811

    Jane
    Participant

    Thanks Norm. That advice will help me a lot with this new method. It seems the eggs on the nettles in the vege patch are at all different phases, many being clear and many being white.

    I have a good sized patch of urtica incisa here these days and it appears that it may have crossed with urtica australis because it has two distinct growth forms. There is a Yellow Admiral that seems to think this patch is his, and I’m assuming its a male because theres no egg laying there yet that I can see, but lots of prancing and dancing, and even parking up on the concrete next to his plants – perhaps waiting for a female.

    The main difficulty now is keeping some potted nettles for the Reds in their castle that aren’t covered in eggs from the yellows.

    #28808

    NormTwigge
    Keymaster

    Hi Jane,

    Don’t worry about trying to keep moist the bits of nettle that the eggs are on as the emerging larvae will eat part of the eggshell which will sustain them until they move off to find fodder. When the eggs turn darker, which is the black head capsule showing through, you can then place fresh leaves in the container for them. On the growing plants the newly emerged larvae usually migrate to the growing tips where they weave a silk network to shelter under before they start feeding in earnest, the eggshell meal carries them over.
    This time of year the eggs should hatch in 7 – 10 days.

    #28807

    Jane
    Participant

    Update: The caterpillars I collected earlier are Reds!! First one hatched out today….so now it’s a matter of seeing if there are both males and females! There are only 6 other pupae, so am hoping for 7 Reds, and a pairing followed by eggs would be GREAT! Fingers crossed. I have moved the pupae into the castle where the last crop of Yellow Admirals were, and am now using Annas technique: icecream containers and muslin for the yellows. There are thousands of Yellow Admiral eggs on the nettles outdoors, so I have brought some in.

    Anna – do you collect the eggs, or the newly hatched caterpillars? I thought maybe the caterpillars might be more practical, but like Norm, I have mantis young everywhere!! I have the eggs on bits of nettle in the containers, and trying to keep them damp in this hot weather is a mission. The bits of nettle are wilting despite the damp paper towels, and the eggs not hatched yet.

    Rob – what did your mystery pupa turn out to be?

    #28750

    Terry
    Moderator

    Hi Norm,

    Urtica Dioica was planted in the trays on the bench and in tubs on the floor and the Small Tortoiseshell laid egg batches mainly on the nettles on the shelf because they get much warmer and it faces south east. The Tubs on the floor being a little more shaded on the north west side. The Urtica Ferox was on the north east/south east corner and the Small Tortoiseshell females laid just as well on this as on the Urtica Dioica on the shelf. The larvae fed on the Urtica Ferox as if it was there normal nettle without problems. In the wild in the UK I have only ever found Small Tortoiseshell larvae on Urtica Dioica although they have been reported on Urtica Urens. Urtica Urens is far less common than Urtica Dioica and needs to be growing in large densities to support Small Tortoiseshell larvae that number from 50 to 150 eggs per batch, hence they are very seldom associated with Urtica Urens.

    #28745

    NormTwigge
    Keymaster

    Terry, your input is very valuable information in confirming that one of your UK species was happy to accept our NZ Urtica ferox (Ongaonga) as a suitable hostplant, even although the breed had never ever experienced it before.
    Was the U.dioica available to them also?

    #28744

    NormTwigge
    Keymaster

    Rob, thanks for your post. There is still much to learn about our New Zealand butterflies, and its posts like these that all help to build up the information on their habits and life cycles, which makes for a valuable resource.

    #28743

    Rob
    Participant

    Terry, I have been to an English meddow only once in my life. I can still remember the Peacock Butterflies,Admirals and Sulphers….beautiful….that was well over 30 years ago

    Back home I have had to move house. My little population of Red Admirals had dwindled to 2…one on the wing and one in a pupa. I decided to pack up everything and collect the butterflies as dried specimens seeing as the chances of a paring and eggs was about now about nil. It all depended on STRESS, timing, and would I get a female or male from the pupa. That litle pupa finally hatched about an hour ago…..into a Yellow Admiral. So all that collecting I did was more fortunate than I realised. I had infact collected Reds and Yellows….all from U. ferox

    #28741

    Terry
    Moderator

    I admire the dedication of the Admiral breeders on this thread who have to travel quite a distance to find Admiral sources for home rearing programs. It makes my problems look small considering I only have to walk across the road to the nearest field to collect Nettles for my captive Yellow Admiral stock and of course I can also source locally, nettle feeding species such as Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Comma if I so choose! Nettles are very common in the UK if somewhat still persecuted to much by farmers and the general population.

    On the subject of which nettles are best or preferred by which species, Norm is correct that it makes little difference, and I would just add that although Urtica Ferox is not native to the UK; the one I grew in my Butterfly House was used by my Small Tortoiseshell females to lay egg batches on, and the larvae loved it, and of course they had never come across it before. If the chemicals taste right and of course they do as it is closely related to the other nettles dioica, urens, australis, and incisa they will utilise it!

    #28739

    Pepetuna
    Keymaster

    Hope you do have Reds Jane. And looking for larvae or even butterfly-spotting is such a good excuse to get up into the bush!
    (Not that you need one 😉

    In corroboration of what Norm said, I grew Urtica ferox in my section, and the butterflies that laid eggs on it were Yellow Admirals (as I found out when the adults emerged). So can confirm that Yellows will lay eggs on any nettle – I get them on the other 2 smaller (and much less fierce!) nettles I grow as well. I do get Red Admirals nectaring on buddleias in my garden, but as far as I Know, no eggs laid on any of the nettles. Possibly fewer visitors, possibly not females, possibly nettles not in the right place (though I try variety positions, some in sun, some in shade).

    #28737

    Jane
    Participant

    During the week I went on a hunt to see if I could spot nettles/larvae or butterflies. I went into the bush and walked up a track to the tops where I found Urtica incisa growing in shady areas of the hillside both under bushcover and in openings in the bush where trees had come down. There were larvae of various sizes, so packed a few up and brought them home. I didn’t like to take them all because that would deplete the local resource.

    The only butterfly I saw on that day was a Red Admiral, so I am hoping that I have larvae of the Reds. I am raising them in a separate container from the Yellows, so time will tell.

    #28736

    NormTwigge
    Keymaster

    While the popular notion is that Red Admirals prefer to lay on Urtica ferox, I have netted Red Admirals in the field laying on both Urtica urens and Urtica dioica, and have gathered caterpillars from Urtica ferox which turned out to be Yellow Admirals. The fact is that both Admirals will lay on whatever nettle is available, but because the Yellow Admiral is recognised as an urban butterfly it does not often find Urtica ferox in that habitat. I have conducted trials with Red Admirals many times laying out four different nettle varieties in pots, and found that the Red Admirals often lay on Urtica dioica as a first choice, with all the varieties being in peak condition. Similarly the Yellow Admirals will lay on Urtica ferox if it is available, which shows that both Admirals will take whatever is available, similar to the Monarch with the many varieties of milkweed.
    If one can locate nettles growing on farmland, visit on a sunny, calm day during the butterfly season and with a little patience there is an excellent chance one will spot an admiral or two. The problem is of course, as Rob mention, nettles are sprayed by farmers because they are ‘weeds’, so they are not too common, but the trick is to look for a farm that has a few weeds growing rather than a ‘squeaky clean’ property.

    #28735

    Rob
    Participant

    I have permission to collect from a farmer in Taumarunui. Quite a while ago when down there I went nocking on doors looking for farmers with nettles on their property. Its a bit of a story but the general gist is that he has native ferox stinging nettle on his farm. He hasent yet removed them but he has made indication that that is what he wants to do. As a general rule Red Admirals prefer to lay eggs on Urtica ferox while Yellow admirals tend to go for other nettles. If you can find Urtica ferox you have a good chance of getting Red Admirals.

    #28734

    Pepetuna
    Keymaster

    Harking back to your first post in this thread, Rob, where did you go to get the Red Admirals? I have to drive down to Ruatoki this weekend so I would love to go and find some Red Admiral larvae or pupae.

    #28711

    Rob
    Participant

    Thanks Norm. The caterpillars look about right but the pupa dont. Infact these moths dident pupate at all. I had kept them inside to keep them safe. They span a silken web but dident pupate in the mormal way. I suspect they did get parasitised. So am going to place them into a container and wait. I am expecting wasps to hatch.

    Two of my reds excaped, one died…and the nttles are bursting with pollen making it very hard to spot eggs. Am down to one admiral and one pupae. Things are tight.

    There was only one excape hatch I dident ceal. A small gap at the bottom of the shade house. Are they that sneeky? I gues so…after all they get to spend all day in there. They probably know it better than I do!!!!

    #28703

    NormTwigge
    Keymaster

    Two other lovers of nettles are the larvae of the Silver Y moth and the Burnished Brass moth, caterpillars of both looking very similar to each other.

    #28702

    Anna
    Participant

    It will be interesting Rob to see what sort of moth hatches from the unidentified caterpillar.
    I found some strange looking grubs in the nettle, so raised a couple…and found they were a type of weevil!!

    #28701

    Rob
    Participant

    Allas Anna, I have such little time for my hobby…have found that all problems need care and attention one way or another. I try to make the living quarters as full of plants as possible, and as full of nectar as possible. Havent seen any egg laying activity yet

    #28700

    Anna
    Participant

    It will be interesting to see if you find eggs Rob, and whether they are fertile. I have Red Admirals in an enclosure at the moment, and while the girls are happily depositing eggs on the nettle, very few are fertile! I think theres only one male left in there at the moment, and hes not interested in the girls:(
    In the evening, at dusk I make sure they have all had a feed of the water/honey/soya sauce, even though they feed on the nectar flowers in the enclosure, and they always stick their tongues out for a top up!

    Luckily some Red Admiral eggs were fertile, and I’m in the process of raising them in icecream containers, with muslin lids, so they aren’t hassled by preditors.

    #28688

    Rob
    Participant

    Thanks for all that feed back. Definetly the ants. The first Red Admiral I hatched from the wild caught population seemed unable to locate the flowers. No matter how hard I tried to teach it where to go it just wouldent learn. Aventually I saw it fly down and feed from a yellow Coryopsis….but two days later it died….all I could find was the wings and few ants scavenging the remains. Body and head all gone. It did do at least one thing for me…he/she tought the newly hatched Red Admiral where to feed.

    Watched a male try to mate last night. Eggs might be on the horizon. I’m waiting now to see if the ants are going to clinb up the side of the shadehouse and drop on to the nettles!!!!

    Am also watching to see what hatches out of a strange caterpillar that I caught feeding on the nettles. Will keep you posted on the outcome. Have sen this caterpillar before but this time Ill get the ID from the moth when it hatches

    #28668

    Jane
    Participant

    That is an amazing piece of film on the ants. Its a wonder that there is any foliage left!

    About caterpillars/buterflies going missing: I remember Terry mentioning that he had a spider hiding in his butterfly house, behind a pot that he hadn’t moved for a while…..so much to watch out for!

    #28667

    Jacqui
    Keymaster

    You must have been disappointed, Bernie.

    I was just looking at videos on Youtube of ants attacking caterpillars (average only) or taking eggs (didn’t find any). But this BBC footage never ceases to amaze me:

    #28664

    Bernie
    Member

    regarding ants and caterpillars,many years ago,in the south of France,I collected several nearly fully grown swallowtail larvae which I left in a plastic box just on the floor outside the apartment.
    The following morning,when I looked in the box,there were literally hundreds of ants which had killed all the cats and were in the process of carrying pieces of them away.
    Even this year,somewhere in Europe,I watched an ant carrying away an insect that was many many times the size of the ant itself.

    #28662

    Jacqui
    Keymaster

    Amazing!

    #28661

    NormTwigge
    Keymaster

    As an example of how clever ants can be, in my eary stages of butterfly breeding and artificial nectar feeding stations I learned that ants were also partial to the nectar source, so the nectar container was on a stem which was glued onto a plant pot dish filled with water. But one day I noticed about a dozen ants feeding on the sugar solution and running up and down the stem, stopping when they came to the water, and tracking back up the stem again. So how did they get there?
    A few minutes of observation finally solved the problem – on the same shelf as the feeder was a potted nectar plant, one of the stems had a lean on and was directly above, but not touching the feeder. The ants were tracking up the leaning stem and dropping onto the nectar dish. But of course they had not workred out the next stage of getting off the feeder.

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