Crimson-speckled Flunkey

I just love the common name of this moth – Crimson-speckled Flunkey is so much fun to say!

Crimson-speckled Flunkey
On a Trichodesma plant.

This moth (Utetheisa pulchella) belongs to the Erebidae family and can be found in dry open spaces in the Afrotropical ecozone in North Africa, the Near East, and Central Asia.

Crimson-speckled Flunkey

Their wings are white with small black spots between larger bright red one with an irregular black border. Their heads and thorax areas can be cream- to yellow-colored with the same pattern as the wings.

Crimson-speckled Flunkey
A dead specimen, perhaps a meal for a mantis or a spider.

Crimson-speckled Flunkeys fly during both the day and night, making them easier to spot than only night-flying moths. I have seen them in various locations in South Sinai, on a variety of plants.

Crimson-speckled Flunkey
Crimson-speckled Flunkey

The larvae, or caterpillars, eat a range of plants. In Sinai they most likely eat the leaves of Trichodesma and Heliotropium plants, as well as others. As they eat, the caterpillars accumulate a large amount of alkaloids in their bodies, making them unpalatable and toxic to birds. Their colors serve as a warning sign: They are dark brown or gray with orange lines across each segment. They have lateral white lines along their bodies and tufts of grayish hairs. I have never seen the caterpillars, at least not that I recall, but I found the image below on Wikipedia.

Have you ever spotted these moths or caterpillars on your wanderings?

Convolvulus Hawkmoth

It’s been almost a year exactly since I shared a photograph of an unknown caterpillar that was devouring the basil plant in my garden. A few months ago, my students and I were able to successfully raise one of those critters indoors and finally identify it as a Convolvulus Hawkmoth (Agrius convolvuli)!

Again, we had found the caterpillar munching my basil plant, but my husband and I have also found eggs on a sweet potato plant at his farm.

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The eggs are smooth, greenish spheres and are laid on the underside of leaves. The larvae will eat a range of plants, including but not limited to daisy, taro, morning glory, sunflower, purslane, and some legumes. And as we’ve learned – basil and sweet potato!

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The young caterpillars are green with a straight horn on their tail ends, but the larvae will go through five instar phases, molting its skin at each stage.

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Later instars develop pale diagonal stripes and their horns curve backward. Even later instars may become dark brown. The caterpillars are quite large, growing up to 8 cm in length.

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Our caterpillar buried a few centimeters under gravel and leaf litter to form its pupa, which was glossy and reddish brown. The moths spend between 5 and 26 days in this stage.

Hawkmoth Pupa

Adults Convolvulus Hawkmoths are grey with light and dark patterns. The abdomen has pink patches on the side of each segment.

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I have never seen these moths flying, but like other hawkmoths, they are able to hover in flight.

I am thrilled that we were able to raise this – my first! – moth and share our discoveries with you! Have you ever raised butterflies or moths at home? It truly is a fascinating experience.

African Caper White Butterfly

I mentioned on my Facebook page the other day that I was raising caterpillars with one of my students and I promised to write a blog post to reveal who would emerge from the chrysalis. This is a butterfly I have raised indoors on several occasions and one that is often found in my garden, so I have been lucky to observe these critters a lot over the years and I have a ton of photographs. It was hard to narrow down the choices, but I am finally ready to introduce you to…the African Caper White Butterfly!

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Also known as the Brown-veined White or the Pioneer White, Belenois aurota butterflies only lay their eggs, in batches of 25 – 30, on the leaves of caper bushes (Capparis sp.) The eggs are tall and ribbed and stuck onto the leaves with a special “glue”.

When the larvae, or caterpillars, hatch, they are olive green in color and have glossy black heads. They live and feed gregariously, or socially in a group. They quickly devour the thick caper leaves as they continue to eat and grow.

Garden Caper Pooters (4)

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They will molt several times. The larger caterpillars are hairy and have a green stripe along their backs and mottled black stripes along their sides.

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With their last molt, they form their pupa, or chrysalis. It is cream-colored and dashed with black markings and round yellow dots. They attach themselves, again in groups, with a sticky thread to the leaves or stems of the caper bushes.

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The adults emerge in about 7 – 10 days. Their wings, about 4 cm across, are white with black or dark brown veins.

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When they are ready to come out, some segments of the chrysalis become red and will stay this color.

After the butterflies emerge, they will feed and mate.

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And they don’t waste anytime getting started! In the video below, taken in my garden, you can see butterflies trying to mate with one whose wings are still drying.

 

Striped Hawkmoth

I promised – to those of you follow on Facebook – that my next post would be about this magnificent critter that I found on a basil plant in my garden –

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– as he was indeed the inspiration for getting back to work on this blog, and so today is all about…hawkmoths!

Unfortunately, I do not know – yet! – exactly who this bright green caterpillar is, but I do know that he (or she) is in the Sphingidae family of moths. Moths in this family are commonly called hawkmoths, sphinx moths, or hornworms.

There are over 1,450 species of Sphingidae moths. The larvae, or caterpillars, of hawkmoths are hairless and have a “horn” on the posterior end.

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Striped Hawkmoth (Hyles livornica)

And while I do not know which caterpillar was munching on my basil plant, I do know who was bending over backwards to eat the tips of desert lavender. That is a larva of the Striped Hawkmoth, Hyles livornica.

It was early spring 2013 and we had had a wet winter in Dahab. There had even been a hail storm in November. So the desert plants were flourishing in the wadis!

On one early morning wander, we came across an area lush with fresh green asphodel, lavender, and sorrel. And crawling across the sandy wadi were the most amazing caterpillars I had seen in Sinai! Dozens of them. Some of the largest were as long and thick as my index finger. They were happily munching on all the nearby herbs.

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Like all caterpillars, these Striped Hawkmoth larvae go through several stages of development, or instars, and their colors and patterns can change quite dramatically at each stage.

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Hawkmoth caterpillars will burrow into the soil or gravel or hide among the rocks to pupate and I have never seen that stage of development. But about a month after we saw the caterpillars, we discovered the adult Striped Hawkmoths. They were busy feeding on the dhafrah (Iphiona scabra) flowers.

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Sphingidae moths are known for their rapid flight and ability to hover in midair while they feed. They use their long proboscis (mouth parts) to reach the nectar in the flowers. Male moths are typically smaller than females. Both are beige with white stripes. Their hindwings, not seen when the wings are at rest, are pink and edged with black and white.

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a Striped Hawkmoth, attracted to the light in the tent during a spring safari

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Dahab was blessed recently with several good rainstorms and young desert plants are already poking their heads through the sand. Let’s hope the plants start to thrive again and that we have beautiful green wadis to wander through this coming spring. The butterflies and moths would be happy with that, too!

References:

Striped hawkmoth ~ ARKive

Hyles livornica ~ Moth and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa

Hyles livornica ~ Wikipedia

Large Salmon Arab Butterfly

Of the nearly 19,000 butterfly species in the world, only 63 occur in Egypt. And this beauty – a Large Salmon Arab (Colotis fausta) – has been fluttering about my garden lately!

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We are lucky here in South Sinai, as the mountainous region is one of the hotspots of butterfly diversity in Egypt, home to 2/3 of the butterflies found in Egypt. The Salmon Arab is a member of the Pieridae family of butterflies, or Whites, as they are commonly called. Like most butterflies, they go through a 4-stage metamorphosis: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult. The eggs are laid on and the caterpillar feed on the leaves of caper bushes (Capparis sp.), which is why I find these butterflies in my garden and where you’ll usually spot them in the wadis. The caterpillars are light green, hairy, and have a pale-colored stripe through their body.

Large Salmon Arab Catepillar (1)

The larva continue to eat, grow, and molt (shed their skins) until they are ready to form their chrysalis (a hard skin) and start to pupate. The chrysalis is attached, usually to a leaf, by silk threads.

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After about a week, the adult butterfly emerges.

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The upperside of the wings are a salmon-pink to an orange-yellow color and the forewings have dark scales and black spots along the edges. In the dry season, they are smaller and lighter-colored. You can find these butterflies in flight between April and November.

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As a curious nature-lover as well as a teacher, I will occasionally raise caterpillars indoors to learn more about them. Check out the proboscis (sucking mouth part) on the newly-emerged butterfly below!

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Although the weather is getting a bit too hot to be wandering through wadis these days, you might just spot these butterflies near the caper bushes around town!

References:

Butterflies of Egypt: Atlas, Red Data Listing, & Conservation

Francis Gilbert & Samy Zalat

PDF version of the book is FREE to download here.