Marsh Fritillary

21/04/2013
Marsh Fritillary egg batch
Last year I purchased a Marsh Fritillary egg batch with the sole purpose of setting up a good breeding stock of these attractive but threatened butterflies. With some trepidation as if they got to the adult stage and if they paired and if they laid eggs (three big ifs!!) the larvae hibernate quite early in the season (September usually) and I had never been able to over winter them in the past. The larvae in this case grew quickly feeding on potted Devils Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensi) and soon pupated - the adults emerged in mid May over a period of a few weeks. They were placed inside my flight cage (a large black netting cage [url=http://gribblybugs.miiduu.com/large-fine-mesh-net-pop-up-cage-100cm-x-55cm-x-55cm-available-immediately]like this one here[/url]) and although I never saw it happen they must have paired as one evening when checking the scabious plants I was hugely delighted to find a batch of ova under one of the leaves. Not as delighted however as a few days later I found another batch!!

There then followed a period of waiting for them to hatch - I thought this would be in a week or two but seemed to take around 4 weeks. The ova turned very dark crimson and then grey just before hatching and then there were hundreds of tiny larvae. This was around the end of June and they fed for around 6-7 weeks before seeming to vanish completely. This was because they had formed their hibernaculum which is where they would spend the winter in hibernation. This was the danger period as I had never achieved over wintering before.

The advice was to "just stick them outside and leave them" - which I did and the British winter threw everything at them - wind, rain, snow, frost and cold. I was therefor delighted when on the first warm day in the year (February) I looked in the cage (which was like this) and saw a glistening black mass on top of the scabious leaves!! Too many to count but they had emerged from hibernation and were sat warming themselves. Unfortunately this was not to be the end of winter as we had some heavy snow and more cold wet and wind to follow.

When the weather did finally warm up the larvae became quite active (it is day length more than weather which seems to govern when they end hibernation) and I now have the problem of food plant. The winter has dragged on so long and been so cold and devoid of sun that the plants had not grown as quick as normal. I had to improvise with wild honeysuckle (which I have planted in the garden) and which they seemed to take to much to my surprise. However I have visited Naturescape and stocked up on some more plants in case.

That is up to date to today (21st April) - I think around this time last year the previous generation had mostly pupated!) and I will update this blog as things develop.

UPDATE 12th MAY 2013

Larvae are now housed in two terracotta pots with large sleeves - the pots contain devils bit scabious (which has the majority of larvae on them) but also a pot of teasels. We had a very strong wind last week which blew the original pot over so I had to rescue some larvae and they ended up in a plastic box for a while. I decided to give them a choice between scabious, wild honeysuckle and teasel with a leaf of each. Rather surprisingly they chose the teasel! Still nowhere near pupation and with the weather as it is they are not going to feed or grow much - they need some warmth (as do we all)!

UPDATE 7th June 2013

Just back from two weeks in Mull - one larva has now pupated at last. The others are still feeding - while we were away the Teasel which they had started eating was ignored so all that batch perished sadly. The others left with scabious and honeysuckle had nearly finished the scabious when we got back and had started on the honeysuckle. I have now transferred them to a netted cylindrical cage and with scabious and they are all happily munching. Away again shortly so hopefully they will pupate before that. Looks like I will not get adults until end June or early July!!

UPDATE 17th July 2013

Back after our last break to find that they had all pupated. Very late this year - we duly had lots of adults emerge over a period but sadly no seen pairings which means that probably no eggs this year.

LATER - definitely no eggs this year sadly - will need to renew the stock for next year.