Santa Clarita and Northern Los Angeles County Area Butterfly and Moth Site
Great Purple Hairstreak [Altides halesus corcorani] Rearing Images
Meet Matilda. She's a wild-collected Great Purple Hairstreak female from the deep desert. She was netted by my colleague Dave Wikle and brought back to see if I could get any eggs from her. I immediately fed her some 10% honey in water solution and she sucked it up for what seemed like a half an hour. Her abdomen was fat with eggs so I placed her into a large plastic jar with a sprig of Mistletoe, a cap of honey-water solution and another cap of plain water. A paper towel on the bottom gave her something to grip instead of the slippery plastic. 4-13-2008
She was surprisingly docile - bordering on friendly, and hardly tried to fly at all. Instead, she spent most of her time slowly walking around on the bottom, resting, feeding and occasionally laying an egg or two. Looked like the project was already well under way! In the last frame you can see her with her abdomen curled under so that her ovipositor touches the surface of the Mistletoe host sprig.
Here she is a day later with a small batch of eggs. Note the interesting geometric pattern of the eggshell. 4-14-2008
On 4-19-2008, the eggs began to hatch. Note the way some of the eggs are crammed into corners and tight places to help hide and protect them from predators. The tiny green-brown fuzzy larvae chew their way out of the egg, leaving the hollow eggshells with the tops chewed out behind. Unlike many other species, these larvae didn't seem interested in eating their eggshells, beyond what was necessary to create the exit hole..
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The little 1st instars go right to work drilling small holes into the leaves, and eating out the soft juicy interior. As you can see, they are already making a mess of these nice fresh Mistletoe leaves! 4-20-2008.
The eggs are very small, and the larvae that come out of them are hard to keep track of, if they should wander off of the host plant. The last photo shows the (more-or-less) sealed container that was used to hatch the eggs. The paper towel on the bottom/back helps control moisture and prevent condensation. The water vial and sprig of host can be clearly seen. On the bottom is a small box, hand-made from a sheet of paper, in which the eggs are left to hatch. The little larvae are surprisingly mobile and will find the host sprig in no time, even if they don't manage to crawl directly on it when they first start out.
As the brownish-green 1st instars grow, they start to turn more of a green color. They seem to be semi translucent and their green color might actually be the host plant liquid and flesh they've eaten being partially visible inside them! A mature 1st instar (smaller, brownish one) and a 2nd instar are show below. They sure are making a mess of the host sprig! Note the damage to the host leaves - this is fairly easy to spot on the live plant in the wild - an indication that wild larvae may be present. 4-24-2008
The larvae are strange little critters - greenish, slug-like (although NOT slimy) and semi translucent. The head is buried under an overhang of skin, and an odd, diamond-shaped "spot" appears where the head might normally be, giving it a cyclops sort of appearance! 4-27-2008
Here, a couple of freshly-molted 4th instars eat their shed skin for some extra nutrition. The larvae blend-in with the host plant amazingly well. See if you can spot all 4 in the 2nd photo (it's not TOO hard). 4-29-2008
Here are some nice healthy 5th instars on 5-5-2008. Note the odd diamond shaped spots on their backs, above their heads. The last photo shows a larva which has been flipped-over on its side to show its legs and underside. It's not dead, just acting that way.
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These mature 5th instars blend in with the host plant very well, and got much bigger than I expected - they were really tearing through my host plant supply!
On 5-10-2008, I noticed that a couple of larvae had crawled down under the layers of paper towels at the bottom of the rearing container, and "strapped" themselves in for pupation. The larva spins a very light silk pad on the substrate (in this case a paper towel) then attaches it's tail end "cremaster" (basically like the "hooks" of Velcro) into the silk pad, and spins a silk loop around its upper body to secure it in place. In the wild, the larvae would seek out a dark, secluded place, usually under loose bark or other debris at the base of the host tree, in which to safely pupate. Once strapped in, the larva begins to change shape and color as the pupation metamorphosis begins. The phase is called a "pre-pupa" - a transition phase which not quite larva, and not quite pupa. This phase lasts 2-3 three days before pupation finally takes place.
Finally, pupation occurs. You can see the light color of the freshly pupated individuals. Within a couple of hours, the pupal shell hardens and changes color to a more cryptic brown color. Various stages of this process can be seen below. Just prior to pupation, you can see the lighter color of the pre-pupa through the soon-to-be-shed final skin. Note that the skin remains bunched-up at the tail end, where as most species eject it completely. The Life cycle video shows the pupation and hardening phases in time lapse. The camera setup used to record the time lapse sequences is also shown. 5-12-2008
After watching them carefully for about 3 weeks, on 5-29-2008 I could see development in some of the pupae. I was able to find a number of them in different stages of progress, and lined them up for some photos. The wing pattern can be seen to develop, first as the slightest hint, then darkening into deep charcoal-black. Finally, 1 day before the adult is ready to emerge, the iridescent colors can be made-out through the semi-transparent pupal shell. The photos don't show it as well as a live view, but the iridescent color changes work even when still inside the pupal case, albeit not very well.
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On 5-31-2008, the first adults made their grand entrance. One can be seen just cracking the pupal shell; its bright color showing through the crack. Various photos of individuals emerging are shown below. Note that the males are a very reflective bright green color, which shifts into the normal aqua-blue after a minute or so, as the wings expand and the scales change shape. The color appears to vary a lot depending on the light angle, too. The females on the other hand, are much less reflective and don't change color as much.
Here are a few shots of the video setup used to film the emerging sequences...
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