Lepidoptera Facts Collecting Butterfly And Moth Ova
The collection of ova may be carried on more or less throughout the year. A number of moths are out in February, and even in January if the weather is mild. These soon lay their eggs, which are hatched about the time that the buds of the food plant are breaking. From this time till late in the summer the ova of various species are being deposited, the average period from laying to hatching being from two to three weeks. Then, during the autumn, when the leaves of food plants are turning brown and crisp, ova are still being laid, but these remain unchanged till the new buds of the following spring are bursting.
Of course if you intend searching for the ova of particular species you must previously ascertain the favourite haunts of those species, become acquainted with their food plants, and also with the season or seasons during which the eggs are laid. But the few following hints will suffice as general instructions for the search.
In nearly all cases we must expect to find ova on the food plants of the respective species, but at times, especially with certain moths, we may come across them in the most unlikely spots. Thus, it sometimes happens that a moth settles on a street lamp, and lays her eggs on the framework round the glass, or even on the glass itself. The same thing may take place on the sash or glass of a brightly lighted window.
Such occurrences, however, we must regard as accidental and comparatively rare, and therefore we confine our searchings for ova to the food plants of the species we require.
As a rule the under sides of the leaves will yield the most, but we have already noticed that some moths leave their eggs exposed on the upper surface. Again, some larva feed on flowers and seeds and fruit, and the eggs of such are deposited on these parts. Those insects which feed on the leaves of shrubs and trees often lay their eggs on trunks, branches and twigs. Sometimes these are laid singly, sometimes in dense clusters; and it is not unusual to find them arranged in rings or spirals with great regularity. When examining the trunks of trees for ova it is necessary to look well into the crevices of the bark, for some insects take particular care to lay them in deep sheltered chinks; but others take no such precautions, and deposit them on exposed ridges or plain surfaces where they are easily discovered.
One difficulty of the ova collector lies in the fact that many insects lay on the upper branches of large trees. Of course a search for these is out of the question; but in places where the trees have been cut down a few years previously, and where a consequent undergrowth has developed, there are considerable chances of success with these species. Young saplings of trees often yield well, especially in places where tall trees of the same species are absent. It may be mentioned, too, that some moths actually lay their eggs beneath the surface of water, depositing them on the under surfaces of floating pond weeds; and others even enter the nests of wasps and bees for the same purpose. It is clear, then, from these few remarks, that the work of an ambitious collector of insects’ eggs is by no means a monotonous task; for his employment takes him into the meadows and woods, leads him to the banks of ponds, and even compels him to tear down banks and hedges for the nests of Hymenoptera at the risk of a sting or two.
One of the most productive sources of eggs is undoubtedly the possession of captured females. When you are out netting butterflies you often see a female that is evidently engaged in her matronly duties. Instead of seeking food from the various flowers in her path, she pays attention only to the foliage, looking out a suitable leaf on which to deposit her eggs. Should you meet with an insect thus engaged which you would like to rear at home, or of which you would like to know the egg, secure it in a perforated pill box with a leaf of the proper plant; and it will often supply you with abundance of eggs for your purpose, in many cases depositing them in the box before you arrive home. The eggs of numerous species of moths are also to be easily obtained from captured females.
Some insects do not seem inclined to deposit their eggs in captivity as freely as when at large, and in order to induce them to do so we must, as far as possible, put them in their natural conditions. Let them have plenty of room, and supply them with fresh twigs of their food plants, kept green by standing them in vessels of water. It is also advisable, supposing you are not well acquainted with the dispositions of the species you have, to keep a portion of the box well shaded from direct sunlight, and allow another part to be as bright as possible; for some species will not lay in a bright light, while others will not do so without it.
Again, while some deposit their eggs within a few hours of quitting the pupa case, others do not lay for several days. With regard to the latter, it is frequently necessary to feed them while in captivity, by placing in the box a piece of rag or sponge that has been dipped in honey or syrup.
Each batch of ova should be carefully examined with a view to knowing them by sight on a future occasion. A sketch should be made in your note book, showing every detail that you can make out with the aid of a good lens. Then observations concerning the season, colour of the eggs, the situation in which deposited, arrangement, and any other useful particulars, should be entered.
In the next chapter some hints will be given concerning the management of ova and the rearing of the larva from the time of hatching.