Rearing limacodids from eggs in plastic containers or on leaves


This link shows a female Thosea laying a couple of eggs on plastic.

Although in an unnatural setting, it shows how these moths tend to lay on smooth surfaces. The advantage to them laying on plastic rather than on a leaf in our attempts to raise caterpillars are multiple. For one, a leaf tends to dry or mold during the often 7 day gestation period until hatching. Also, through the plastic with the add of a hand lens you can watch the embryos as they develop. Not only is this fascinating to observe, but it is practical as well, as it gives you a heads up on when the egg will hatch.

Rearing limacodids from eggs obtained from females captured at lights has the advantage of being able to identify the species from an adult, since larvae often die. You'll note all these 'UFOs' in Inaturalist and other websites. Having the moth first really helps!

Recognizing females: Other than Perola in the Neotropics and Taeda in Africa, I don't know of any examples of females with bi-pectinate antenna for the length or base of the antenna, common in males, particularly those with nettle caterpillars. However, there are many limacodids that have filiform (threadlike antennae), so another thing to look for in determining the sex is the abdomen. Many males raise the abdomen above the body when at rest. Females tend to have rounder and heavier abdomens, as the are gravid. Also, their flight at an illuminated sheet tends to be less active. Like many moths the females are less abundant at lights, though species with clear winged males can be the opposite, given that clear winged males probably fly either during the day or soon after sunset or before sunrise.

The major difficulties in rearing from eggs are that females are more difficult to find at lights (I prefer mercury vapor), occasionally you get unmated females or those that will not oviposit, and having to guess at suitable food plant for species whose food has not been presently reported. Rearing limacodids without knowing the food plant is not as difficult as some other moth groups owing to the polyphagy of a number of species. In species that have not been reared, however, I advise that you try hostplants recorded for many limacodids. Leaves from Prunus or rose bushes, for example, are often good plants, or those that you have found limacodids on in your area.

When capturing a female, place it in plastic container and put it in a dark place. Limacodids will often lay eggs on the smoothest available surface, thus they often will lay them on the sides of a container. It is important to keep scales from female from getting on eggs because they can promote mold. One way that this can be prevented is by placing female in several different containers or by removing the scales between the eggs with a fine brush after the female has been moved. The plastic also has the advantage of being able to cut out groups of eggs to be placed in smaller containers. A container made of clear thin plastic has advantage of later being able to cut out groups of eggs and being able to observe the development of the embryos. It can often be estimated within a day when hatching will occur the embryo filling the space in the egg, the absence of yolk and the well developed stemmata and mandible. Watering the eggs is also important in preventing desiccation, though care should be taken to be sure the eggs air dry before recapping the container. I presume your area in Assam is very humid, but I still advise a little of this watering to insure that scales from the mother are removed from the eggs (you can carefully brush off these scales, but these eggs are very fragile, so great care under a stereo microscope is needed). Alternatively, the female can be placed in a larger cage with a potted plant or with leaves with petioles in a plant pick to keep the leaf and the eggs from desiccating.
After the eggs hatch, in genera with smooth gelatines in later instars tend to feed in first instars (Cheromettia, Belippa, Narosa, etc). It is particularly important to delicately place newly hatched larvae that are on the plastic onto food plants with tiny camel's hair brushes, since they have difficulty crawling from plastic to host. Spiny larvae (Parasa, Thosea, Scopelodes, Miresa, etc) do not feed in first instar and molt again after a day or two, so they do not need to be moved from plastic to plant immediately. Leaves and fecula (=frass, droppings) also need to be changed every few days to prevent mold.
Alternatively, if you know the food plant, you can bag the moth on a plant with a fine mesh net. This has the advantage of not having the host dry out or get moldy and not having to transfer the larvae to leaves when cleaning containers, especially in early instars.
In all cases, after the female is finished laying, be sure to save the specimen as a voucher. Pin and label with a cross label to those larvae being reared is of upmost importance, of course.

Rearing limacodid larvae found in nature, as opposed to from eggs layed in container, has the advantage of knowing the true host, which has a higher probability of successful rearing. While for many species this is not essential since many species as highly polyphagous, knowing hosts and finding knew ones adds to our scientific knowledge of host plants and assists in finding additional larvae in the future. The latter becomes more important because it is often the case that you are often rearing parasitoid flies or wasps, especially when you find a late instar larvae. Of course you also want to save the flies and wasps for identification by experts.

Whether rearing from eggs or larvae, if you are keeping the larvae in a small container with host plants, the following are suggestions for successful rearing. Early instars are best kept in hard sided containers rather than plastic bags. It is important to prevent condensation since the early instars can easily drown, however, if kept too dry they will desiccate with the food plant. If larvae wander off the host to the side of the container, they can be moved back with a camel's hair brush, but much care is needed.

It is important to photograph larvae, whether found in nature or obtained from the eggs of a female. In the former case it is quite common for larvae to be parasitized by a fly or wasp. A reference photograph will enable better identification at a later time, when the identity of the larva is discovered. Furthermore, larvae that appear to be familiar can turn up to be closely related species or genera that are not presently known.
When you are successful in obtaining a large number of larvae, it is important whenever possible it is important to preserve a specimen of each instar, especially for species that have not been previously reared. This can be done by placing larvae in water that has been boiled for two minutes and then transferring the specimen to 70% ETOH. If it is a late instar, the fluid should be changed over the next few days.
These larval specimens can be used to describe the life history and be useful in determining the relationship of the species or genera to others.
One last comment: in addition to saving various larval stages in ethanol (those that older, please boil in water for a minute before putting into the 70% ethanol), please save the cocoons and the skins associated with them. You can do this in dry vials. In all cases, be sure that the voucher numbers match with the adult female that laid the eggs. Many limacodids will eat their larval skins when they molt (often at least 8 times), but if they don't, save the skins in ethanol, too.
Also, if though I don't know of any of the nettle species that eat when they first come out of the egg, please make a note about this fasting behavior. Perhaps you'll find an exception to the rule.

Now I hope I haven't completely discouraged you! This is truly one of the most amazing groups of moths due to their amazing caterpillars. Detailed knowledge of various installs, particularly the 1st, 2nd, and last few is particularly important to understanding how there are such diverse forms within one group of Lepidoptera. Indeed, this is a group where ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny: you know the ontogeny, you know the evolution. Not always the case, but in this family I'm convinced from the evidence I've seen. cluster of them.

Publicado el 22 de mayo de 2020 a las 07:29 PM por marcepstein marcepstein


That sounds complicated! - but I will post it onto our "Makunda Nature Club" group and try it out. Among common host plants we have here, I have found Limacodid larvae on Teak trees (Tectonia grandis) - can I use these leaves first on unknown larvae?

Anotado por ivijayanand hace cerca de 3 años (Advertencia)

Brilliant, thanks for this information Marc!

Anotado por drewwalky hace cerca de 3 años (Advertencia)

Thanks @marcepstein . Hopefully one day when this dreadful pandemic is finally over, Jo' and Frans can return to Suriname, thus allowing us to continue with our project.
Jo' is currently at home in South Africa, from where he will soon restart his Suriname contract, but remotely so from his house.

Anotado por gerryvantonder hace cerca de 3 años (Advertencia)

Thank you!

Anotado por redpandakitty hace cerca de 3 años (Advertencia)

Amazing! Thanks for sharing.

Anotado por cintia_lepesqueur hace cerca de 3 años (Advertencia)
Anotado por cintia_lepesqueur hace cerca de 3 años (Advertencia)

Thanks for this interesting article. Looking forward to trying to rear coenobasis from eggs here in Botswana.

Anotado por botswanabugs hace más de un año (Advertencia)

Hi Marc! Aquí comparto el link a la traducción en español del texto:

Anotado por andreacjimenez hace más de un año (Advertencia)

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