I’ve photographed puss moth caterpillars (Cerura vinula) before, but this summer I wanted to follow them through all 5 stages, or ‘instars’, of their larval development.
Luckily I discovered a batch of recently laid puss moth eggs by searching the exact same aspen sapling chosen by another adult female the previous year.
6 June: Unhatched Ova
12 June: Hatched Ova
12 June: 1st Instar
The ‘puss’ moths look a lot more cat-like at this early stage in their development I reckon.
15 June: 2nd Instar
I’d received a shock on my visit the previous day when I found the caterpillars frozen rigid in position, with their backs arched and tails in the air. They looked decidedly dead and I thought they must have been parasitised. Today, however, they were re-animated once more.
24 June: 3rd Instar
9 days later, after vanishing for several days, the two siblings had relocated further up the branch they originally hatched on. Neither was particularly active in the midday heat.
28 June: 4th Instar
It lashed with rain on my next visit and the only visible puss moth was trying its hardest not to get pummeled off the leaf. Its silk pad lashed to the surface provides a firm anchor for feet to grasp.
9 July: 5th Instar
A further 11 days later I returned to find only one of the original 4 puss moth siblings remaining, now in its magnificent mature larval form.
To be continued…
Soon after reaching this mature larval stage the puss moth stops eating and leaves in search of a safe place to pupate. Its transformation into the furry white adult moth can then begin. Despite much searching I couldn’t locate any pupae. Next time maybe!
Photographic survey for RSPB and Natural England for use at public inquiry
Talbot Heath lies largely unnoticed on the outskirts of Poole in Dorset. Once it formed a seamless whole with the famous expanse of heathland familiar to Thomas Hardy and his contemporaries. Nowadays it’s sliced apart by bypass and railway to north and south, and nibbled away at by encroaching residential developments to the east and west. The sea of heathland has become an island here.
Most of the locals clearly love this precious green (and brown) open space, but its close proximity to human habitation regularly puts the heathland flora and fauna at risk from fire and other degradations. The effects of arson in particular, but also the predations of local cats, litter and path erosion present a considerable threat to this Ramsar and SSSI designated site.
The local borough council in their wisdom recently approved a planning application to extend a housing development in the north, onto farmland which currently serves as a buffer between urban and heathland areas. This decision was controversial for several reasons, but especially because it appeared to override a government directive which prevented new developments within 400m of heathland sites.
The RSPB and other conservation bodies became worried that this development might set a dangerous precedent and the decision eventually went to a Public Inquiry. As part of their submission to the Inquiry I was asked to document the site photographically for the RSPB and their partners at Natural England.
Following 3 visits to the site in late spring 2011 I delivered a library of 300+ geolocated images, documenting the Talbot Heath landscape, its flora and fauna, human visitors, and urban effects.
Update: In February 2012 the proposed development was refused permission by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.