30 Days Wild – Day Twenty-Three


Tuesday 23rd June:

Something I’ve really been missing this month is caterpillars! I want to improve my butterfly, moth and caterpillar ID skills so I’ve been keeping a keen eye out for them on minibeast hunts with the Wildlife Trust to no avail,  and just yesterday I commented to Marcus on the lack of caterpillars at the LNR we visited. Lo and behold, on my way home from work today I spotted this…

After complaining for weeks about the lack of caterpillars – these guys almost poked me in the eye as I walked past on my way home from work.
It’s really fascinating to take a bit of time out and imagine life in their world! There were hundreds on the nettles by the road, but only a small percentage will survive to become butterflies.

Finally! Judging from the size of some of them these peacock larvae have been around for quite a few days. I spent quite a few minutes watching them. They are bold, black, spiky vicious looking creatures that thrive on stinging nettles.

If you’re trying to ID a caterpillar, I’ve found googling ‘black caterpillar with spots and orange legs’ doesn’t really get you far…

They hatch from eggs in large clusters on a single nettle and as they get larger and stronger they seem to spread out through the nettle patch a bit more but it’s really odd to see one tall wriggling black mass amongst a sea of green. That’s how I originally noticed them and I wondered to myself how they even survive when they stand out that much! A rather nutritious dinner for a bird! I suppose that their long spines protect them somewhat, aswell as the fact they live solely on stinging nettles – maybe it’s too hostile a hunting ground for predators.

The caterpillars on different nettles varied in terms of development; there were some that seemed to have only just hatched, some almost at pupating stage and some still as eggs wrapped in silk and waiting to emerge.
The caterpillars seem to cling to one nettle plant for the first few days until they are big and strong enough to move further away from home.

I knew these were peacock caterpillars because I saw the same phenomenon along the Trent at Attenborough Nature Reserve last year and spent ages searching ‘black caterpillars with orange legs’ online trying to find the right ID – obviously not the right way to go about it! However, I also spotted a couple of other caterpillars alongside the peacocks on the nettles that I didn’t recognise. It turns out these are small tortoiseshells. How exciting! I have a little pop up caterpillar tent at home and I really wanted to watch these guys transform so I carefully cut some nettles and took home four peacocks and three small tortoiseshells so I can observe their progress everyday and hopefully learn a bit more about them.


I was excited to see an article on the bbc wildlife website saying that the arrival of millions of painted lady butterflies is iminent… supposedly you could see over a thousand in the space of an hour.  I’m hoping to be in the right place at the right time to see something like this… but with nature you can’t always be sure when, where and how!

All images subject to copywrite. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.


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