Happy Friday insect aficionados!!! We hope you’re having a great Friday, and that you’re starting to warm up from this week’s single digit temperatures. Today we’re bringing you something that will be sure to warm you up. Think tropical America, because that’s where this week’s insects come from. In fact they’re on the wing right now, just waiting for you!!! Today we’d like to introduce you to the Automeris moths. Sometimes in the U.S.A. we call these moths IO moths, because there is one species called Automeris io that lives as far north as southern Canada. But generally speaking, the Automeris moths range from the southern U.S.A. down to Chile and Argentina, with many species being rainforest dwellers. So if you’re ready, let’s get started!!!
Automeris moths are small to large in size, with over 150 species in the group. Most of the Automeris species have two very important characteristics in common. The adults all have spectacular eyespots on their hind wings, and all of their caterpillars have poisonous spines that can cause a painful skin irritation and in extreme cases a severe allergic reaction!!! The caterpillars can be very dangerous to handle.
So let’s start at the beginning. Female Automeris moths usually lay their eggs in closely packed rows, often with as many as 50 eggs in the group. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars tend to stay together in tightly packed clusters. The caterpillars remain in groups until they are approximately half grown. You’ve heard the expression, “There’s safety in numbers.” Well, this is very true for Automeris caterpillars. Their poisonous spines are formidable enough, but in clusters, very few predators will challenge them. As the poisons build up in their spines, the caterpillars will eventually each go their own way. These spines are essentially hollow tubes with lots of tiny branching spikes. The spines are filled with an acidic type of chemical, and the spines are very brittle. When a predator (or curious person) brushes against these spines, the tiny branching spikes break off and release the toxin. Their spine-covered bodies often look soft and fluffy, but don’t be fooled. From first-hand experience, their defenses are very effective!!! One last thing that is somewhat unusual, many Automeris caterpillars can thrive on a wide range of plants. What is odd about this is that they are able to synthesize their toxins from a wide range of plants, many of which are totally harmless chemically. In contrast, most other poisonous caterpillars are specialized to digest toxic plants and “hold” the toxins in their bodies.
So now, why are the Automeris moths some of our favorites? Simply, many of them are spectacularly beautiful. Their large hind wing eyespots are very colorful and sometimes intricate, in contrast to the somewhat camouflaged forewings. We have posted two composite photos showing a variety of species. The first composite shows them with their wings closed in camouflage position. The second composite shows them after they have been “startled”. They flash their wings open revealing the large eyespots. A predator is frightened by the sudden appearance of the “eyes” which they mistake for the face of a large animal. This momentary distraction is sometimes all the opportunity that the Automeris moth needs to escape to safety. Automeris moths are part of the Saturniid family of moths. Saturniids are some of the largest and most beautiful moths in the world. Some of the favorite characteristics are the exaggerated featherlike antennae, which are necessary to help them find mates. Like all Saturniid moths, Automeris moths are unable to feed as adults. So unfortunately, these beautiful creatures live only about a week as adults, just long enough to find mates, lay eggs and die. It’s a rather sad end for these magnificent moths. All of today’s specimens were photographed by us in Ecuador. We’ve also included a photograph of a typical full grown caterpillar. Enjoy!!!
Automeris moths are a true favorite among collectors. If you are a “specialist” collector, there is a wide range of Automeris moths to collect, and many of them vary in color and shape. If you are not a specialist, your collection should include a few of the more impressive species. We always have an interesting selection of Automeris moths in our Wonders Of Nature department, all beautifully framed and matted, and most species at very affordable prices. See you on the trail!!!
We hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of Friday Flyers. We love sharing our interest in butterflies and insects with you. Please enjoy the photos we have posted with this week’s edition, and be sure to see all the previous pictures in our Friday Flyers album. Remember to “like” our Wonders Of Nature page, and be sure to pass it along to all your Facebook Friends. We hope you’ll visit our Wonders Of Nature department soon, and we look forward to seeing you.