Moths of the Amazon
Family - SATURNIIDAE
Automeris liberia, Ecuador.
are about 260 species in the genus Automeris.
The forewings of most species are
brownish, marked with dark lines; and usually have a dark blotch at
the end of the discal cell. When they are at rest, with the
hindwings concealed, they are convincing dead leaf mimics. Some
species instead have greyish forewings mottled or marbled with
darker tones, providing them with a very effective bark-like
camouflage when they are at rest on tree trunks. The hindwings of
most species feature large conspicuous false eyes, set against a
yellowish or orange ground colour.
Automeris liberia occurs in Ecuador and
species is found in a wide variety of forested habitats, at
altitudes between about 200-1500m.
Automeris liberia, final instar larva,
Manu cloudforest, 900m, Peru
© Adrian Hoskins
caterpillars of most Automeris species
are bright green, marked laterally with dashes or stripes of white,
edged with red or orange. Along their backs and sides are rows of
multi-branched stinging spines, each like a miniature Xmas tree.
When young the larvae feed gregariously, but as they get older they
gradually disperse and become solitary by the final instar.
Automeris species are polyphagous -
e.g. the known foodplants of Automeris io
include such unrelated pabula as Salix,
Automeris liberia is known to feed in
the wild on Salix,
If the moths are
molested they instantly drop to the ground, exposing their hindwings
to reveal the startling eye-spots. They then arch their abdomens and
twitch violently, jerking the hindwings in a series of rhythmical
movements to draw attention to the eye-spots. This is an effective
scare tactic which usually causes humans to recoil in shock. Birds
probably react in a similar manner, and in many cases may be so
startled or scared that the moths escape being eaten.