Caterpillars of the
World - Peru
Superfamily - BOMBYCOIDEA
Family - SATURNIIDAE
Automeris liberia, Manu cloudforest,
900m, Peru ©
genus Automeris contains about 260
Automeris liberia occurs in Ecuador and
species is found in rainforest and cloudforest habitats at altitudes
between about 400-1500m.
The caterpillars of all
moths in the subfamily Hemileucinae have stinging spines. One
particular species Lonomia obliqua, has
well camouflaged spiked caterpillars
which can be found clustered in groups of up to 100 on the trunks of
trees in Amazonia. There have been many incidents where people have
touched or unwittingly rubbed against
groups of these larvae. The effects of a
dose from multiple larvae can be very
dangerous, including massive intercranial
haemorrhaging and kidney failure.
Lonomia larvae are a
frequent cause of death in southern Brazil - 354 people died between
1989 and 2005. The fatality rate is about 1.7% - roughly equivalent
to that of rattlesnake bites. Fortunately
Automeris larvae are non-lethal, but many can produce a very
larvae of most species when fully grown are bright green, marked
laterally with dashes or stripes of red ( or orange ) and white.
Along the back and sides are rows of multi-branched stinging spines,
each like a miniature Xmas tree.
larvae of most Automeris species are
polyphagous - e.g. the known foodplants of
Automeris io include such unrelated pabula as
and Euterpe. When young the larvae feed
gregariously, but they gradually disperse and become solitary by the
final instar. Automeris liberia is
known to feed in the wild on Salix,
Automeris species vary in pattern and
colouration. Some have yellowish forewings, but most are brown
marked with dark post median lines, and when at rest resemble dead
leaves. Others have greyish forewings mottled or marbled with darker
tones, and provide a convincing camouflage when they are at rest on
tree trunks. The hindwings are usually much brighter in colour,
being creamy or bright yellow in most species, marked with red or
orange. There is always a pair of prominent false eyes, which
vary in size from species to species.
If the moths are
disturbed they immediately drop to the ground and uncover their
hindwings to reveal the startling eye-spots. At the same time they
usually arch their abdomens, and twitch violently, thrusting the
hindwings and their eye-spots forward in a series of rhythmical
movements. The effect on humans is usually to recoil in shock, and
no doubt birds react in a similar manner, and in many cases are so
startled or scared that the moths escape being eaten.
Automeris liberia, Ecuador.