Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Blessed by the Goddess of Silkworm Moths

Sometimes I just cannot believe my good fortune.

Once again, I've been visited by one of the most fabled moths of all time. The beautiful caterpillars I've been raising are the larvae of moths I've wanted to see all my life, since very early childhood: they are called Io moths.

Eye-oh. Oh, you'll see why.

Io belongs to the giant silkworm moth family (Saturniidae), described as an *important and widely distributed family of moths including some of the largest insects known.* Yeah. They're big. BIG. Io is sort of a smaller one; it's only huge. These will be around 3" - 4" across.

My first real-life contact with a silkworm moth was a Luna moth when I was around 10 years old. I still have that moth. (Yes, I murdered and mounted it. Come on. I was just a kid! I only did it a couple times.) Many years later I had another encounter with a luna moth in the swamps near Gainesville, Florida.

A few years after buying this house, I had an extraordinary visit from an enormous female Polyphemus, around 7" in wingspan; I've put my photos on CD and will post about it one day. Then, last year at the Fossil Farm, we caught another one. She laid eggs, which were taken home and raised by our fearless camp mama, Eureka. Writing about that was one of my very first posts. It remains one of my biggest Google hits to this day, often the all-time #1.

Not long after the polyphemus at my house, I had a brief acquaintance with a Black Witch. While it isn't a silkworm moth, the Black Witch (Ascalapha odorata) is *the largest moth, if not the largest insect, north of Mexico.* Just like in the link, I took pix with a ruler by it - but mine was over 8" in wingspan.

And now - finally, finally - Io.

Automeris io.

After all these years. Oh, happiness!

Here are loads of beautiful pix to click. The very first link is my fave - and naturally, it comes from UF, my alma mater. Whose renowned entomology department I've never visited one single time.

Anyway, if you click on this one, and page down past the scientific gobbledygook, it shows both the adult moth and the caterpillars - including the little group of orange babies! Apparently this grouping, and walking about in a long line, is characteristic io behavior. Just as I saw in my own little io nursery, they turn from orange to green and don't group so much as they get older.

The moths themselves are fairly variable in color. The males are smaller and have yellower forewings (the top wing, without the eyes). I also read that there's a South Florida subspecies/variant/color sport/what have you, with redder wings.

And bigger, I bet. oh, I just BET!

Moth Pix
http://hortipm.tamu.edu/pestprofiles/chewing/io/io.html (moth & caterpillar)

And yes, io is also, famously, a stinging caterpillar. Believe me, I kept an eye on that sting. This is NOT the sort of thing hypersensitives should be playing around with. (sigh!) Luckily, it was only the tiniest of prickles.

I bet that was because they like me. It didn't want to hurt me. It was just saying, --Hey, leggo, yer squishing me too hard!

Caterpillar Pix

Racing Stripes Closeup

Caterpillar Action Shot

The Spines that Stung Me


Desert Cat said...

Incredibly beautiful moths! And you get to watch a whole batch emerge.

They look very much like a gorgeous moth I hatched back when I was a kid.

k said...

It may be the same kind, they can live up there. Or a relative. A lot of the silkworm moths have that spectacular form and color and those eyes, oh those eyes.

I'm so excited I can't STAND it!

Granny J said...

Hey I made it back in time for your good news about your tootsies -- and in time to read about your caterpillars. neat stuff! It's autumn time up in the AZ mountains & so the last hurrah for interesting insects.

k said...

Welcome back! I'll be laying around for awhile so you may see some more pix and posts than usual. One great thing about Florida is, we have our critters going gangbusters year-round.

Although I must say, North Florida has us beat in the bug department. I have to wait for the Fossil Farm trip to check out the very best. That's usually around late April. Just in time for them to warm up a bit...

Nancy said...

I've been googling those critters and didn't find'm. Dang.

Gonna be a gorgeous spring if they overwinter...or a very interesting time if they don't.

I'm glad you're home safe. There's nothing like needing help and having none available that isn't (or doesn't feel like) an imposition. Scary feeling.

k said...

hee hee! I was wondering which of us would google 'em up first! I have no idea when they'll hatch, actually. North of Lake Okeechobee I'm sure they would overwinter, but down here we get action year round. That's the dividing line in Florida between the subtropics and the tropics.

Yeah, home safe. Unfortunately, though, I'm paying a heavy price for what I did yesterday. Not sure how long that part will last. I do know I'm not going to try it again for at least several days.

*sigh* now, now, I'm being SO GOOOOOD, all day...just sitting sitting sitting with my feet up...

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