On a nature walk this morning at Stump Pass State Park in Englewood, FL, our group came across two caterpillars of the Io moth (see attached photo). At this stage they are a striking light green, with a red and white stripe along their sides. The younger caterpillars are brown to orange-brown. Although we were tempted to pick this beautiful green caterpillar up, I knew that this species has poisonous spines that can cause a lot of pain. One might assume that the green coloration is for camouflage, although it is so bright that it might even be considered a warning coloration along with the red/white stripes. The branched, poison-bearing spines pack a powerful jolt to any potential predator.
Strangely enough it was about three years ago that I saw the adult of this strange moth at our farm in Galax, VA. The unusually colored adult moth appeared on a window screen one morning where it must have been drawn to the lights the night before (see photos). With the wings closed the moth is cryptic in the right background and would presumably escape detection by most predatory birds. If it is detected and is poked, it opens its wings and reveals a marvelous set of false eye spots (see photo). Many moths have eye spots on their hind-wings that mimic an owl’s face or just provide something scary for a bird to think about. But the Io moth has what I consider the most impressive set of eye spots. But even so I am amused that a bird would find this intimidating.
One again we can be amazed by the evolutionary process that can lead to the development of such a remarkable pattern. The variety of animal coloration is a never ending source of wonder.
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA