Caterpillar (red, black, white, yellow)
September 28, 2009
Can you please identify this caterpillar? It was photographed near Lake Tizlit in the High Atlas Mountains of central Morocco. The nearest village is Imilchil where my daughter works as a Peace Corps volunteer. This is in “her” national park. The photo was made in later June in semi-arid conditions. It is perhaps 10 cm long.
This caterpillar reminded us of the caterpillars of the Sphinx Moths in the genus Hyles, so we searched Hyles and Morocco, and quickly arrived at a page for the Barbary Spurge Hawkmoth, Hyles tithymali mauretanica. Your caterpillar looks very similar to the ones pictured in the photo on that page, but with slight color differences. The website also has this note: “(Taxonomic note. de Freina (1994) placed mauretanica as a subspecies of H. euphorbiae on the basis of minor morphological and behavioural differences, overlooking the many more characteristics that mauretanica has in common with tithymali.)” Upon following the link to Hyles euphorbiae, the Leafy Spurge Hawkmoth, the new page has photos of numerous color variations of the larvae which are called polymorphic.
I am dazzled by your speed and research. From the description of the habitat (desert/steppe) and range (Atlas Mountains of Algeria and Morocco), this much be the one. I note (as you did) the slight variation in coloring (red line for yellow line, etc.) but it must be a cousin. Thanks much for offering such a service online. I posted the picture on Flickr and gave you credit for the identification: