Subject: Bright caterpillar
Location: Sandia Mountains, NM
September 8, 2013 2:22 pm
Saw this critter and was unsure of what it was. It looks like an Io moth caterpillar, except the body color is wrong.
You are quite astute to recognize both the similarities and differences between this caterpillar and the Io Moth Caterpillar. They are both in the same genus, Automeris, and the numerous species in this genus found in North, Central and South America all have caterpillars that share a resemblance to one another. Your caterpillar is a Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar, Automeris zephyria, and you can see a very similar photograph on BugGuide. The adult Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth also resembles an Io Moth. According to BugGuide, the Zephyr Eyed Silmoths have a very limited range: “Central New Mexico mountains south into the Guadalupe Mountains of west Texas. Only known from east of the Rio Grande.” Like other caterpillars in the genus, the Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillars have stinging spines and they should be handled with caution.
Thanks so much for letting me know! I just moved to NM and hadn’t seen anything like it before. I assumed bright = dangerous, so I’m happy I thought of that and didn’t try to touch it.