Subject: Kenyan caterpillar
Location: Southern Kenya, East Africa
December 29, 2013 4:26 am
Would you be able to identify this caterpillar ? It was found by my sister in southern Kenya a day or so ago. It is currently the wet season. The habitat is scrubby bush with acacia. I am waiting to hear if she knows what it was feeding on.
Any help would be appreciated.
We used the World’s Largest Saturniidae Site and your caterpillar looks to us like that of the Western Marbled Emperor Moth, Heniocha dyops. We then conducted a web search and found a very similar looking caterpillar posted to ISpot that is tentatively identified as that of the Southern Marbled Emperor, Heniocha apollonia, following a robust discussion on the message board that cited a comment Kirby Wolfe made in regards to a photo of a Southern Marbled Emperor Moth from South Africa posted to our site. The discussion also mentioned that there are at least five species in the genus found in Africa, and members of the same genus often exhibit morphological similarities, so we are confident that the genus is correct. Since the Western Marbled Emperor Moth is the only member of the genus verified from Kenya, according to the World’s Largest Saturniidae site, we believe that to be the correct species identification for your caterpillar. African Moths has photos of the adult moth and various Acacia species are listed as food plants. We will check with Bill Oehlke as well as Kirby Wolfe to see if they can verify that identification. We are also going to copy Bill Oehlke on our response and we hope you will grant him permission to use the photos if he wishes to include them on his site.
Comment from Kirby Wolfe
I have reared only Heniocha apollonia whose larva looks much like this one, but as you mention, the other species of Heniocha are very likely to look similar. In fact, there are other species of African saturniids that also have larvae similar to this. It probably feeds on Acacia, as do the others. That’s what the mirror-like “spines” are for, to break up the light so the caterpillar can hide in the sparse, Acacia foliage. Bill Oehlke likely has photos of most of the Heniocha species’ caterpillars.
Kirby L. Wolfe