Subject: Spiny Caterpillar in Panama
Location: Panama, Central America
January 7, 2014 4:43 am
Hi Bugman! Any ideas about this caterpillar in Panama? Found in Panama City, Panama in January 2014 (the dry “summer” season here) in the early evening. It fell on my hand at one point as I was moving a leaf to take its picture, and it left a brief nettle rash on my hand, so I’m pretty sure those spines are poisonous. Thanks for any help!
I think I found it! Pretty sure it’s a Saturniid moth caterpillar. Saturniidae family, Hemileucinae subfamily, scientific name “Pseudautomeris salmonea”. Looks like it’s normally found in Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, French Guiana, and Brazil. Very cool!
We would have guessed the genus Automeris, and if our knowledge of ancient languages that is frequently used for taxonomic names is correct, the identification you provided would be a “false” Automeris. Automeris Caterpillars and closely related species do possess stinging spines. We found an image of Pseudautomeris salmonea on a page called Preimaginal instars of Saturniidae (all species reared by Bernhard Wenczel) and it looks like a match to your caterpillar. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “preimaginal” as: “of, relating to, occurring in, or constituting a stage in insect development that immediately precedes the imago,” but that would include all eggs, caterpillars and pupae. We did locate another photo of Pseudautomeris salmonea on Saturniidae World, but that individual has much shorter spines. We are guessing that your caterpillar might be of different instar as that individual, because caterpillars change morphologically after each of the five molts they undergo prior to pupation. The image on the Kirby Wolfe Collection on Bizland also looks very similar to your caterpillar. We also located a matching image on a site with great caterpillar photos that we have never visited before called Chenilles-Guyane. The photo we found on Project Noah, also from Panama, appears to be eating the same type of leaf as your caterpillar. Thanks so much for writing in with a name.
That’s fantastic, thank you so much! What a cool caterpillar. So glad I stumbled upon him and got to my camera in time. Thank you for the lightning fast response, confirmation of the ID, and additional resources. That Chenilles-Guyane site does indeed have some great shots. Thanks again to you and all your staff for what you do! It’s such a cool resource. ~Megan