Subject: Caterpillar in Bocas del Toro, Panama
Location: Bocas del Toro, Panama
April 9, 2014 1:11 pm
Hi. I found this caterpillar in my front yard near Almirante, Bocas del Toro Province, Panama (on the mainland across from Isla Pastor). We’re right next to a mangrove swamp and a rainforest, but I unfortunately don’t know what plant the caterpillar is on. It was spotted April 4, 2014 around 10:00 in the morning. I haven’t been able to determine what type of caterpillar it is, but I do love how it looks like it’s boxings an invisible nemesis!
Signature: Elizabeth

Unknown Caterpillar

Erinnyis species Caterpillar

Hi Elizabeth,
Your photos are gorgeous and this caterpillar is magnificent, and we wanted to post your images prior to identifying it.  Our first thought is a member of the family Sphingidae, the Hornworms which metamorphose into Hawkmoths, and our second guess if family Saturniidae, the Giant Silkmoths.  We tried searching some of the possibilities on the Sphingidae of Panama site, but without any luck, so we have contacted Bill Oehlke who runs that site and who specializes in both Sphingidae and Saturniidae.  We hope to hear something conclusive from his very soon.  In the meantime, we need to get a few more tomato plants in the ground.

Unknown Caterpillar

Erinnyis species Caterpillar

WTB? Contacts Bill Oehlke
Hi Bill,
These gorgeous photos of a gorgeous caterpillar just arrived.  The sighting was “Almirante, Bocas del Toro Province, Panama (on the mainland across from Isla Pastor). We’re right next to a mangrove swamp and a rainforest.”
I tried the Eumorpha in Panama first because of the stubby horn, but many do not include caterpillar images, and I also checked some of the Dilophonotini because the prolegs remind me of a tetrio sphinx.  I thought you might recognize this beauty.
I think yucantana would be much less likely than one of the other Erinnyis species, but I would not rule it out as a possibility.

Bill Oehlke narrows the possibilities:
It appears to be one of the Erinnyis species. There are many of them in Panama, and they can be quite variable. The anal horn in this genus becomes quite reduced in the final instar.
I believe you are right that it is one of the Dilophonotini. There are other genera in this tribe that also have the stubby horn. I simply do not have images of them for comparison.

Hi again Elizabeth,
Bill Oehlke agrees with our assessment that this Hornworm or Sphinx Caterpillar is likely in the tribe Dilophonotini, and be believes it is in the genus
Erinnyis, but he does not have caterpillar images of all the species.  The stubby horn and markings on the prolegs are similar the characteristics of the highly variable larva of the Ello Sphinx, Erinnyis ello, and one of the caterpillars pictured on the Sphingidae of Panama site looks similar.  An image on the Government of Bermuda Ministry of Public Works Department of Conservation Services  website Bermuda Conservation page of the Ello Sphinx Caterpillar also exhibits those similarities.  There are also Ello Sphinx Hornworms pictured on BugGuide that look similar.  So, our conclusion, with the assistance of Bill Oehlke, is that this caterpillar is in the genus Erinnyis, and it might be the highly variable caterpillar of an Ello Sphinx, or it may be a closely related species in the genus that is not as well known without images of the caterpillar readily available.

Ed. Note:  April 10, 2014
Thanks to a comment from Bostjan Dvorak, we now believe this is
Erinnyis yucatana, and more information can be located at Sphingidae of the Americas.

Bill Oehlke’s Opinion
I think yucantana would be much less likely than one of the other Erinnyis species, but I would not rule it out as a possibility.

Thanks! I was having no luck finding pages for caterpillar identification, so this really helps. You guys are awesome and I love the website. I’ll have to ask my husband about the plant as I have no idea what type it is. Once I find that out I’ll post the answer. Thanks again.


Location: Bocas Del Toro, Panama

6 Responses to Unknown Caterpillar from Panama: Erinnyis species

  1. Bostjan Dvorak says:

    Fascinating caterpillar! It shows some similarity to the genus of Erinnyis, though its warning position is quite unusual for these; maybe a member of a related Macroglossinae genus. Great photos!

    Nice wishes from Berlin

  2. Bostjan Dvorak says:

    Trying to define my first assumption; this is clearly Erinnyis yucatana, but the green form. There is a shrub with long narrow leaves and big yellow blossoms close to the place, when I am right. Its name is Thevetia, from the Apocynaceae family, and it bears big round soft green fruits on its twigs. Am I right?

    • bugman says:

      Thanks Bostjan. We will contact Elizabeth to see if she has a Thevetia growing in her yard. There is an image on Bioline International.

      • Elizabeth says:

        We have a plant that looks very similar to some pictures of the thevetia, but with white flowers rather than yellow. I can’t tell if they are thevetia or not, and they are definitely not yet shrubs (they look more like vines to me). Sorry I can’t say for sure. We’re between a jungle and a mangrove swamp, so we have hundreds, if not thousands, of plants growing everywhere like crazy. The only ones I can positively identify are the ones we planted! I do know we have lots of wild cilantro near where the caterpillar was found.

  3. Bostjan Dvorak says:

    Many Thanks for the interesting information! I realize You have a wonderful environment with a rich nature, like a paradise; with so many different kinds of plants, the caterpillar could really be of quite some other Erinnyis species as well. What a fascinating genus of hawkmoths. And I am sure You will discover many more caterpillars in Your garden.

    Happy Easter, many further interesting discoveries and nicest wishes from Berlin to all of You,

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