Eyed Silkmoth: All You Need to Know for a Fascinating Discovery

The Eyed Silkmoth is a fascinating species of moth, known for its distinct appearance and captivating life cycle. These medium-sized moths boast a unique combination of tan and cream-colored wings, beautifully contrasted by a large black eyespot surrounded by yellow on the top surface of their pink inner-margined hindwing. With a wingspan reaching up to 3.5 inches, the Louisiana Eyed Silkmoth is an impressive sight to behold, especially when eliminating the much more common io moth (source).

As a member of the Giant Silk Moths family (Saturnidae), they share certain characteristics with other members, such as large size and vibrant wing patterns. For example, the related Polyphemus Moth exhibits a single eyespot in each hind wing, resembling the one-eyed Cyclops from Greek mythology (source). The captivating features of the Eyed Silkmoth have made them a popular topic among both entomologists and nature enthusiasts alike.

Eyed Silkmoth Overview

Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Family: Saturniidae
  • Subfamily: Hemileucinae
  • Genus: Antheraea
  • Species: Polyphemus
  • Binomial name: Antheraea Polyphemus (Cramer)

Physical Characteristics

The Eyed Silkmoth, Antheraea Polyphemus, is a medium-sized moth native to North America. It has a few distinguishing characteristics:

  • Tan and cream-colored wings
  • Large black eyespots with yellow surrounding on hindwings
  • Pink inner-margined hindwings
  • Wingspan of up to 3.5 inches

Behavior and Habitat

The Eyed Silkmoth belongs to the family Saturniidae, which includes various large silk moths. These moths are known for their attractive features and unique wing patterns. One example is the Louisiana Eyed Silkmoth, which has a similar appearance but with distinct black eyespots on its hindwing source.

The Eyed Silkmoth is often found in woodlands and wetland areas throughout its geographic range. It is a nocturnal species, meaning it is most active during the night.

Comparison Table: Eyed Silkmoth vs Io Moth

Feature Eyed Silkmoth Io Moth
Wingspan Up to 3.5 inches Slightly larger
Eyespots Large, black with yellow Smaller, colorful
Terminology Antheraea Polyphemus Automeris io

Life Cycle and Development


The life cycle of the Eyed Silkmoth begins with tiny, round eggs laid by the adult female moth. These eggs are typically found on leaves and plants, providing an ideal environment for the developing embryos.

  • Colors: yellow to white
  • Size: about 1.5 mm in diameter

Caterpillar and Larva

Once the eggs hatch, they give way to the caterpillar stage. During this stage, the Eyed Silkmoth larvae, also known as caterpillars, feed voraciously on their preferred host plants. They continuously grow and molt, shedding their skin multiple times.

Larva features:

  • Colors: green or yellow with black markings
  • Size: can reach up to 10 cm in length before pupation
  • Unique markings: large, bold spots that resemble eyes

As the Eyed Silkmoth caterpillar keeps growing, it becomes quite impressive in size and markings.

Cocoon and Adult

Next comes the cocoon stage, where the caterpillar spins a silk cocoon to protect itself during its metamorphosis process. Inside the cocoon, the larva undergoes a unique transformation to become an adult moth.

Cocoon characteristics:

  • Shape: oval
  • Size: about 4 cm in length
  • Colors: yellowish-white

Once the transformation is complete, the adult Eyed Silkmoth emerges from the cocoon. It needs a few hours for its wings to dry and harden before it can fly. Adult moths are nocturnal, active during the night to mate and lay eggs, completing the life cycle.

Adult moth features:

  • Wingspan: 5 – 15 cm depending on species
  • Wing pattern: intricate design with an “eye” on each wing
  • Lifespan: only about 1-2 weeks

Do keep in mind that these characteristics may vary slightly among different Eyed Silkmoth species. Overall, these moths display a fascinating life cycle, showcasing their captivating development from eggs to fully mature adults.

Distribution and Range

The Eyed Silkmoth can be found primarily in North America. Their range extends from the United States to Louisiana and New Mexico.

These moths prefer a variety of habitats. For example, they can be found in wooded areas and grasslands.

Some characteristics of the Eyed Silkmoth include:

  • Brownish-grey wings with large, eye-like spots
  • Wingspan of 3-6 inches
  • Active during night time

Comparing the Eyed Silkmoth to other silkmoths, here is a table highlighting their differences:

Feature Eyed Silkmoth Other Silkmoths
Range North America Global
Habitat Wooded areas, grasslands Forests, grasslands
Wingspan 3-6 inches Varies

With their unique eye-like spots and adaptability to different habitats, the Eyed Silkmoth remains an interesting member of the silkmoth family.

Feeding and Host Plants

The Eyed Silkmoth primarily feeds on various species of trees as caterpillars. Below are some common host plants for this moth species in bullet points:

  • Oak (Quercus)
  • Willow (Salix)
  • Maple (Acer)
  • Beech (Fagus)
  • Honey locust
  • Walnut
  • Pear
  • Cherry (Prunus)

The silkmoths show preferences throughout different tree species. Let’s compare the differences between oak and willows as host plants for the Eyed Silkmoth:

Host Plants Oak (Quercus) Willow (Salix)
Texture Rough bark Smooth, thin bark
Leaves Broad, lobed Narrow, elongated
Growth rate Slow to moderate Rapid

The caterpillars usually feed during the day. They can thrive on different host plants, but it’s essential to provide them with a suitable and safe environment. Here’s an example of raising the caterpillars on oak and cherry respectively:

  • For oak, place caterpillars on young oak leaves, and make sure their environment is clean and free of pesticides.
  • For cherry, caterpillars can feed on the leaves of cherry trees, but early stages may require softer leaves or even flowers.

In summary, the Eyed Silkmoth’s caterpillars feed on a variety of host plants, including oak, willow, maple, and cherry, among others. Offering them a safe and suitable environment will ensure their healthy growth and development.

Predators and Survival Strategies

The Eyed Silkmoth, or Automeris iris, is a fascinating species of moth belonging to the Automeris genus. Here, we’ll explore its predators and survival strategies, with a focus on the following relevant entities:

  • Predators
  • Automeris iris
  • Iris Eyed Silkmoth
  • Automeris iris iris
  • Automeris species
  • Polyphagous

Predators of Automeris iris

The Eyed Silkmoth has many predators, including:

  • Birds
  • Bats
  • Insect-eating mammals
  • Some reptiles

Survival Strategies

To fend off predators, Automeris iris relies on:

  • Eyespots
  • Camouflage

Eyespots on their wings give them their distinctive look and play a crucial role in their survival. When threatened, the moth reveals the eyespots to create an illusion of a larger, menacing creature.

Camouflage is another tactic used by the Iris Eyed Silkmoth. They blend in with their surroundings, making it difficult for predators to locate them.

Polyphagous Nature

Automeris iris is a polyphagous species, meaning it has a diverse diet, which helps in its survival. This flexible feeding behavior allows them to adapt to various environments and increases their chances of evading predators.

Notable Relatives

Polyphemus Moth

The Polyphemus Moth is a large species in the silkmoth family Saturniidae. Its wingspan ranges from 3.9 to 5.9 inches (10 to 15 cm). Notable features include:

  • Large eyespots on hindwings
  • Mottled brown and grey coloration

For more information, check the comparative transcriptome analyses on silk glands of six silkmoth species.

Hyalophora Cecropia

The Hyalophora Cecropia is North America’s largest native moth. Characteristics include:

  • Wingspan of 5.9 to 7.1 inches (15 to 18 cm)
  • Vivid color patterns
  • Reddish-brown wing borders

Find more information about giant silk moths at the Field Station resource.

Callosamia Promethea

The Callosamia Promethea, also known as the Promethea Moth, is an attractive species. Features are:

  • Brownish-black wings
  • White or yellow crescent-shaped markings

Actias Luna

The Actias Luna moth is an easily recognizable species due to:

  • Green coloration
  • Long, curvy tails

Check this Field Station article for more information about the Giant Silk Moths (Family Saturnidae).

Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth

The Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth (Automeris zephyria) is a less known species. Characteristics include:

  • Eyespots on hindwings
  • Yellow and brown coloring
Species Wingspan Coloration Eyespots
Polyphemus Moth 3.9 to 5.9 inches Mottled brown and grey Yes
Hyalophora Cecropia 5.9 to 7.1 inches Reddish-brown borders No
Callosamia Promethea Varies Brownish-black No
Actias Luna Varies Green No
Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Varies Yellow and brown Yes

In this section, we’ve provided a brief overview of some notable relatives of the Eyed Silkmoth, including the Polyphemus Moth, Hyalophora Cecropia, Callosamia Promethea, Actias Luna, and Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth.


Literature and Science

The eyed silkmoth is a fascinating insect with unique features. To learn more about this moth and its characteristics, consider looking into scientific literature and research articles:

  • Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries offers information on the Louisiana eyed silkmoth, its appearance, and habitat.
  • Scientific publications and journals that focus on entomology can provide more in-depth information about this moth species.

Websites and Links

Several websites offer valuable information and resources on the eyed silkmoth:

  • BugGuide is an excellent resource for insect enthusiasts.
  • Online forums and discussion boards related to entomology can provide helpful insights and tips on studying the distinctive features of eyed silkmoths.

Additional Information

In your quest for knowledge on the eyed silkmoth, you might find these resources helpful:

  • Local lists and groups dedicated to entomology or moth watching.
  • Programs and organizations that focus on moth conservation may be excellent sources of information.
  • For further assistance, consider reaching out to entomology experts at universities or research institutes.

Remember to always verify the accuracy of information and use reliable sources when studying unique insects like the eyed silkmoth.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar


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.
Signature: Rachel

Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar
Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar

Hi Rachel,
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.

Hi Daniel,
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.
Thanks again,

Letter 2 – One Eyed Sphinx


Subject: Oak Moth?
Location: Yorkville, CA
May 25, 2014 9:19 am
I am in northern California and saw this moth yesterday in the early evening. Is it fully developed? Is it an oak moth?
Signature: Margot

One Eyed Sphinx
One Eyed Sphinx

Dear Margot,
This is not an Oak Moth.  It is a Sphinx Moth or Hawkmoth in the genus
Smerinthus.  Historically, we would have identified this as a One Eyed Sphinx, Smerinthus cerisyi, but recent taxonomical changes have recognized a new species on the West coast with no common name, Smerinthus ophthalmica.  According the the Sphingidae of the Americas:  “Smerinthus ophthalmica, (forewing length: 34-47mm) closely resembles Smerinthus cerisyi, and until recently (2010) had been synonymized with cerisyi. … S. ophthalmica flies across southern British Columbia and southern Alberta into southwestern Saskatchewan. In the United States it can be found in Washington, Oregon and northern and central California eastward into Idaho, western Montana, western Wyoming and northern Nevada and northern Utah. … It is impossible to distinguish female ophthalmica from female cerisyi without examination of DNA, but male ophthalmica are noticeably distinct:  the forewing outer margin of ophthalmica is smoothly scalloped while that of cerisyi is more sharply/irregularly scalloped;  the lower edge of the grey apical patch in ophthalmica runs almost straight to the first vein, while in cerisyi the same edge is notched with a slight return toward the outer margin;  the pm line of opthalmica consists largely of two diffuse arcs while the same line in cerisyi is a series of shadowed projections;  the pink suffusion on the hindwing of ophthalmica is more reduced (tanner) toward the outer margin than in cerisyi.”  The lavae of both species feed on the leaves of willow, aspen and cottonwood, not oak.

Letter 3 – Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth


Cecropia Moth?
My son found this caterpillar. It seems to be that of a Cecropia Moth, based on a picture at http://www.johncodygallery.com/photopost/showphoto.php?photo=614.
It was found munching on scrub oak here in northern New Mexico. It wasn’t until after I handled it that I realized I shouldn’t have….
Mike Westfall
Los Alamos, New Mexico

Hi Mike,
When we first received a photo of a Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar, Automeris cecrops pamina, it took us quite a bit of time to locate one of the few caterpillar images posted at that time to verify identification. We thought it must be in the genus Automeris since it resembled the Io Moth Caterpillar, another stinging species. The Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar looks like a stinger as well, and your letter implies as much. The Cecropia Moth, Hyalophora cecropia, is a different species. We found images of the adult Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth as well as the caterpillar on this site.

Mistaken ID on your website Inbox Ferguson, Dave J. Tue, Sep 2, 2008 at 1:43 PM To: bugman@whatsthatbug.com Reply |Reply to all |Forward |Print |Delete |Show original Thought you might want to know this. You have a photo on your website, identified as Automeris cecrops pamina …. This is going to actually be Automeris zephyria, which is nearly identical (probably a regional subspecies of A. cecrops), and which has larvae that are pretty much identical. It is common this year (2008) right now (September 2) as half to nearly mature larvae on the Oaks from Jemez Springs to Los Alamos (at least) in northern New Mexico. To be honest, there are very few photos available of larvae of either species, and you got it really close. Best wishes,
David J. Ferguson
Rio Grande Botanic Garden
Albuquerque, NM

Letter 4 – Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar


Stinging Rose I believe
My name is David Donaldson, I am a nature photographer and recently I was backpacking through the woods of the near Flagstaff, AZ when I came across this little thing on the ground. Could you possibly let me know if my assumption on it being a version of the stinging rose. Thanks for your time!
Dave Donaldson

Hi Dave,
We have gotten four requests for identifications of similar caterpillars from Arizona in the past week. They were all members of the genus Automeris, but there are at least four species found in Arizona. Your caterpillar is the only one we can identify for certain. This is a Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar, Automeris cecrops. It matches an image on the Butterflies and Moths of North America website.

Letter 5 – Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar


Another Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth?
Hi! I teach at a small private school in NE Arizona. One of our students found this beautiful caterpillar yesterday on a field trip close by. The spines are irritating (I found that out the hard way – fortunately the pain subsided after about 30 minutes). It is about 4 inches in length. Checking out your site, i looks like it might be a Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth. (I don’t know if it was found on the oak twig or not, which was being held by a student while I took the picture.) Anyway, thanks for your site. It is great!
Trent Logan

Hi Trent,
Your identification of the Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar, Automeris cecrops, is correct. This species is found in higher altitutes of Arizona and New Mexico, and south into Mexico. It does feed on oak as well as ceonothus, mimosa and mountain mahogony.

Letter 6 – Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar


Subject: Fancy caterpillar
Location: Prescott, Arizona
September 22, 2013 8:58 pm
Hi there – a friend of mine took this photo on 9/20/13 at the Highlands Center for Natural History located in the Central Highlands of Arizona. She said it was on a small Manzanita bush. It’s the most wonderful-looking bug I’ve ever seen, so we’re all trying to help her identify it.
Thanks a lot!
Signature: Maurine Haeberlin

Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar
Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar

Hi Maurine,
This is the caterpillar of the Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth,
Automeris cecrops pamina, and it has a very limited range.  According to BugGuide it is found in:  “western New Mexico (west of the Rio Grande) into eastern Arizona and south into northern Sonora.  Occurance in the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico is not documented in literature, but the subspecies is common there.”  BugGuide does not list manzanita as a food plant, but oak and willow are included in the list of plants caterpillars feed upon.  The World’s Largest Saturniidae website doesn’t list manzanita either, but does include mimosa, ceonothus and mountain mahogany as well as oak.  BugGuide also provides this precaution:  “As is true of most species in the Hemileucinae, the caterpillars of this species can produce a Nettle-like sting from their spines. Some people show little or no reaction, while others may develop an itchy rash or welts that last for up to a few days, especially on areas of more tender skin. These caterpillars are not considered dangerous, but should be handled with care.” 

Letter 7 – Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar


Subject:  Caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug:  Mimbres, New Mexico
Date: 09/11/2021
Time: 07:54 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I found these caterpillars – about 3 inches long – on my Oak tree.
Lots of them!  What are they?
How you want your letter signed:  Urbanohno

Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar

Dear Urbanohno,
What a marvelous find.  These are caterpillars of the Cecrops Eyed Silkmoth which we identified on BugGuide.  According to BugGuide:  “Adults in spring. Eggs are laid in rings on twigs of host plant. Early instar larvae are gregarious and feed in large groups, but they spread out and become solitary in later instars. Larvae are present in summer to early autumn. Overwinter as pupae in cocoons woven among (or incorporating) vegetation, mostly leaf litter on ground, sometimes on plants.”

Ah so – Thank You very much Daniel!

Letter 8 – Large Eyed Emperor Moth from Zimbabwe


Subject: Butterfly or Moth?
Location: Harare, Zimbabwe
December 20, 2013 9:50 pm
This thing was huge next to my daughter and its antennae looked like bright orange pipe cleaners! What is it?
Signature: Anthony

Large Eyed Emperor Moth
Large Eyed Emperor Moth

Dear Anthony,
This is a very bedraggled male Giant Silkworm Moth.  Whenever we are presented with a photo of a Giant Silkworm Moth or Saturniid Moth that we do not recognize, we turn to the World’s Largest Saturniidae Site, a website with a private membership, to attempt an identification.  We found your moth identified as the Large Eyed Emperor Moth, 
Gonimbrasia (Nudaurelia) macrothyris (Rothshild, 1906) Bunaea.  Armed with a name, we scoured the internet for additional images we could link to, and we found images of mounted specimens of Nudaurelia macrothyris on several websites, including African Moths, Bold Systems Taxonomy Browser and Lepidoptera Barcode of Life.  It is curious that this species has a common name in English, yet there is a noticeable dearth of images available online.  We wonder if it is considered a rarity.  We are going to copy Bill Oehlke to see if he is able to provide any additional information.  

Hi  Daniel,
I do not think Gonimbrasia (Nudaurelia) macrothyris is rare. This particular specimen is quite dark in the forewing median area and may be a subspecies or closely related species if it is not macrothyris.
It is fairly widespread in the southern half of Africa.
Bill Oehlke

Letter 9 – Rare Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth from New Mexico


Subject: moth with feathered antennae brown wings with a white stripe and brightly colored bottom wings
Location: Lincoln national park, New Mexico
June 17, 2016 8:05 pm
I found this bug at my summer can in the Lincoln national park in southwest New Mexico and I can not figure it out for the life of me.
Signature: idk what to put here

Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth
Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth

This is a Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth, Automeris zephyria, and according to BugGuide the “Texas Parks & Wildlife considers this to be a ‘Species of Greatest Conservation Need’ (SGCN)”  though all the submissions to our site as well as those posted to BugGuide are from New Mexico, generally at higher elevations.

Letter 10 – Small Eyed Sailor from Iguazu Falls, Argentina


Subject:  Butterfly ID please
Geographic location of the bug:  Iguazu Fall, Nissiones province, Argentina
Date: 04/14/2021
Time: 10:45 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Could you ID this butterfly please. Photo taken on Feb.28. 2020 at Iguazu Falls, Argentina
How you want your letter signed:  Vlad Morozov

Small Eyed Sailor

Dear Vlad,
This pretty little butterfly is
Dynamine artemisia, commonly called a Small Eyed Sailor, and we found it on the Fauna Paraguay site where it states:  “Like all Dynamine this species is most easily identified by its underwing pattern which show the “sideways spectacles” of most other “blue sailors” but diagnostically lack the obvious “eyespots” present in other species. It is closest to Dynamine aerata and males are only reliably distinguished by the presence of clear dark eyespots in the “sideways spectacles”. Dynamine postverta has the most marked “eyespots” of all on the ventral hindwing, whilst males are easily distinguished by the presence of large black spots on the forewing. Female postverta has numerous large white spots on the forewing (5 in this species) and three thin white bands across the hindwing (two broad bands in this species). Dynamine tithiais the most distinctive of the “blue sailors” having an underwing pattern that is mostly white and more reminiscent of the “white sailors”. Males of that species are a much deeper blue in colour and have a diagonal row of three large whitish postmedial spots and two small white apical spots surrounded by black on the forewing.”  Here is another image from FlickR.

Thank you very much Daniel.
The whole week I was digging net for results without success

Letter 11 – Southern Cat’s-eyed Emperor from South Africa


Subject: moth ID
Location: South Africa
March 21, 2014 8:13 pm
Saw this gorgeous moth near the western entrance to Kruger national Park in South Africa, February, 2014. It’s wingspread was about 4 or 5 inches. Do you know what it is?
Signature: Jeanne

Southern Cat-Eyed Emperor
Southern Cat’s-Eyed Emperor

Hi Jeanne,
This beautiful moth is a Southern Cat’s-Eyed Emperor,
Aurivillius fuscus, and it you disturbed it, you would see that its common name refers to the eyespots on the underwings which will startle a predator into thinking it might be about to be eaten by a much larger predator.  The Southern Cat’s-Eyed Emperor is well represented on ISpot.

Thank you so much for identifying this moth.  I can see how those eye spots would be intimidating.    Ironically, the evening before I’d seen a rhinoceros beetle near the same spot.  It’s pretty cool, too.

Letter 12 – Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth


Unknown Underwing Moth in New Mexico
Hey Bugman!
This amazingly colored underwing moth showed up tonight outside my house directly beneath my porchlight (where millions of other undesirable moths tend to gather). I have never seen anything quite like it before, and absolutely had to know what type of moth it is. The moth also had strange and rather large for its size orange fuzzy antennas (which the close up depicts). Its eyes, or what I deemed to be the eyes, were also quite small. Also I live in central New Mexico and was wondering what other species of moth I might hope to encounter on my porch on some future evening. Anyway, here are a few pictures of both pairs of its wings fully exposed.

Hi Carl,
What a gorgeous specimen. This is a Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth, Automeris zephyria, that we identified on the Butterflies and Moths of North America website. That website indicates the limitations of the range of this species as being: “Habitat: Pinyon-juniper woodland and conifer forest above 4800 feet elevation. Range: Mountains of central New Mexico south into the Guadalupe Mountains of west Texas. ” Thank you ever so much for contributing a new species to our site.

Letter 13 – Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth


Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth pic
August 29, 2009
Thanks for the caterpillar ID! I have a nice pic of a silkmoth in full, angry display. Can you pass it along to BugGuide? He says on the site that he doesn’t have a pic of one displaying.
Edgewood, New Mexico, 7000′ pinion forest

Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth
Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth

Hi Mike,
Thanks for sending us a photo of the adult Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth, Automeris zephyria, to accompany the caterpillar images your sent us the other day.  Here at What’s That Bug? our editorial staff posts all of the letters and images to our site individually, while BugGuide has postings initiated by the readership.  Right now, the time it would take us to submit a posting to BugGuide on your behalf would prevent us from posting letters to our own site, depriving our readership of several new letters and depriving our own querants from seeing their letters online.  If time permits in the future, we will try to post your letter to BugGuide, but for now, it will be on the internet at our own site.

Letter 14 – Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar


caterpillar ID
August 28, 2009
Hello again! I found this amazing caterpillar climbing on a wall more than 100′ from any vegetation. It is ~3″ long, and as you can see will curl into a ball if disturbed. As I discovered, those spines are not for show! I bumped it and got a strong burning/stinging sensation at the site.
Edgewood New Mexico, 7000′ pinion forest

Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar
Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar

Dear Mike,
As we have stated so many times in the past, we haven’t the time to even read all of the emails we receive, and we tend to open emails with subject lines that catch our attention.  We had been thinking that we haven’t posted any images of the fabulous Eyed Silkmoth caterpillars from the genus Automeris that have limited ranges in the Southwest.  This is the caterpillar of a Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth, Automeris zephyria, and it is only reported from the mountains of New Mexico.  The caterpillars feed on the leaves of willows.  You can see more images on BugGuide, but nothing as spectacular as the defensive ball your specimen has rolled into.  The spines of the Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar are mildly poisonous.  You need not fear for your health because of the sting, but the discomfort may last a few days.  We are copying Bill Oehlke on this response so he can add you sighting to the comprehensive data he is compiling.  We suspect he might also want to post your wonderful photos on his own website.

Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar:  Defensive Posture
Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar: Defensive Posture

Letter 15 – Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar


Subject: Ziggy Stardust Caterpillar!
Location: Arabela, New Mexico
August 21, 2015 3:01 pm
Oh, this spectacular being is going to turn into something fabulous, I just know it! But what????? He is absolutely INCREDIBLE! Found on an oak tree, wondering what it is and if oak is source of food?
Signature: don’t understand this ?

Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar
Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar

Your amazing caterpillar is a Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar, Automeris zephyria, a species found, according to BugGuide, in “Central New Mexico mountains south into the Guadalupe Mountains of west Texas. Only known from east of the Rio Grande.”  BugGuide also notes the caterpillars eat:  “Primarily Oaks (Quercus) and Mountain Mohogany (Cercocarpus), also occasionally found on Willows (Salix sp.), Rose (Rosa sp.), Plum & Cherry (Prunus sp.), and occasionally on several other deciduous woody genera. Will readily accept a variety of genera and species in captivity, including Apple (Malus sp.), Redbud (Cercis sp.), etc.”  The adult Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth is truly a lovely moth.

Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar
Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth Caterpillar


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    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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6 thoughts on “Eyed Silkmoth: All You Need to Know for a Fascinating Discovery”

  1. Saw one of these beauties on 6/26/16 in the Smokey Bear and Sacramento district of the Lincoln National Forest at Ruidoso, NM (Sam Tobias Campground site #3).

  2. I have found tens of these in my honey locusts, golden rain trees, and trileaf sumac, eating all the leaves. I am having to remove and kill them as they have eaten so many leaves of so many plants

  3. I just found what I believe to be the same species on the campus of Yavapai College in Prescott Arizona.

    I definitely made the mistake of saying, “those spines are probably bristles like a woolly bear / just for show” and my finger tips felt numb/stung for the next day and a half.


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