The Io Moth is a fascinating species of moth that inhabits various parts of North America. Known for its large, striking eyespots on its hindwings, these moths attract the attention of both nature enthusiasts and curious observers alike. Males and females display distinctive color patterns, with males being generally yellowish and females showcasing brown, rusty red, or purplish tones on their forewings source.
Io Moths play an important role in our ecosystem, often serving as a food source for birds, bats, and other animals. Adding to their captivating appearance, Io Moths reveal their vibrant eyespots when they feel threatened, potentially scaring away predators source.
Some intriguing features of the Io Moth include:
- Large eyespots on hindwings
- Distinct color variations between males and females
- Ability to scare away predators using their eyespots
Io Moth Basics
Scientific Name and Classification
The Io Moth (Automeris io) belongs to the order Lepidoptera and the family Saturniidae. It is a type of butterfly and has a close relationship with the Peacock Moth.
Io Moths are sexually dimorphic. Here are the key features of both sexes:
- Males: Generally yellowish wings
- Females: More brown, rusty red, or purplish wings
The adult Io Moth has a wingspan of approximately 4 to 5 inches. One distinct feature is the large eyespots located in the middle of their hindwings. The caterpillar stage of the Io Moth also boasts unique features:
- Spines capable of inflicting painful stings
- Varying colors, such as green, orange, pink, red, and yellow on the body
Habitat and Range
Io Moths are found in North America, predominantly in areas with the following host plants:
Their range stretches from the southern parts of Canada to Mexico and Florida. They primarily reside in deciduous forests.
Comparison Table: Io Moth vs Peacock Moth
|4 to 5-inch wingspan
|Larger than Io Moths
|Prominent on hindwings
Morphology and Behavior
Male and Female IO Moths
Io moths are a type of moth found in forests and habitats with deciduous trees in the United States. Their forewing color differs between the sexes: males are generally yellowish, while females are more brown, rusty red, or purplish. Both male and female io moths have a distinctive large, prominent, blue and black eyespot on each hindwing.
|Brown, rusty red, or purplish
|Blue and black
|Blue and black
Larval Stage and Instars
Io moth caterpillars are green in color and have a silk-like texture. They go through multiple developmental stages, called instars, before transforming into an adult moth. The larvae feed mainly on the leaves of deciduous trees.
- Green in color
- Silk-like texture
- Feed on deciduous trees
Adult IO Moths
Adult io moths are nocturnal creatures, meaning they are most active during night hours. They have a relatively short lifespan and do not eat during their adult stage. The adult moths’ primary focus is to mate and lay eggs.
- Short lifespan
- Do not eat as adults
While io moth caterpillars are known to have a painful sting if touched, adult io moths pose no harm to humans. These fascinating creatures contribute to the rich biodiversity within their habitats and are an interesting subject of study for both scientists and nature enthusiasts.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Mating and Eggs
Io moths typically mate at night, and after mating, females lay their eggs on host plants. Some common host plants where eggs can be found include:
- Coral bean
- Salix (willows)
Eggs are often laid in clusters and hatch within a week or two, depending on the temperature.
Food and Host Plants
Io moth larvae are not picky eaters and can feed on a variety of trees, grasses, and shrubs. They are commonly found on plants like:
- Coral bean
- Salix (willows)
Larvae eat their way through the plant leaves, growing in size and shedding their skin through multiple development stages, known as instars. During their growth, the larvae develop a distinctive white stripe along their body.
Pupa and Cocoon
Once io moth larvae have reached their final instar, they look for a suitable place to pupate, usually on branches or under leaves. Here they spin a silk cocoon to protect themselves while they transform into adult moths. The pupal stage lasts for around two weeks, after which adult io moths emerge from their cocoons.
Adult io moths have distinctive yellow forewings in males, while females have more brown, rusty red, or purplish coloration. The hindwings of both sexes have a large, blue and black eyespot, which they display to deter predators.
Io moths are native to North America and can be found from Georgia to southern Canada, making them adaptable to various ecosystems. In their adult form, io moths have a relatively short life span, focusing primarily on reproduction before passing away.
The IO Moth has a unique feature to ward off predators: stinging spines. These spines are:
These stinging spines serve as a deterrent for predators, causing a painful sting when they come into contact with them. The venom in the spines can cause discomfort, making predators less likely to attack.
Another defense mechanism employed by the IO Moth is its false eyespots:
- Located on the hindwings
- Vibrant orange color
- Resemble large eyes
These eyespots work by startling potential predators, making them think they are facing a larger, more dangerous creature. By displaying their brightly-colored hindwings, the IO Moth can effectively scare away threats.
|Urticating, painful, venomous
|Startle potential threats
|Located on hindwings, vibrant orange color, mimic eyes
Human Interactions and Connection
Greek Mythology and Names
The Io Moth, known scientifically as Automeris io, is named after the Greek goddess Io. The moth’s prominent eyespots on its hindwings are believed to resemble the eyes of Io, who is a character in Greek mythology. Some common names associated with the Io Moth include:
- Peacock Moth
- Yellow Emperor Moth
- Adult Io Moth
University of Florida Research
Researchers at the University of Florida have been studying the Io Moth. Some key findings include:
- Io Moths are polyphagous, meaning they feed on a variety of plants
- They do not eat as adults, instead relying on stored nutrients from their larval stage
- Common habitats: grasses, shrubs, and various types of plants
Endangered Status and Conservation
The Io Moth, while not currently endangered, is experiencing a decline in population due to habitat loss and other factors. Conservation efforts can focus on:
- Protecting and preserving their natural habitats
- Educating communities about the importance of the Io Moth and other pollinators
|Primary food sources
|Various plants (polyphagous)
|Adult feeding behavior
|Does not eat
|Grasses, shrubs, plants
|Habitat protection, education
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 – Saturniid Caterpillar from Costa Rica: Automeris phrynon
Subject: Stinging Catapillar
Geographic location of the bug: Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica
Time: 06:22 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: I took this photo in Palo Verde but I was once stung by the same type in Barra Honda National Park. This is a dry lowland Karst topography but I have seen this or a similar caterpillar at my home at 1600m altitude in Heredia, Costa Rica. Can you Identify it and the type of moth it becomes? Thank You
How you want your letter signed: Richard Tandlich
This is a positively gorgeous image of a very beautiful caterpillar in the genus Automeris. We believe that based on images posted to the World’s Largest Saturniidae Site that it is Automeris phrynon, and the site states that the caterpillars have urticating or stinging spines and that the: “Body spines are quite long and almost appear to be ‘back-combed’ with the tips of the spines slanted toward the head.” The adult moth is pictured on Tradebit and on Saturniidae Universe. We can contact Bill Oehlke to see if he can verify its identity, and he might request permission to post your image to his site as well. Would you grant permission?
Bill Oehlke confirms:
Very nice photo,
I agree that it appears to be phrynon. Thanks for requesting permission to post. Let me know how that goes.
Letter 2 – Stinging Caterpillar from Uruguay is Leucanella viridescens viridior
Subject: Pretty (poisonous?) caterpillar
Location: La Barra, Uruguay
March 7, 2013 2:35 pm
I encountered one of these during my recent trip to Uruguay and was told by the locals to stay away since it’s poisonous. The bright green/yellow color would definitely imply that it doesn’t want me to get too close. Any idea what it is?
We are nearly certain your caterpillar is a Giant Silkworm Caterpillar in the genus Automeris, which includes many species of stinging caterpillars including the Caterpillar of the North American Io Moth. We will check with Bill Oehlke to see if he can provide a species identification. We often hear that locals have superstitions about perfectly harmless species being dangerous, including the Black Witch and the Lanternfly or Machaca, but in this case, the locals are right.
Bill Oehlke provides a correction: Leucanella viridescens viridior
It is Leucanella viridescens viridior, and they can give a nasty sting.
Thanks very much! Glad I didn’t touch it. 🙂
Ed. Note: Bill Oehlke notes that it is the “Same subfamily Hemileucinae” as Automeris, hence our initial confusion.
Letter 3 – Male Io Moth
Can you help with the ID of this nicely scary-"eyed" moth? We live in rural SE lower Michigan, about 30 miles west of Ann Arbor. Thanks,
Many Sphinx Moths and Saturnid Moths, including your male Io Moth, have eyespots on the underwings that startle predators.
Letter 4 – Male Io Moth
Identification on moth
I was hoping you can help me again on an ID. Thanks much
We wish you had provided a location for your male Io Moth.
Letter 5 – Male Io Moth
We found this moth this morning and when we released it outside, it landed on a tree and took this defensive stance. Can you please identify it for us? Thank you. Please reply to firstname.lastname@example.org aSAP. Thanks again.
Your moth is a male Io Moth, Automeris io, one of the Saturnid Moths. Female Io Moths have brown forewings rather than yellow.
Letter 6 – Male Io Moth
I found this beautiful Io Moth this afternoon in SW Florida. Absolutely gorgeous and cute as could be with his forelegs covering his eyes. I just had to share him with you. Thanks for all the great information. Your website is the best! Regards,
Thanks for the compliment, and thanks for sending us your photo of a beautiful male Io Moth.
Letter 7 – Male Io Moth
Location: Sarasota, FL
August 3, 2010 8:43 pm
Saw this moth outside of my office one day, it was yellowish and fairly big. it looked like it had color under it’s wings so I nudged it (very lightly I promise) to see the pattern under the wing. I was not disappointed as it had two very large faux eyes and bright red, yellow and orange coloring. Just hoping for an ID. Thanks a lot guys. Love the site by the way, found it Stumbling one day and I’ve been addicted since.
Thanks for the compliment. Your moth is a male Io Moth. The female is slightly larger and has brown upper wings. The eyespots are very effective in dissuading predators like birds. When the bird nudges the moth and the eyespots are revealed, what was once thought correctly to be a toothsome meal is mistaken for a large threat. Interestingly, the Io Moth is one of the smaller North American Giant Silkmoths.
Letter 8 – Male Io Moth Illustrates protective Mimicry
Subject: large moth, approx. 2 inch wing span
Location: Northeast Pennsylvania
June 25, 2016 7:00 pm
found this on our slider, my husband knocked it off and it revealed inside wings..very pretty. We live in Effort, PA, Monroe County and it is summer time..June 25, 2016. Thinking it might be an Imperial moth, would appreciate further identification. After it was still, not moving, on the deck for a while, it moved to the bottom of the slider, then it’s wings started fluttering and then it took off.
This is a male Io Moth and your images nicely illustrate its protective mimicry. Many Giant Silkmoths in the family Saturniidae, including your Io Moth, and some Sphinx Moths in the family Sphingidae have evolved an excellent survival strategy. Markings on the underwings resemble eyespots and are known as ocelli. When the moth is resting, the upper wings cover the underwings. When disturbed, the moth reveals its underwings, flashing its eyes, potentially startling a predator like a bird into thinking it has awakened a sleeping giant. Io Moths have also evolved to exhibit sexual dimorphism, meaning the two sexes have obvious visible differences. Female Io Moths have brown upper wings.
Thank you very much for the information Daniel!
Letter 9 – Male Io Moth and Oakworm Moth
Subject: moth id
Location: middle tennessee
June 27, 2017 1:48 pm
found these on my porch. thought they were interesting. would like to know what they are. I have searched, but can’t find exact matches.
Both of your moths are in the Giant Silkmoth Family Saturniidae. The larger, yellow individual is a male Io Moth and if disturbed, he will display impressive eyespots on his underwings. The smaller orange individual is an Oakworm Moth in the genus Anisota.
Letter 10 – Moth from Ecuador: Automeris argentifera
Subject: Ecuador cloud forest bugs
Location: mindo, ecuador
March 15, 2015 8:39 am
Both of these were found on the same morning in my house.. Any clues as to ID?
We are splitting your two requests apart so they can be better archived on our site. We believe your moth may be Automeris abdomiorientalis, and we are going to check with Bill Oehlke to get his opinion. There are not many images of this species online, but you can compare your individual to the images posted on BOLD Systems Taxonomy.
Bill Oehlke Responds
It is Automeris banus argentifera which has now been given full species status as Automeris argentifera.
Very nice image. Can you get permission for me to use image??
Letter 11 – Pre-pupal Great Peacock Moth Caterpillar from Portugal
Subject: Giant blue spiked Caterpillar
Location: Central Portugal
July 9, 2017 4:59 am
I found this big guy in front of my house,
The Caterpillar is about 10cm long, and has tiny hairs on top of blue bumps that are on his green/brown body.
I found him on a hot day at the beginning of summer, it were about 38°C outside, so I carefully took him to a shadow and took these pictures.
I live in central Portugal.
Many caterpillars change color just before pupation, and this prepupal Great Peacock Moth, Saturnia pyri, is no exception. It began life as a green caterpillar and now that it is ready to spin a cocoon and pupate, it has changed to an orange color. Here is an Alamy image that depicts a prepupal Great Peacock Moth caterpillar. Alamy also has a nice image depicting the entire life cycle of the Great Peacock Moth. The green coloration is depicted on UK Moths where it states: “Europe’s largest moth, although not British, has been found on one occasion, in Hampshire in 1984. However, being such a spectacular species, it is a favourite amongst livestock breeders, and is unlikely to occur here in the wild. Abroad, the distribution ranges from southern Europe through Africa and the Middle East. The adults fly from April to June and are easily attracted to light. The impressive caterpillars feed on the foliage of a range of foodplants, primarily fruit trees.” Saturniidae of the Western Palaearctic has a nice comprehensive description of the Great Peacock Moth that includes this fascinating bit of information: “Larger larvae are capable of ‘chirping’. These ‘chirps’ are broadband, with dominant peaks ranging between the sonic (3.7 kHz) and ultrasonic (55.1 kHz) and are generated by a rapid succession of mandibular ‘tooth strikes’. Chirp trains are induced by simulated predator attacks and precede or accompany the secretion of a defensive chemical from integumental bristles, supporting the hypothesis that these sounds function in acoustic aposematism. It has been proposed that these caterpillars generate multimodal warning signals (visual, chemical, and acoustic) to target the dominant sensory modalities of different predators, including birds, bats, and invertebrates (Bura, Fleming & Yack, 2009).” Finally, this Portuguese blog Natureza em Directo Borboletas has some nice images of the adult Great Peacock Moth.
Letter 12 – Probably Automeris species
I’ve sent you this photo a few times, and I was just wondering if you’ve been able to find out what sort of caterpillar this is and what the butterfly would have looked like had my cocoon hatched. Some parasite got the better of him before he could complete the cycle. Thank you
This might be an Automeris species.
Letter 13 – Unknown Caterpillar: Automeris species
I hope you can help me…I found this caterpillar on my back porch in Prescott AZ. I am about a mile in altitude in the “high desert west”. I think it fell from some trees with that green material in the picture. I can’t figure out what it is. I am guessing it would sting me. Thank You,
This is some species of caterpillar in the genus Automeris. These are giant silkmoths. There are several possible species in Arizona, but none seem to match exactly. They include Randa’s eyed silkmoth or Automeris randa, and Cecrops eyed silkmoth or Automeris cecrops. A nearly identical image is posted to BugGuide with the possible identification being Automeris boudinotiana. Moths in the genus Automeris are known as the Eyed Silkmoths and some species have very localized populations. Automeris caterpillars do have stinging spines.