Rothschildia: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

Rothschildia is a fascinating genus of moths belonging to the Saturniidae family. These captivating creatures, also known as silk moths, have become a subject of interest for both amateur and professional entomologists.

Throughout their life cycle, Rothschildia moths undergo a series of transformations. From eggs to caterpillars, followed by pupation, these insects eventually metamorphose into beautiful, large moths. Some species, like Rothschildia orizaba, boast striking wing patterns and vibrant colors, making them a popular subject for photography and research.

Understanding the biology, behavior, and distribution of Rothschildia is crucial for their conservation as well as appreciating these magnificent creatures. With numerous species under this genus, there is always something new and intriguing to learn about Rothschildia moths.

Overview of Rothschildia

Genus Rothschildia

Rothschildia is a genus of moths within the family Saturniidae. These moths are mainly found in the Americas, from North to South America. They are known for their striking appearance and large size.

Family Saturniidae

The family Saturniidae belongs to the order Lepidoptera, which includes butterflies and moths. This family consists of several subfamilies, including the Saturniinae, which contains the genus Rothschildia. Some characteristics of Saturniidae moths are:

  • Large size
  • Bright colors
  • Intricate patterns on wings

Order Lepidoptera

The order Lepidoptera is a large group within the class Insecta, comprising over 180,000 species of butterflies and moths. They belong to the phylum Arthropoda and subphylum Hexapoda. Lepidopterans are characterized by having:

  • Wings covered with scales
  • A coiled proboscis for feeding on nectar

Superfamily Bombycoidea

Rothschildia belongs to the superfamily Bombycoidea, which includes other large, showy moth families, such as the Sphingidae (hawkmoths) and Bombycidae (silk moths). Some features of Bombycoidea include:

  • Robust body
  • Large wingspan

Subfamily Saturniinae

The subfamily Saturniinae consists of about 2,300 species. They are distinguished by some unique traits:

  • Broad wings with colorful patterns
  • Long tails on hindwings
  • Silk-producing caterpillars

Tribe Attacini

Rothschildia belongs to the tribe Attacini within the subfamily Saturniinae. This tribe consists primarily of large, nocturnal species, and includes the well-known Atlas moth (Attacus atlas). Attacini moths share some similar features:

  • Painful stinging hairs in caterpillar stage
  • Silk cocoons suspended from vegetation

Distribution and Habitats

North America

Rothschildia can be found in parts of North America, with a presence in the southwestern United States such as Texas and Arizona. These moths mainly inhabit forests and woodland areas:

  • Deciduous forests
  • Wooded areas close to rivers

In these ecosystems, they find suitable conditions for feeding, mating, and laying eggs.

South America

The distribution of Rothschildia expands throughout South America, with a significant presence in countries like Brazil and Mexico. Here, they thrive in varied environments such as:

  • Tropical rainforests
  • Dry forests
  • Mountain habitats

The locations have diverse vegetation and food sources, allowing the species to adapt and flourish. Comparing habitats in North and South America, we can observe the following differences:

Habitat Aspect North America South America
Climate Temperate, dry Tropical, diverse
Vegetation Deciduous forests Tropical rainforests
Altitude Low to medium Low to high

This demonstrates the adaptability of the Rothschildia species, allowing it to occupy various habitats across the Americas.

Species and Classification

Rothschildia Cincta

Rothschildia cincta is a species of silk moth native to Central and South America. Some key features include:

  • Large, dark forewings with yellow bands
  • Prominent eyespots on the hindwings

This species has undergone taxonomic changes, with several synonyms now recognized.

Rothschildia Forbesi

Rothschildia forbesi, commonly found in Mexico, is another species of silk moth. Distinguishing characteristics are:

  • White or pale grey wings
  • Reddish-brown markings

Rothschildia Triloba

The Rothschildia triloba species inhabits regions across the Americas. Important traits include:

  • Triangular wings with a lobed appearance
  • Dark coloration and intricate patterns

Jorulla Silkmoth

The Jorulla silkmoth (Rothschildia jorulla) is a subspecies known for:

  • Reddish-brown wings with white markings
  • Large size compared to other silk moths

Orizaba Silkmoth

Lastly, the Orizaba silkmoth (Rothschildia orizaba) displays:

  • Pinkish-grey wings
  • Bold black stripes
Species Region Distinctive Features
Rothschildia cincta Central/South America Dark forewings, yellow bands
Rothschildia forbesi Mexico White or pale grey wings, reddish-brown markings
Rothschildia triloba Americas Triangular wings, dark coloration
Jorulla Silkmoth Reddish-brown wings, large size
Orizaba Silkmoth Pinkish-grey wings, black stripes

Lifecycle and Development

Eggs

Rothschildia moth eggs are small and round, usually laid on the leaves of their host plants. The eggs are sensitive to environmental factors, such as temperature, which can affect their development time. Some key characteristics of Rothschildia eggs include:

  • Tiny, round shape
  • Laid on host plant leaves
  • Sensitive to temperature

Caterpillar

Once hatched, the Rothschildia caterpillar begins its feeding process, consuming leaves to grow and eventually shed its skin several times. Rothschildia caterpillars have distinct features, such as:

  • Vibrantly colored body
  • Spines for defense
  • Molting several times during growth

Pupa

The pupa stage signals the end of the caterpillar phase. Rothschildia caterpillars spin cocoons around themselves, eventually developing into adult moths. The pupa stage may involve a period of diapause if environmental conditions are unfavorable. Characteristics of the pupa stage include:

  • Cocoon spinning
  • Possible diapause period
  • Full transformation into adult moth

Adult Moth

The adult Rothschildia moth emerges from the cocoon, ready to mate and lay eggs to continue the cycle. Adult moths have short lifespans, living long enough to reproduce. Features of adult Rothschildia moths include:

  • Large, colorful wings
  • Distinct patterns for camouflage
  • Short lifespan focused on reproduction

Here’s a comparison table of the stages in the Rothschildia life cycle:

Stage Features
Eggs Small, round, sensitive to temperature, laid on host plants
Caterpillar Colorful, spiny, molts several times
Pupa Cocoon spinning, diapause if necessary, full transformation
Adult Moth Large wings, camouflage patterns, short lifespan

Morphology and Identification

Wingspan

Rothschildia moths are known for their impressive wingspans, which can range from 100 to 150 mm. This feature helps with identifying these species within their habitats.

Camouflage

Rothschildia moths have developed excellent camouflage abilities to blend into their surroundings. This makes them difficult to spot in their natural environments.

Coloration

These moths exhibit various colorations, with many having a reddish hue. Their intricate patterns and shades also assist in identification.

Features:

  • Impressive wingspan (100-150 mm)
  • Excellent camouflage abilities
  • Reddish colorations and intricate patterns

Table: Comparison of two Rothschildia species

Species Wingspan Camouflage Coloration
Rothschildia A 110 mm Forest bark Reddish-brown with white markings
Rothschildia B 145 mm Tree branches Beige and brown with black markings

Host Plants and Diet

Rothschildia is a genus of moths, and their larvae rely on specific host plants for growth and development. Here, we discuss the primary host plants for these moth species.

Salix

Salix, commonly known as willows, are popular host plants for Rothschildia larvae. Among the many species of Salix, Rothschildia finds the following particularly suitable for their diet:

  • Salix alba
  • Salix fragilis

The larvae feed on the leaves of these trees, which provide essential nutrients for their growth.

Ligustrum

Ligustrum, also known as privet, is another plant genus favored by Rothschildia larvae:

  • Ligustrum japonicum
  • Ligustrum vulgaris

These species of Ligustrum provide ample foliage for the larvae, offering a nutritious diet and contributing to their development.

Prunus

Prunus, which includes cherry, plum, and almond trees, serves as an appealing host plant for Rothschildia larvae. Some common species of Prunus consumed by the larvae are:

  • Prunus avium
  • Prunus domestica

Quercus

Quercus, or oak trees, are also frequented by Rothschildia larvae. Oak trees provide a significant source of food for the larvae, and some examples of Quercus species used as host plants are:

  • Quercus robur
  • Quercus petraea

Schinus

Lastly, Schinus, commonly known as pepper trees, are also used by Rothschildia larvae as host plants. One of the most notable species utilized by the larvae is Schinus molle.

Host Plant Notable Species
Salix Salix alba, Salix fragilis
Ligustrum Ligustrum japonicum, Ligustrum vulgaris
Prunus Prunus avium, Prunus domestica
Quercus Quercus robur, Quercus petraea
Schinus Schinus molle

In summary, Rothschildia larvae are polyphagous and can adapt to various host plants. The host plants discussed above—Salix, Ligustrum, Prunus, Quercus, and Schinus—play a crucial role in their diet and development.

Breeding and Rearing

Copulations

Breeding Rothschildia moths can be a bit challenging, but with proper care and attention, it is manageable. Copulations are an essential aspect of Rothschildia breeding. To encourage successful pairings, ensure that:

  • Moths are healthy and fed prior to pairing
  • Pairing occurs in appropriately sized cages
  • Mating pairs are left undisturbed during copulation

Generations

Rothschildia moths typically have two to three generations per year. In a controlled environment, it’s important to keep track of these generations to maintain a stable and healthy population. Be mindful of:

  • Monitoring eggs and larvae for growth
  • Providing the correct food and habitat for each generation
  • Removing any unhealthy individuals from the breeding population

Climate

As climate can greatly affect the success of Rothschildia breeding and rearing, it is vital to maintain optimal conditions in the rearing environment. Consider the following:

  • Temperature: Ideally between 24-28°C for larvae and 20-24°C for adult moths
  • Humidity: Maintain around 70% for larvae and 50-60% for adult moths
  • Ventilation: Ensure proper airflow to prevent mold and disease

To effectively rear Rothschildia moths, it’s necessary to cater to their specific needs throughout each stage of their development. Some helpful tips for rearing include:

  • Utilizing plastic boxes to house larvae, as they are easy to clean and maintain
  • Introducing tubercules and stripes on host plants to aid in larvae camouflage
  • Using social rearing methods because Rothschildia larvae are known to prefer group living conditions

In conclusion, breeding and rearing Rothschildia moths can be challenging but rewarding, provided that the appropriate methods and environmental conditions are catered to for their success. Careful attention to copulation, generations, and climate factors as mentioned above will aid in the continued prosperity of these unique moths.

Additional Resources

Species List

There are numerous species of Rothschildia found across various regions. You can explore the individual species and their unique features on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website.

General Information

  • Size: Rothschildia moths generally have an impressive wingspan range.
  • Coloration: These moths exhibit vibrant colors and intricate patterns on their wings.

For more fascinating facts and information about Rothschildia, you can visit dedicated forums, research articles, and expert websites online.

Lepidoptera Families

Rothschildia is part of the Saturniidae family, commonly known as silk moths or giant silk moths. Some common characteristics within this family include:

  • Large wingspans
  • Colorful and intricate wing patterns
  • Absence of a mouth as adults

To dive deeper into their relations with other moth families, explore online entomology resources for comprehensive family trees.

Breeding Experience

Breeding Rothschildia can be an exciting and rewarding experience for those interested in moth rearing. There is a multitude of online resources available for learning the best practices within breeding, including guides, forums, and expert articles.

Synonyms and Taxonomic Changes

There may be cases of taxonomic changes in Rothschildia taxonomy, including updated synonyms and classifications. To stay up-to-date with the latest scientific consensus on Rothschildia species, refer to entomology databases and taxonomic resources.

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 – Rothschildia forbesi

 

Moth?
Dear Bugman:
I am living in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico and came across this lovely moth/butterfly? I don’t think it is a luna butterfly because of the color? Could you help please. Thanks very much!
Janeyone

Hi Janeyone,
This is the third new species for our site in a row. This is a Giant Silkworm Moth, Rothschildia forbesi. According to Bugguide, it is found in the extreme south of Texas occasionally, and ranges south into Mexico. The caterpillar feeds on ash and willow.

Letter 2 – Rothschildia jacobaeae from Argentina, we believe

 

Some variety of Saturniid Rothschildia?
March 1, 2010
I am currently visiting La Plata, Argentina and I saw this moth on a tree in the city. The photo was taken on February 14, 2010. I wish I’d thought to include something in the photo to use as a size reference, but if I had to guess, I’d say its wingspan was about 4″ across.
I think I looked through every one of your silk moth photos looking for the exact type and I also checked other resources (wikipedia.org, http://www.silkmoths.bizland.com/kirbywolfe.htm, and others), but no luck yet.
Based on what I’ve seen, I’m pretty sure it’s some species of Saturniid Rothschildia, but none of the ones I’ve found seem quite right. There’s always one thing or another that’s different (shape of wings, shape/size/placement/orientation of markings, etc.).
I see that there are over 100 species of Rothschildia moths (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rothschildia), so this may be quite a challenge.
Here’s a (tinyurl) link to Google maps of within about 200 ft. of the exact location of the moth siting: http://tinyurl.com/yarg65c.
Hopefully someone will recognize it.
Thanks!! }Ж{
Suzanne, visiting from Austin, TX
La Plata, Argentina

Possibly Rothschildia jacobaeae

Hi Suzanne,
There are at least nine species in the genus Rothschildia found in Argentina, and many look quite similar.  We believe this is Rothschildia jacobaeae which can be viewed at http://www.silkmoths.bizland.com/tdjacobaeae.htm and interestingly, the species used on the Wikipedia page.  We will contact an expert, Bill Oehlke to see if he agrees with this identification.

Bill Oehlke confirms Identification
Daniel,
Yes, it is jacobaeae. I have contacted Suzanne, Thanks. She had also contacted me directly.
Bill Oehlke

Letter 3 – Rothschildia jacobaeae perhaps???

 

Roschildia maurus
Hi there
I just returned from a trip to Argentina, and while I was there I found a moth that is identical to this one that you say ranges only as far south as Mexico (according to bugguide, which I haven’t checked out yet). I’ll forward a photo that was taken in a small town in Jujuy province, near Parque Nacional Calilegua. There were many, many others and I’m actually now considering furthering my zoology degree in this direction! Living in Canada I had no idea what an incredible diversity of moths existed… Anyway, it’s 2 am here and I’ll see what else I can find tomorrow, but thought for now this might be an interesting side note… Thanks, look forward to hearing any comments you have
Susan Cousineau
(Kananaskis Country, Alberta)

Hi Susan,
There is an Argentine moth in the same genus you mention, Rothschildia jacobaeae. The transparent areas on the wing of your moth differ slightly in shape from the ones pictured online, but we would still wager this is the same species.

Thanks for your note about R. jacaobaeae – however I think the photo matches much more closely to R. forbesi, unless all of the R. jacaobaeae photos I am seeing are males and the females are different… The big difference, I think, is that in R. f. the “windows” (or mirrors) are closed; in R. j. they break into the edge patterns of the wings. ???? Tell me what you think. I also have a ream of other moths I’d like identified as I’m just pulling together a little presentation of my trip and would really like them to be properly named – if you’re interested! Thanks,
Susan

Hi Susan,
We cannot find any information that Rothschildia forbesi ranges to Argentina. There are also other members of the genus. Based on the known ranges, we still favor Rothschildia jacobaeae.

Correction: (03/21/2008)
Daniel, Regarding the two Rothschilida … the one from Panama is R. triloba; the one from Jujuy, Argentina is Rothschildia maurus. I am happy to help with any Saturniidae identifications. Is there any way you can put me in contact with either of these two photographers??
Bill Oehlke

Letter 4 – Rothschildia orizaba orizaba from Costa Rica

 

I really want to know what type of moth this is
Wed, Nov 26, 2008 at 7:06 AM
Hello, I got these picture in Costa Rica, in mid/early March. This guy was found near La Fortuna waterfall. He is about as big as two hands side-by-side (maybe female hands, not big male hands). In the full on picture, the green parts of the wing is accually see through, and the green is from the leaves in behind the moth.
Thanks for your help!
Samantha
Thank You!
Costa Rica

Rothschildia oriziba oriziba
Rothschildia orizaba orizaba

Hi Samantha,
We knew your Giant Silk Moth was in the genus Rothschildia, a genus with many similar looking species that range from Texas through Argentina.  We researched Costa Rican species on Bill Oehlke’s excellent private World’s Largest Saturniidae Site and had four species to choose from.  We believe your moth is a female Rothschildia orizaba orizaba.

Letter 5 – Rothschildia species from Belize

 

Subject: Silk Moth
Location: Southern Belize
January 17, 2014 7:27 pm
Pretty sure this is a silk moth but would like to be more specific.
Signature: Jerry Brown

Rothschildia species
Rothschildia species

Hi Jerry,
Your Giant Silkmoth is in the genus
Rothschildia, and there are several species in Central America that look somewhat similar.  We believe this may be Rothschildia lebeau, but we are not certain.  You can compare your individual to the image on the Moths of Belize website.  We will contact Bill Oehlke to see if he can confirm the species identification.

Letter 6 – Rothschildia triloba from Panama

 

Rothschildia
Hi Bugman –
Thanks for the ID of the Leaf-footed Bug and skipper from Panama. I noticed the Rothschildia from Argentina – here’s one from my trip to Panama that I decided, perhaps incorrectly, was a Rothschildia lebeau – is this correct? It was huge, a 7 inch wing span. Thank you,
Allison

Hi Allison,
Sadly, we do not know how to differentiate the different species of Rothschildia from one another. We will have to stop in agreeing that Rothschildia is the correct genus. Maybe one day someone will correctly identify the species as well as provide the correct ranges.

Update: (03/21/2008)
Daniel,
Regarding the two Rothschilida … the one from Panama is R. triloba; the one from Jujuy, Argentina is Rothschildia maurus. I am happy to help with any Saturniidae identifications. Is there any way you can put me in contact with either of these two photographers??
Bill Oehlke

Letter 7 – Silkmoth Caterpillar from Mexico: Rothschildia species

 

Subject: Big green caterpillar with yellow lines
Location: Mexico, Mexico
October 13, 2015 1:56 am
Hi, I recently discovered a small group of giant caterpillars on a neighboring tree. I researched a lot of days and I not identified the species yet. It’s green, very large and they have yellow lines… So, first I thought it was a Actias luna or but many features are different. I never seen a big caterpillar like this!
Info:
-Season: Autumn
-Size: 80 mm (Head to tail)
-Color: Green body with TWO different colors.
-Yellow lines on each segment.
-Yellow line along the abdomen, this divides the green color body. (Actias luna not split their colors).
-The spiracles are only above the yellow horizontal line.
-Green head and legs. (Actias luna generally has brown).
-4 abdominal prolegs plus anal proleg. No tail.
-Very small yellow knobs. No horns and spines.
Signature: Alfredo

Silkmoth Caterpillar: Rothschildia species
Silkmoth Caterpillar: Rothschildia species

Dear Alfredo,
Mexico is a big country.  Can you be more specific as to the location?  This is a Giant Silkmoth Caterpillar and we found a matching image on the Silkmoths and more website that is identified as
Rothschildia sandimasiana.  This information is supplied:  ” This Mexican species is almost never bred in captivity. Don’t know why. They are extremely easy under warm and very dry conditions.  I raised them on Prunus serotina. Most likely they will also accept Ligustrum and Ailanthus, possibly other typical Rothschildia food plants as well.”  When the adult moths emerged, this posting appeared on Silkmoths and more:  “There really isn’t much I can tell about Rothschildia sandimasiana. It is one of those recently described species. So far, sandimasiana is only mentioned from Mexico and may be restricted to the state Durango. However, many is still unknown, so the exact distribution of this species still needs to be established. The pupal stage didn’t take very long. After four to five weeks the moths emerged. Probably there are two to three flights a year, in captivity maybe four, depending on how the cocoons are stored. The moths are fairly large with a wingspan in between twelve and fourteen centimeter.”  We would not rule out that your caterpillars belong to a different species of moth from the same genus.  We will contact Bill Oehlke to see if he can provide an identification.

Silkmoth Caterpillar: Rothschildia species
Silkmoth Caterpillar: Rothschildia species

Hi Daniel. I’m in the State of Mexico, a few minutes from the Mexico City. Durango is one of the larger states and is 1200 km north. I located the address of their sighting (thanks Wikimedia) and the place is very rich in flora, while the place where I found them is a metropolitan area and the weather is unstable.
Yeah, looks like Rothschildia sandimasiana (Thank you so much! I was looking in the wrong place), but Rothschildia orizaba is incredibly similar. Rothschildia orizaba lives from Mexico to Panama, and apparently is endangered (and this worries me). It feeds mainly Schinus molle and nearby there is a park with lots of trees like this, but I never seen before (maybe they’re well camouflaged). Thank you very much for your help, maybe we can see moths soon if we are lucky. I’ll keep trying until identify them.
APF

Bill Oehlke provides his input.
Daniel,
I think it is more likely Rothschilida orizaba orizaba or Rothschildia peggyae, based on location. I think that sandimasiana is only known further to the north in Durango.
Many of the Rothschildia adults and larvae are quite similar.
Bill

Letter 8 – Two Caterpillars from Texas: Rothschildia forbesi and Xylophanes pluto

 

Help?
Great website- I was wondering if you could help me id these to caterpillars. The first (with yellow spiky balls) was found on a orange tree in South Texas. The other is from an unknown plant, again in South Texas. Thanks,
Lee

Rothschildia forbesi Xylophanes pluto

Hi there Lee,
We are very excited to have identified both of your South Texas caterpillars. The one found on the orange tree is in the genus Rothschildia. Rothschildia forbesi is found in Texas, but Bugguide lists the caterpillar host plants as “several trees/shrubs, such as Ash, Fraxinus, prickly ash, Zanthoxylum, and willow, Salix.” The site goes on with the information that “Two other species in this genus rarely enter into SE Texas: Jorulla silkmoth (R. jorulla) and Orizaba silkmoth (R. orizaba).” We cannot find a photo of either species caterpillar, nor indication of its food plant. The other caterpillar is a Sphinx Moth, Xylophanes pluto. We located information and images on Bill Oehlke’s excellent website. There are three known color morphs for the caterpillar, and your example is the green morph.

Reader Emails

96873

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 – Rothschildia from Ecuador

 

Subject:  Rothschildia (?) in Ecuador
Geographic location of the bug:  Umbrellabird Lodge, Buenaventura Reserve, near Piñas, El Oro, Ecuador
Date: 04/04/2019
Time: 02:52 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hello again, Bugman.
I’m pretty sure this fantastic moth is a Rothschildia, but I haven’t been able to work out the species.  (I really like this photo, because it shows the transparent wing panels so clearly – ha!)
How you want your letter signed:  David

Male Rothschildia species

Dear David,
Your image of a female
Rothschildia species is gorgeous, firstly because she is a magnificent specimen, but also because of the image’s tight compositional structure characterized by opposing diagonal lines.  Alas, we don’t have the necessary expertise to provide you with a conclusive species identification, and of that we were assured when we browsed the 15 species and subspecies pictured on the World’s Largest Saturniidae site where the subtle variations in color and markings take an expert to discern.  We will attempt to contact Bill Oehlke for assistance.  If he requests permission to post your image to his site, may we grant it?

Bill Oehlke provides an identification
Thanks Daniel,
Here is id. Please express my thanks to David. Very nice picture.
Rothschildia lebecuatoriana eloroiana  Brechlin & Meister, 2012
The Rothschildia most recently sent to me from El Oro is definitely a male, not a female.
Bill

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    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.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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