Thursday, June 2, 2011

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Io Moth
Io Moth (Automeris io) have returned to the Bill Roston Butterfly House at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park. They were "delivered" by Dr. Chris Barnhart in the form of cocoons, lovingly raised by he and his wife Deb.

Adult moths rapidly emerge from their cocoons over a few minutes. The moths then climb and hang on plants (or in this case, their protective tent) and inflate their wings by pumping hemolymph (i.e. their version of blood) into their vessels, holding them out until they dry over twenty minutes.

These night-flying moths are members of the Saturniidae family, a group with no functioning intestinal tract. The last meal of their life was a leaf as the final instar of their caterpillar existence. After dark the female extends her scent gland, letting her perfume, a pheromone, waft away on the darkened breezes. The male's nightly excursions are all about picking up chicks located by sensing their scent with his large feathery antennae.

Io Moth freshly laid eggs- Chris Barnhart
The eggs are beautiful little clusters of eyeballs, carefully glued to the underside of a wide variety of tree leaves. After emerging and eating the egg shell, the larvae stay clustered throughout their five instars, frequently traveling in a long procession across the tree leaves. They come equipped with bright colors, their early orange turning to bright green. The last instars have a haircut with an attitude- clusters of stinging spines with a venom that will burn the skin after even a light touch.

DON'T TOUCH ME! Florida University
Eventually they will pupate in a cocoon deposited on the forest floor. You can see some of these steps at selected times at the Butterfly House. Being very private, the Io's do not schedule their emergence so you will have to come often to see the event. Just don't pet the hairy caterpillar.

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