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Automeris egeus, Lake Soledad

2nd November 2017

Above: IMAGE PHOTOGRAPHED BY MARK FERNLEY

www.markfernley.zenfolio.com

On one of our last remaining nights at Lake Soledad, we came across a most remarkable caterpillar. Earlier in the evening at around 10pm we went on a night walk to a nearby stream for some amphibian macrophotography. Due to the dry season or more likely some very crafty frogs, the initial scanning with torches and headlamps didn’t show much. The three of us spread out, Marc went downstream whilst Mark and I went further upstream. Although difficult to see, we could certainly hear certain species of arboreal frogs communicating with each other.

Determined to catch some species for the macrophotography, I waded through the murky water to a small bank with small trees hanging over the edge of the water. The branches were roughly eyelevel, the torch was used in the attempt to capture eye shine of the frogs. I got a lot of eye shine of various wolf spiders and larger fishing spiders around the bank and on the trees themselves. I was holding my breath for a blinking eye shine that would confirm an amphibians gaze but it was proving much more difficult than necessary. After searching through tree itself I managed to simultaneously capture and then suddenly drop two different frogs at once. In my excitement of catching them I had forgotten how slippery and nubile they were and they quickly disappeared under the water.

Mark came over to investigate and after delivering the bad news, we began searching again. Almost immediately, we had found the main protagonist. The Caterpillar of the moth known as Automeris egeus laid curled under a leaf and was finishing its dinner. It was probably not too amused at the torch being shined directly into its eyes as well as interrupting its meal. This alien looking organism was the epitome of flicking through a lonely planet magazine and proclaiming loudly, what is that around 4 inches long and 1.5cm thick the bodies colouring was a murky orange with black and white spots covering its body, complete with a white strip running horizontally above its legs. If the predators of caterpillars could look past its warning colours and faux head, cleverly placed at the rear, the needle sharp spines covering the entire body would probably be enough to call it quits. During that time another beautiful green caterpillar was photographed during the shoot shown below.

After experimenting with some macrophotography, we returned in the daytime to get some more shots, and it was placed in the exact same spot we had left it. The Caterpillars spines cause mild irritation to the skin when touched, and the spines, as we later discovered, create a defensive armour covering the vulnerable underneath of the insect. It became apparent that as we tried to persuade it to be as photogenic as possible, it became rather uncooperative. He was content with staying exactly where he was, a gentle prod showed us the full extent of the defensive mechanism. The conical set of spines both at its head and rear spread out making it look as big and dangerous as possible. We later discovered that the moth that is created from the caterpillar is not nearly as impressive in colour as its early stages. Shades of brown dominate most of the moth which is around the size of your palm. Furthermore, it seems that this caterpillar retains its defensive streak with large owl shaped eyes on the bottom part of its wings, highlighting its resilience for survival.

Blog written by Lauren Beazley Intern of Untamed Photography

 

Story written by Mark Fernley