Caligula cachara

 Caligula cachara is an incredibly beautiful silkmoth from tropical Asia; found in Nepal, India, Myanmar, Thailand, China and Bhutan. The moths are soft and beautifully patterned, with red accents on the eyespots. In these regions, Caligula cachara is found in mountainous regions, in higher elevations, where they produce one to two flights per year, depending on the local (micro)climate. The moths are polyphagous and use numerous host plants, including willow (Salix), oaks (Quercus), dedicious cherries (Prunus), sweetgum (Liquidambar), ash tree (Fraxinus) and possibly more. In captivity it can be raised on numerous plants related to their natural host plants, and have also been raised on privet (Ligustrum) and hawthorn (Crataegus).

Caligula cachara male

In captivity, the are rarely bred, despite not being that much of a rarity in the wild – they just happen to fly in places where not many people come to collect moths. One thing that is truly interesting about Caligula, are the caterpillars. While the genus Caligula is known for having very brightly coloured caterpillars sometimes, Caligula cachara takes the cake, with extremely brightly flourescent blue caterpillars with bright yellow hairs. Interestingly, despite looking conspicuous from nearby, when hidden in the vegetation they are still well camouflaged, especially from a distance. The caterpillars are also social in the first instars, and the groups of brightly coloured larvae may perhaps scare off predators – but this remains speculation. The species can have two flights per year, one in ‘spring’ (April-May) and one in late summer (September). This moth overwinters as a cocoon.

Caligula cachara, very colourful caterpillar

  • Difficulty rating:   Average (not hard but you need some experience)
  • Rearing difficulty: 6/10
  • Pairing difficulty: 5.5/10 (Archieving copulations)
  • Host plants:  Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua.), cherries (Prunus sp.) – especially the dedicuous types, oak tree (Quercus sp.), common walnut (Juglans regia), willow (Salix), hawthorn (Crataegus), ash tree (Fraxinus), privet (Ligustrum), 
  • Natural range:  Nepal, India, Myanmar, Thailand, China and Bhutan. 
  • Polyphagous: yes (but only coniferous trees)
  • Generations: Multivoltine – can have two generations per year (April-May) and one in late summer (September).
  • Family: Saturniidae (silkmoths)
  • Pupation: Cocoon (silk encasing)
  • Prefered climate:  Tropical to subtropical countries, but higher elevation – and higher elevation mean lower temperatures than lowland habitat, and colder nights. 
  • Special notes: overwinters as cocoon; don’t try to overwinter the eggs, as is normal with other Caligula species 
  • Estimated wingspan:  60mm-110mm 
  • Binomial name:  Caligula cachara (Moore, 1872)

There are two kinds of people in the world: ones that claim Caligula is hard to breed, and ones that claim Caligula is easy to breed. I am in the first club. Despite breeding so many species in my life, I never got the hang of this genus, and I still struggle to breed many of the common ones – they seem sensitive and very prone to diseases.

A special thanks to my friend Ben Horton. I obtained this species as cocoons, but only had one female. When I paired her with a male, I was very excited to breed this species – but the female mysteriously died, a few hours after pairing, before laying any eggs at all! I’ve never seen that happen before. I was sad because I missed my chance to study this unusual species. But after learning of my problem, Ben kindly shared some eggs from his moths with me. And with Ben’s eggs, the breeding was a big success. Thank you Ben! I will not forget your kindness, and may I inform the readers of this website about it aswell. 

Interestingly, Caligula cachara was easy to me. It seems to me that while this species is rarely offered, it’s ironically one of the easiest Caligula to breed – although, of course, ‘difficulty’ is completely subjective.  The eggs are easily incubated on room temperature, in a petri dish.

Caligula cachara eggs

The caterpillars hatch in 8 to 14 days time. After hatching, they form small groups on the edge of a leaf and begin to feed. They are very polyphagous and easy to raise if you have sweetgum (Liquidambar), cherry (Prunus) or willow (Salix). The first three instars should be raised in closed plastic boxes, on room temperature (21C), with not too much ventilation. They can stand warmer temperatures however and don’t seem to be particulary sensitive, even surviving a heat wave in the Netherlands, where I raised them. In the natural habitat, days are warm to hot, but nights could be chilly and colder.

Caligula cachara L1

Caligula cachara L1 and L2

Caligula cachara L2

Caligula cachara L3

After making it through the first three instars, instar number four  (L4) and five (L5) are solitary.  From this stage and beyond they want to be alone, and require much more space and effort. Do not overcrowd them and raise them in a plastic box with no lid for ventilation, or net cages on a bottle of cut food plant. The fourth and fifth instar are extremely beautiful, and highly flourescent. On room temperature, the caterpillars are fully grown in about 1.5 to 2 months time, and will spin thin cocoons that have perforations in the silk (ventilation holes, for a lack of a better word).

Caligula cachara L4

Caligula cachara L4/L5

Caligula cachara L5

Two species?
My Caligula cachara, after breeding them, looked morphologically different from the Caligula cachara that you will find in books and on other websites. The origin of my livestock was China. Most of the pictures on the internet, are Caligula cachara from Vietnam or India. I reference a third party website for comparison: Click Link

This could be an indicator that what we call “Caligula cachara” is in reality two species (or subspecies). Could it be a new, undescribed Saturniidae? To prove that, we need more evidence than just breeding, or pictures of caterpillars. However, it could also be that the caterpillars are just variable, and may have geographic forms – for example, Caligula japonica arisana from Taiwan has different looking caterpillars from nominate Caligula japonica – so geographic variation between the caterpillars is not that strange for genus Caligula.

Evidence for a hidden new species/subspecies, or just variation?

The cocoons must be overwintered very gently, preferably around 5C-10C; but frost free, and not too warm either. During this time they can be stored a little dry, but misted with water a few times per week, only to let them dry out later.

 

 

 

Caligula cachara male

Caligula cachara female

The adult moths, only live for about a week. They can be paired relatively easily, in well ventilated cages made from netting. They will appreciate warm(ish) nights, with a cool breeze and can be paired in spring and summer nights, but also indoors.

Caligula cachara pairing

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Written by Bart Coppens, based on a real life breeding experience. Citations; Coppens, B. (2019)

 

The aim of this website is to provide information about many species of moths and butterflies around the world, with a slight focus on rearing them in captivity.

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