Citheronia beledonon — “Mexican horned devil”

Citheronia beledonon, the Mexican horned devil,  is a medium sized Citheronia species that is endemic to Mexico. It is found in the South-West of Mexico in the most of the Mexican states that are connected to the Pacific coast. Here they are found in (sub)tropical deciduous forests. The moths seem to have one to two broods a year, with their exactly flight times varying depending on their geographical location and local climate. It is not suprising that the local climate dictates their flight times: their broods have to be timed well – in their native habitats, the plants lose all their leaves during the dry season.  Their emergence is thus triggered by the first heavy rains at the beginning of the wet season – something that does slightly vary per year and per location. During the rains, the host plants start growing leaves and food for the larvae becomes available.  Their annual broods are often reported to be in May/July or July/September. The moths have no functional mouthparts and only live for a one to two weeks.

Citheronia beledonon female

The caterpillars of Citheronia beledonon are large and have dark bodies with a light green stripe running along the sides of their bodies, that help camouflage them and helps break up their silhouette in the vegetation. The setae on their bodies are modified into orange sclerotized horns, notably the horns on their thoracical segments stand out. They can have an interesting resting position, where they hang unto the host plant with their anal prolegs and last two pairs of abdominal prolets and suspend their thorax and the rest of the body in the air. Larvae do not spin a cocoon but pupate underground; here they can lie dormant in the soil for 7 to 9 months if need be, waiting for the next rainy season in spring/summer. Like all Citheronia the caterpillars are solitary.

Citheronia beledonon caterpillar, final instar

  • Difficulty rating:  Average (Not hard)
  • Rearing difficulty: 6.5/10 (From egg to pupa)
  • Pairing difficulty: 6.5/10 (Archieving copulations) 
  • Host plants: Cochlospermum vitifolium (Buttercup tree), Schinus molle/terebinthifolius (Peppertree), Juglans sp. (Walnut), Ligustrum (Privet), Rhus (Sumac), Liquidambar (sweetgum), Gossypium (cotton), Prunus (cherry). 
  •  Natural range: Mexico only
  • Polyphagous:   Yes, 
  • Generations: Univoltine, possibly bivoltine 
  • Family: Sphingidae (hawkmoths)
  • Pupation:  Subterranean (burrows in soil)
  • Prefered climate:  
  • Special notes:   
  • Wingspan: 65mm – 115mm 
  • Binomial name: Citheronia beledonon (Dryar, 1912)

The eggs of Citheronia beledonon are transparent, oval and yellowish. After hatching, the small caterpillars that are about 8mm-10mm in size will quickly find a place to feed from the leaves of their respective host plants. They thrive on Schinus, Liquidambar or Juglans. The first instar is black with an orange patch below the thorax. They are adorned with horn-like setae – especially their thoracical horns are elongated. The caterpillars are solitary.

First instar Citheronia beledonon 

Second instar Citheronia beledonon 

The first two instars can be given plastic boxes with leaves of their respective host plant as container. However, from the third instar and beyond they need fresh air and ventilation. It is best to raise the third to fifth instar in cages or in boxes with the lid removed, or in rearing sleeves. Avoid excess humidity. They do like it warm. The third instar is brown with large red spikes.

Third instar Citheronia beledonon

The fourth instar is like the third, but bigger and more colourful. This instar will develop the bright, light/mint-green stripe that runs along their bodies.

Citheronia beledonon fifth instar

In the fifth and final instar, the horns are reduced in relative size. Below are some pictures of the fifth instar larvae.

Citheronia beledonon fifth instar

Citheronia beledonon fifth instar

Citheronia beledonon fifth instar

Citheronia beledonon fifth instar

The caterpillars will be grown in 1.5 to 2 months depending on the temperature and food quality. From that point they will descend to the floor from their host plants, and look for a place to pupate. This species pupates in moist soil or other substrate. In the wild, they burrow in the soil or find crevices to crawl into and pupate. Underground they are protected from the elements and can resist dry and colder conditions. In captivity they can be provided bird sand, vermiculite  – or simply earth/soil.

Citheronia beledonon pupating larvae

In winter, pupae can be stored dry and cold in cellars, garden sheds, and other cool places. They should be overwintered around 5 to 10 degrees Celcius. Frost is not good for their health and could kill them, this species is adapted to survive the milder Central American  (Mexican) winters/dry seasons.  Overwintering can be done in well-isolated boxes packed with a towel, paper tissue or moss. Be sure not to store them too humid to avoid mold.

Citheronia beledonon pupae; dormant in winter

If kept cool and dry for a long time, the adults will hatch if they are warmed up and kept humid/moist. Citheronia beledonon is a true ‘summer’ species and will not immediately hatch if kept warm, but will emerge around June/July if kept warm since spring. They are best kept burrowed in a light substrate that they can easily unborrow from.

Citheronia beledonon adult

Citheronia beledonon adults

Adults have fiery dark orange colours and brown wings. If threatened, they can curl up their abdomens and fold their wings back. This threat pose makes them less vulnerable to attacks and may convince predators to leave them alone.

Citheronia beledonon threat pose

Citheronia belenodon

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Citations: Coppens, B. (2019); Written by Bart Coppens; based on a real life breeding experience [for citations in literature and publications] 

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