Hyperchiria incisa

Hyperchiria incisa is an incredibly beautiful moth from the silkmoth (Saturniidae) family. Among other places it is found in Brazil, Peru, Venezuela and more South American countries. The moths are among the smaller Saturniidae; they seem to be slightly smaller than Automeris io, but are incredibly detailed and beautiful.

Hyperchiria incisa male; ex ovo from Peru, reared in the Netherlands

  • Difficulty rating:  Average(The hatchlings can be picky and refuse to feed and die for no good reason. Maybe other bloodlines prefer other kinds host plants? But if well fed, the bigger larvae are nearly immortal. Pairing like most Automeris)
  • Rearing difficulty: 5/10 (From egg to pupa)
  • Pairing difficulty: 6/10 (Archieving copulations)
  • Host plants: Many Fabaceae (Cassia, Laburnum, Robinia, etc.) but also   Quercus, Pyracantha, Salix
  •  Natural range:  South America (Argentina, Brazil) 
  • Polyphagous:   Yes 
  • Generations: Multivoltine (continuously brooded)
  • Family: Saturniidae (silkmoths)
  • Pupation:  Lazy cocoons (silk  encasing) larvae hide below objects such as leaf litter or rocks and then spin it together with a few strings of silk
  • Prefered climate: Tropical (warm and humid)
  • Special notes: The biggest challenge is getting the young larvae to feed. They seem to struggle with the alternative host plants in Europe or America, and sometimes a lot of them don’t make it. The individuals that thrive on the host plants grow bigger are easy to rear to pupae.
  • Wingspan: 25 – 65 mm (the males can be suprisingly small for Saturniidae)
  • Binomial name: Hyperchiria incisa (Walker, 1855)
  • Health warning: Yes (Larvae carry venomous spines that urticate. The sting is similar to that of a stinging nettle; not very painful, just annoying. But can be a risk to allergic or sensitive people)

In the wild, these moths seem to prefer host plants from the Fabaceae family; it is probably a good idea to experiment with plants from this family.  In captivity they will however also thrive on oak (Quercus) and willow (Salix). Some breeders have also raised it on firethorn (Pyracantha) although mine refused to feed from this plant. The caterpillars are light green and covered with venomous spikes, as is usual with Saturniidae from the Hemileucinae subfamily.  Rearing this species seems to be quite easy, though the larvae do grow more slowly than most Saturniidae, so patience is needed.  They come from some of the most humid habitats, so raising them in plastic boxes is probably an option, although I myself preferred to rear them on food plant in a water bottle inside a rearing cage.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHyperchiria incisa final instar caterpillar

Next to their toxic spines, these caterpillars also have another unusual defense mechanism; the skin folds between their thoraric segments  is bright and blood red. When the caterpillars are typically resting or feeding this is not visible, but if disturbed or threatened, they will puff up or stretch their neck, to reveal the red stripes as a warning.

The young caterpillars are very social and live and feed in groups – however the later instars become a little more solitary and are often seen alone. It is a good idea to rear them in bigger groups, and seperate them as they become bigger and want more space.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdult Hyperchiria incisa

The males seem to be much smaller than the females. They are also extremely active and have a short livespan – they don’t seem to last longer than 5 to 7 days. Females last a little longer (10+ days) and are also significantly bigger. The moths are actually well-camouflaged and resemble a leaf when they cover their hindwings with their forewings in their resting position. But when disturbed they will flick their wings open in a twitching motion, revealing two red eyespots, bright enough to startle any curious or hungry animal.

20545636_1430266080414970_5469079740650622286_o Some Hyperchiria incisa caterpillars showing social behaviour

When they are finished growing, the caterpillars descend to the floor to pupate.  If provided the opportunity they will try to burrow a little, but they don’t seem to want to dig too deep; they are OK with hiding themselves in tiny sheltered spots and loosely spinning them together with minimal effort. In nature they probably hide in the leaf litter on the forest floor and spin some leaves together, but do not pupate deep underground. These moths are continuously brooded, though they do seem to be able to go into some sort of diapause to skip the more unfavorable seasons. If kept warm and humid they will however emerge in about a month, though if kept cooler  (but frost free!) they may possibly remain in their pupae for several months.

Pairings probably last for a short while; this is typical of Hemileucinae. Many breeders that bred them have still failed to observe any “live” pairings. All in all it seems to be a friendly species to breed, and not that difficult to care for.  The biggest challenge is getting the young caterpillars to feed. I have had eggs of this species several times in my life, but in some cases they will refuse to feed on the plants I have previously raised them on; it seems that different broods have different “tastes”. Some broods do not cope well with the plants we offer them in captivity (especially breeders in Europe and America breeding them outside of their native habitat) while others seem to be nearly immortal and thriving on oak, robinia or willow. Once they make it past the first few instars, where one may experience unexpected losses, the bigger caterpillars seem to be very strong in captivity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFully grown Hyperchiria incisa

The larvae are very lazy pupators, while some will spin objects such as leaves together to form some sort of protective cocoon, it is rarely more than a few threads of silk only. Some larvae will not bother at all and lie on the floor randomly and pupate there; naked and out in the open.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdult male Hyperchiria incisa

This is one of the most beautiful silkmoths I have seen in my life and I wish everybody who managed to obtain them good luck!

21125465_1455090314599213_1571195860043193847_o Pupa of Hyperchiria incisa

The females of this species also have a brightly coloured orange abdomen with black stripes, and the underside of their wings is orange. Pupae are dark to wine red and gradually darken and become blackish prior to emergence.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe female of Hyperchiria incisa

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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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