Rothschildia erycina

Currently in the genus “Rothschildia” (Grote, 1897) there are about <40 species of Rothschildia. Among them, one of the most beautiful, is Rothschildia erycina. This species comes from Central and South America, and is divided into several subspecies; the caterpillars are polyphagous and eat trees and shrubs from several families of plants. Caterpillars are very conspicuously and have highly visible orange/white/black striped patterns.

Rothschildia erycina, male

Rothschildia erycina is a species of silkmoth (Saturniidae) reportedly found in South and Central America, divided into several subspecies; Rothschildia erycina erycina (nominate) from Venezuela, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru – Rothschildia erycina luciana from Saint Lucia, Rothschildia erycina mexicana from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, and Rothschildia erycina nigrescens from Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Rothschildia erycina, L5 larva

One of the most remarkable features of this species, is the highly conspicuous larva, that is decorated with bright neon-orange stripes, contrasting with their white/greenish hue and dark black lines. This silkmoth reportedly produces 2 to 3 generations per, being a somewhat continuously brooded species, although in locaties with stronger dry seasons cocoons may undergo a short diapause; males are frequently taken at lights in tropical rainforest but also wet savannah habitats. Males are considerable smaller than females. The moths do not feed, and have a lifespan of 7 to 14 days – a lifespan long enough to find a partner, pair, oviposit, and die. Females have more rounded and curved wings and a larger wing surface area, while the wings of the males are rather elongated and thin.

Rothschildia erycina female
  • Difficulty rating: Average – not hard to breed
  • Rearing difficulty: 6.5/10 (From egg to pupa)
  • Pairing difficulty: 5/10 (Archieving copulations)
  • Host plants: Liquidambar (sweetgum), Fraxinus (ash tree), Ligustrum (privet), Ailanthus (tree of heaven), Coutarea hexandra, Exostema mexicanum , Antonia ovata, Prunus padus (bird cherry)
  • Natural range:  Venezuela, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Saint Lucia, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
  • Polyphagous: yes
  • Generations: Multivoltine – continuously brooded in tropical locations, in 2-3 generations per year although in Central America they may(?) diapause in dry seasons
  • Family: Saturniidae (silkmoths)
  • Pupation: Cocoon (silk encasing)
  • Prefered climate: Hot, and humid (tropical)
  • Special notes: Not much more difficult to raise than the average Rothschildia sp.
  • Estimated wingspan: 90-120 mm (medium sized Rothschildia)
  • Binomial name: Rothschildia erycina (Shaw, 1796)

The life of Rothschildia erycina begins in the egg stage – as with any Lepidoptera. Females, after pairing, produce 50 to fertile 100 eggs. These eggs are easily incubated at room temperature, in a moist (but not wet) container. Eggs hatch in about 3 weeks time.

Rothschildia erycina female egg harvest
Rothschildia erycina babies hatching

After hatching from their eggs, the babies of Rothschildia erycina can be carefully collected, and placed in groups in small plastic containers. They tolerate high humidity; and can be fed a wide array of plants such as sweetgum (Liquidambar), privet (Ligustrum), some kinds of cherries (Prunus), and much more. Experimentation with host plants could be worthwhile. The first three instars (or maybe even four) can be raised in plastic boxes with relatively high humidity quite well. As with many Rothschildia species, the early instars are social, and tend to live in groups, before becoming solitary around the fourth instar. From the moment they become solitary, it is advised to give them more space and pack them less densely, although they are still quite tolerant to eachother.

Rothschildia erycina L1
Rothschildia erycina L2
Rothschildia erycina L3

After the first three instars, the fourth and fifth instar prefer living in cages instead of plastic boxes; they require a well-ventilated contained, although they are still appreciative of humidity and warmth. They will stop forming groups. The fourth and fifth instars of Rothschildia erycina look spectacular – a form of aposematism. The host plants the larvae can feed on in the wild are – in some cases – toxic and contain noxious substances. When disturbed or threatened, the larvae empty their crop contents, and vomit excessively. To predators, this vomit, considering their toxic diet – may be irritating, and discourage predation. Rothschildia erycina caterpillars are best not handled, since handling induces regurgitation, which in turn may negatively affect their vitality, if induced too frequently.

Interestingly, the caterpillars of Rothschildia erycina are variable to some degree. For example, the black pigment on their bodies can vary from almost absent to very melantic.

Rothschildia erycina L4 (very light)
Rothschildia erycina L4 (very melanic)
Rothschildia erycina L4/L5
Rothschildia erycina L4/L5
Rothschildia erycina L5
Rothschildia erycina, L5

After about 1.5 month to 2 moths time, if properly taken care of, caterpillars begin to spin cocoons (at room temperature; perhaps their development time is much faster if kept warm). Larvae spin egg-shaped oval cocoons, usually suspended between some leaves; the cocoon is firmly attached to the branches with an eloganted silk “pad” or noose that wraps around the host plant branches. Here the cocoons will hang for several months, before they hatch into moths. In captivity, it seems that >90%+ of my cocoons hatched within 2 months time, however, >10% of my cocoons seem to go into a diapausal state and hatched 5 months later. Perhaps this is evidence of a bimodal emergence pattern, in which a small part of the population “skips” a generation – a survival strategy, that helps the short lived insects overcome a collapse in populations should the seasons be unfavourable.

Rothschildia erycina cocoons spinning
Rothschildia erycina cocoon
Rothschildia erycina cocoons

The cocoons should be kept at room temperature, or warmer. Most individuals will hatch in about 2 months time, although it’s possible for cocoons to diapause and emerge after 5-6 months in more rare cases. Generally speaking, generations are synchronised quite well. Humidity is important for this species, and spraying the cocoons with water two times per week should be sufficient to keep them hydrated (or prevent them from dessicating, rather). After that, imagoes are expected to hatch.

Rothschildia erycina imagoes (adults)

Rothschildia erycina pairing (copulation)

In captivity, Rothschildia erycina pairs easily. Most pairings happen in the middle of the night, if they are placed in a cage and are given warm and dark nights with air flow (a breeze). Interestingly, I also observed some pairings at sunrise, very early in the morning, when there was already a little daylight (around 5.00-6.00) although the majority of pairings happened during warm and dark summer nights in my garden (around 22.30-0:00). Handpairing this species is also possible, for those who are experienced with handpairing.

Rothschildia erycina copulation
Rothschildia erycina, male
Rothschildia erycina

Eggs wanted! Are you a moth trapper that gets females of Rothschildia erycina at light? Currently I am hoping to investigate the morphology of the caterpillars in various locations; especially considering many subspecies of erycina have been described. Ideally I want to breed the species from various geographic locations. Contact me if you are willing to sell them, and thank you for reading my page about moths.

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Citations: Coppens, B. (2020); Written by Bart Coppens; based on a real life breeding experience [for citations]

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