Homodes bracteigutta – Ant another mimicry!

“One day the chubby caterpillar will turn into a beautiful butterfly.” is one version of the story. How about “One day the terrific dragon-like caterpillar will turn into a simple brown moth.”?

This article mentions three species of ant mimicking Homodes species. My photo id, comparing the results Google gives for those would weed out H. vivida and H. iomolybda, here the caterpillars are very dark. Ours is weaver-ant reddish with yellow highlights and some darker legs, that’s why I call it H. bracteigutta. I know that the color might change with a mold, but since I haven seen the moth or anything, that’s all I got. As always, no guarantee! This species was recorded for Singapore only in 2012. I only saw two of them so far, they seem to be not so common.

All moths and butterflies belong to the order Lepidoptera. There are about 180,000 species, isn’t that amazing?! 70,000 species are in the superfamily Noctuoidea. Breaking it further down, our moth is in the family Erebidae, and the subfamily Boletobiinae with still almost 1000 species.

It is a bit hard to get a handle on it, but obviously this caterpillar has something to do with my friends Oecophylla smaragdina. I found one on a tree totally owned by weaver ants, where not many other insects survive, and later I found another one on a bush. They look like a Chinese dragon, with lots of tentacles (the setae) on the body. The back looks a bit like an ant, but you need some imagination to see that. There are two short legs, the anal prolegs, which resemble the ant’s teeth, and there are two spots for the eyes. The butt is larger than the actual head, I guess that is what confuses me. The head also looks a weaver ant-ish, so that we have a double mimicry, with lots of long hair in the middle. But there are also to bulbs on one end, the real tentacles, which I would call antennae, which kind of destroy the illusion to me. I guess they would hold the bulbs close to the head to make it look like the eyes?! There are small dark spots, the real eyes, but they are smaller than weaver ants’ eyes.

I’m counting twelve large hairs in two rows, what makes sense. Ants have six legs, so two ants have twelve. The tiny caterpillar legs are almost invisible. My pictures are so so because this caterpillar wouldn’t sit still, that makes it even harder to understand the anatomy. But that doesn’t matter, they use the ant mimicry not for me, but for their predators.

I’m not sure if I ever have seen the moth, and I only have very few pictures of moths. I will look out for one in future!

If you remember my comparison of caterpillars and nudibranches in the case of Graphium agamemnon, take this: To me the shape of Homodes caterpillars is a bit like the aeolid nudibranch Pteraeolidia ianthina, the Blue dragon. Hikers nudis!