Syntomeida epilais

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Geographic Range

Syntomeida epilais lives in Caribbean climates and its range extends from South America to Central America, and into Mexico. It also spans from the Caribbean to Florida and some of southeastern United States.

Habitat

The range of this organism is from the Caribbean islands to Florida, and from upper South America into Mexico. The Syntomeida epilais lives anywhere that the oleander lives naturally, except for California. It flourishes, however, in southern Florida. Its original host plant is thought by many to be the Echites umbellata.

Physical Description

In the larval stage, the oleander caterpillar is a bright orange, much like the flower it is named after. It has bristly black hairs, and is about 3 to 40 mm long. In its adult stage, its body and wings are an incandescent blue-green with white polkadots, and its abdomen is red-orange. It has a wingspan of 45-51mm.

Reproduction

Syntomeida epilais reproduces sexually, mating and laying their eggs on the undersides of the leaves of the oleander. Egg clusters can range from 12 to 75 eggs which are less than 1 mm in diameter. They hatch into larvae that are anywhere between 3 to 44mm. The larval stage is further divided into instars. The first instar hatches in a few days, depending on climatic temperature. The second and third instar eat a great deal and move down the oleander; this stage lasts around 8.5 days on average. The fourth instar is the only one that can eat other parts of the leaf as opposed to just the underside. During the fourth, fifth, and sixth instar, they eat alone. Then they search for a location to pupate. They then become a pupa and are smooth and brown. They are covered in a thin cocoon that they make from silk and their hair. Finally, they hatch into the adult moth. Generally, there are three generations of Syntomeida epilais a year.

Behavior

When it is time to mate, the female Syntomeida epilais lets out an ultrasonic acoustic signal that can attract a male moth. Once they are close to each other, they continue calling to each other until a few hours before the sun rises.

Food Habits

This caterpillar's diet consists mainly of the leaves of the oleander plant on which it lives. During the earlier portion of its larval stage, it feeds on the undersides of the leaves, but as it grows into a mature larva, it can consume the entire leaf, except for the veins.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The oleander caterpillar doesn't posess any direct positive attributes for humans. It does, however, contribute to the food chain in many important ways which affect humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Because of their "skeletonizing" feeding behavior, they leave the leaf veins alone, but devour the tissue in between. This causes the oleander to be more susceptible to other insects and also causes asthetic damage to the oleander.

Conservation Status

The oleander caterpillar is abundant.

Contributors

Cheryl Keelin (author), Southwestern University, Stephanie Fabritius (editor), Southwestern University.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

References

McAuslane, .. April 1997. Accessed February 19, 2000 at http://gnv.ifas.ufl.edu/~insect/ORN/Ole_cpillar.htm.