Monday, July 21, 2008

Hickory Horned Devil

Although it may seem that we are describing a summer camper from a recent session at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, the Hickory Horned Devil is actually the caterpillar form of the Regal Moth, aka Royal Walnut Moth (Citheronia regalis).

Yesterday, four separate groups of visitors reported seeing the same bright orange moth hanging from a branch near the boardwalk. Insects are seldom reported, but when they are the subjects are usually dragonflies or damselflies. If insects are reported, the reporter is often an individual with an existing interest that caused them to focus their observations toward the insect world. We have watched individuals and groups walk by without noticing adult deer bedded down next to the boardwalk, or Barred Owls (Strix varia) perched just over the boardwalk, or large snakes lying in the open atop fallen logs. Yet, four separate groups of visitors spotted a moth, took pictures, and were compelled to report their sighting once they returned to the nature center.

Due to the limited staff at the nature center during the weekend, we were not able to get out onto the boardwalk and take a picture of our own. Perhaps a visitor from yesterday will read this and allow us to use one of their images. However, the sighting does give us the opportunity to dig into our image archives and finally use the images of a Hickory Horned Devil that we took several years ago in our Summerville neighborhood as we helped friends pack up their household belongings.
Although the Hickory Horned Devil looks imposing and possibly venomous, it is harmless. The caterpillar is often seen once it climbs down from its host tree (walnuts, hickories, pecans, sweetgums) and begins searching for a site in which to pupate. At 12.5 cm to 14 cm in length, the caterpillar is the size of hotdog! After overwintering below ground and pupating, adults emerge (as did the one observed near the boardwalk) during the summer months with only vestigial (remnant or primitive structure) mouthparts. Adults mate during the second evening after emerging and begin laying eggs (up to 250 at a time) at dusk of the third evening. They die shortly thereafter. The eggs will hatch in 6-10 days and the larval stage will last approximately 35 days.

Wow! Talk about exciting! Thirty-five days as a teenager, a long nap, one night of passion and no dishes to clean! Note to the young or less-observant, this paragraph oozes sarcasm.

Images by Mark Musselman

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