Friends' board member and butterfly expert, Barbara Woodmansee, had a truly awesome discovery this month at the Refuge. She'd been actively searching for the Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar to be able to show a group of Junior Ranger Program candidates on a recent field trip to the Refuge. Unfortunately, she had no luck on that day in late June.
Back she went to continue her quest. Below, in her words, is her unbridled and contagious enthusiastic account of her walk in the woods.
"I tried so hard to find one (Hickory Horned Devil) because now is their time, but they hid from me - until today! On my butterfly survey today (July 19, 2023), I found two of these, plus a luna caterpillar on young sweetgum trees on Barnett Creek Road. This is just about THE coolest bug there is in my opinion. It's a Hickory Horned Devil - the mature Regal moth caterpillar - between 5-6" long. Any minute now, he or she will crawl down the tree and wander a long way away and then burrow down in the leaf litter and pupate underground until next spring when it will crawl up a stick and become a beautiful adult moth. They use their magnificent antlers to whack wasps and flies that try to parasitize them - 80% of them are parasitized before they mature. They're super fun and easy to raise."
"The adults are VERY hard to find - I look for them all the time and have only seen 2 or 3 of them and they came to our porch light. They're huge - just like the caterpillars.
The adults do not have mouth parts and do not eat at all. They only live about 1 week after they come out of their cocoons. They just mate - usually on the day they emerge, lay 100 eggs over the next few days, and then die. Adult males can find a female from as far away as 7 miles - the female "calls" the male when she is ready to mate by sending out a pheromone that the male can detect with his huge antennae. Is that cool or what?!?"