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Hickory Horned Devil Caterpillars: Even Chickens Are Afraid of Them

Updated on July 11, 2017
Hickory Horned Devil Caterpillar.  Chickens...be afraid...very afraid.
Hickory Horned Devil Caterpillar. Chickens...be afraid...very afraid. | Source
Their large size and fierce look are what keep chickens from eating Hickory Horned Devil caterpillars.  I guess they are lucky they are ugly, or they might not get the chance to turn into Regal Moths.
Their large size and fierce look are what keep chickens from eating Hickory Horned Devil caterpillars. I guess they are lucky they are ugly, or they might not get the chance to turn into Regal Moths. | Source

Nothing to Fear

Wow! These guys have really got their bluff in on everyone, including chickens that normally eat caterpillars! They are huge and look like they could swallow a mouse for lunch, but although their looks scream "get away...run," they are just some big, old harmless babies that wouldn't hurt a flea. They are usually about 5-6 inches long, so you can see why a chicken might be a little nervous tackling one of them.

This big, ugly sucker is a Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar, and he will eventually turn into a large, colorful Regal (or Royal Walnut) moth - scientific name Citheronia regalis.

Even those long, red horns with black tips don't sting, although they do look pretty scary. It's all a ruse, and these bright green caterpillars are actually pretty easy to handle, so when you see one, go ahead and pick him up...you'll be just fine.

It has been said that even birds that would ordinarily attack a butterfly won't bother with a Regal Moth, which has a wingspan of about four inches.
It has been said that even birds that would ordinarily attack a butterfly won't bother with a Regal Moth, which has a wingspan of about four inches.
Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar even looks ferocious from the back.
Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar even looks ferocious from the back.

They Burrow Instead of Spin

The Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar differs from most other caterpillars that spin a cocoon; instead, they actually burrow down into the ground to transform into an adult moth. In fact, you are unlikely to see one of these caterpillars until he climbs down out of a tree looking for a site for pupation. If you do happen to see one of them on pavement and in an area where burrowing would be difficult, go ahead and be neighborly and pick it up and move it to an area where the soil is soft enough for burrowing.

Their habitat:

Unless you live on the eastern side of the United States, you are likely to never run across one of these caterpillars, as they are found in the deciduous forest areas of the eastern United States (New Jersey to Missouri) and southward (to east Texas and central Florida).

Did We Say They Are Large?

As you can see, a Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar is huge...
As you can see, a Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar is huge...
...but then again, so is the Regal Moth with a wingspan of 4-6 inches (females are larger than males).
...but then again, so is the Regal Moth with a wingspan of 4-6 inches (females are larger than males).
I wouldn't want to run across this Hickory Horned Devil Caterpillar in a dark alley.
I wouldn't want to run across this Hickory Horned Devil Caterpillar in a dark alley.

Hickory Horned Devils Love Shade Trees

Even though a Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar will eat the leaves of shade trees, usually the damage is minimal because their numbers are small. Some of the trees they like to hang out in include hickory, ash, persimmon, sweetgum, sycamore and walnut.

When Regal moths emerge from the soil during the summer, they mate and a female moth will spend most of her remaining life laying eggs, depositing them on leaves in clusters. It takes the eggs about 15-16 days to hatch, starting the four larval stages - embryo, larva, pupa and imago. In the final stages, these caterpillars have voracious appetites.

If you disturb a Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar, it will throw its body from side to side trying to scare you away, but it is all an act and they really are harmless. In late summer to early fall, the caterpillar will burrow into the soil to pupate and overwinter. Most will remain as pupae for a little less than a year, although others take almost two years to turn into moths.

Populations of these caterpillars appear to be declining and they are generally not considered a pest. They can survive a very moderate frost and will continue to feed as it gets warmer, but because there are so few of them, no pest control is recommended.

Taxonomic Rank

In case you wondered about the taxonomic rank of the Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Subphylum: Atelocerata
  • Class: Hexapoda (including Insecta)
  • Infraclass: Neoptera
  • Subclass: Pterygota
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Superfamily: Bombycoidea
  • Family: Saturniidae
  • Subfamily: Ceratocampinae
  • Genus: Citheronia
  • Subject: Citheronia regalis (Fabricius)

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    • Casey White profile image
      Author

      Mike and Dorothy McKenney 6 days ago from United States

      You are absolutely right about them, and I agree whole-heartedly with the chickens. I'm going to research the Jerusalem Cricket...might be a story in that (one to tell around campfires late at night) ewwwwwww.

    • Tamara Moore profile image

      Tamara Yancosky 7 days ago from No Idea Where

      Ugh! Not your post! Your post is fascinating! I'm talking about this evil looking "thing"! This...caterpillar. It has fangs! And, it's huge! It's disgusting. And it throws its body around, too, like in the Exorcist movie! I hope they don't live near me.

      Have you heard of the Jerusalem Cricket? They scare me so bad and my cat once brought one into the house, and I grabbed my purse, keys, and dog, and left! I am terrified of them. If you ever write an article about these orange and black striped horrors, please get my immediate attention as I will want to read about them!

      Thank you for this article, (and, pictures...ugh!)...great job..LOL. You should categorize this under "Dark Poetry".

      Hugsssssss,

      Tamara

    • Mamerto profile image

      Mamerto I Relativo Jr 8 days ago from Cabuyao

      Fascinating creatures! I mean they remind me of a real life Pokémon, or a miniature alien creature. I wished we have one in our backyard and backwoods.

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