Victor Leroy Brown didn’t know what to make of the strange, scary-looking caterpillar that fell from a tree and hit his tent Wednesday morning on Barbara Lane, Pulaski. It was something he had never seen before; an oddity that turns out to be a common find in this area.
The Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar, as it has been identified, is commonly found throughout the deciduous forests of the eastern United States, from Missouri to Massachusetts. According to the University of Florida, it is more common in the southern part of its distribution. In its maturity, it becomes a brightly colored regal moth, one of, but not the biggest, in North America, with a wingspan of 3.75 to 6 inches.
When it dropped into Brown’s world, though, his first instinct was to investigate further.
“I just wanted to find out what it is and whether it could be dangerous to my kids in the yard,” said Brown. He has a 13-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter, and he was afraid one of them might pick it up and possibly get stung.
It turns out the devil caterpillar is completely harmless. Although the creature looks like a ferocious predator, its spines are “not poisonous and not very sharp.” This is according to Virginia Cooperative Extension, which says it also “is not considered to be a pest and does not require any control measures.” They commonly feed on the leaves of various species of hickory and walnut.
In late summer, the mature caterpillar will burrow into the ground and transition to a pupal stage, beginning its metamorphosis into the regal moth. The moths emerge the following summer and begin the process of mating and laying eggs. The moths’ lives are short; most die about a week after emergence.