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Hickory Horned Devil: Shedding Into Beauty

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

 When we left the Hickory Horned Devil, it was preparing to molt, hanging limp, then pulsing and extending its front half. I was in a tizzy because I had to take Curtis to the vet to get his staples out after surgery, and I couldn't be there for its last molt as a caterpillar. Dang it! Priorities. I did, however, get to come home that afternoon to a changed beast.

No, not Curtis. The worm. Well, Curtis was happy without the staples in his neck and brisket. 

Aug 24 4:43pm LOOK WHAT IT DID

Morning August 26. Hoooo Weeee!!

I was SO excited to see the transformation. All my worry about the anorexia and dull coloration dissipates as I see what the caterpillar was working up to. It didn't eat for 2 1/2 days while it was preparing to molt, and that coincided with my taking it inside, so of course I concluded that I'd done something dumb and ruined everything. That's how it goes, every time, for the first-time helicopter HHD mom. 
I'm an HHHD mom.

26 August 2022. In this video I'm showing you how the "devil eyes" work. The caterpillar really only displays them under duress, when it's frightened and thinks it needs to scare someone back. They're just square black spots on the caterpillar's nape, or thorax I guess. And the worm can sort of flex to display them when necessary, by tucking its head down against its underside. That move expands the nape, reveals the Ray Bans, and also deploys the scary horns, which don't
hurt at all, and have no poison in them. All for show. 

Here's the new sleeve I deployed on 26 August. I ordered it from
It's the biggest one they make, a habitat fit for the King of Caterpillars, the Regal Moth's larva.

It's so big that I never had to move the caterpillar for its whole time inside. With smaller sleeves, you have to move them to a fresh branch when the worm eats all the leaves inside. You want to shake the branch you're about to enclose quite hard before you sleeve it, to make sure you've got all the stinkbugs and spiders off it. Then you run the sleeve over the branch and tie it very tightly and securely at both ends. You can't tie it too tightly, or run the cord around the closure too many times. Things get in. Things get out, otherwise.
The beauty of the sleeve is that the caterpillar is outdoors, exposed to sun, rain, wind and changing temperatures, just as it would be in nature. For monarchs, at least, this is VITAL to their picking up navigational skills. Shockingly, monarchs raised inside a house don't know how to get to Mexico, apparently. What a thought--that in trying to help them we could be hampering them, keeping them from fulfilling their destiny. So you've got to raise them outdoors, and sleeves are the way to go. 
The only difference in sleeve raising and wild life, for the caterpillar, is that nothing can kill it.

I loved all the stages of the HHD, but I have to say I found this newly shed fifth instar caterpillar the most beautiful of all. I loved its proportions--still with ridiculously long horns and prolegs; gorgeous shades of beige and brown, set off by all that orange red bling. 

Aug 25 7 pm New 5th Instar Molt coloration--maybe my favorite! He finally started eating again that evening. Whew!! Had not eaten since I took him in on the 23rd! I was worried. But it was just him getting ready to molt. I have to say the worry was worth it.

26 August 11 AM, I got a good shot of the gripperdoodle off the back of the worm. It's basically constructed like an oven mitt with Velcro tips. It clamps onto the branch like a vise, and that worm is NOT going to fall while the gripperdoodle is engaged. Yes that is a Zick neologism and yes you may use it. As I age and am unable to come up with the words I want, I spontaneously invent them. Often they're better than the word I was searching for; just ask my kids.  Kind of a natural history Casey Stengel at this stage of my life.

The correct term for the gripperdoodle would be  "modified anal prolegs" but what fun is that? And also gross. Come to think of it I wish I'd figured out where the frass comes out. Inside/behind the gripperdoodle? Does it have to release the oven mitt to take a sh-t? Darn! Wish I'd poked around to better understand this remarkable naughty bit.

By 26 August, 7:20 pm, the caterpillar was turning pale before my eyes, especially along the dorsum. 

26 aug 720 pm

In the sunlight, I could see some green creeping into the bronzy brown it had before.

There's a Curtis bomb in this photo. Not an accident. He tries to get in the frame just like Chet did.

And wait--is that turquoise coming into the foreparts?? Is this thing changing color before my eyes, like an octopus? Why not? In the Devil World, anything is possible. 

You're just too good to be true
Can't take my eyes off of you
You'd be like heaven to touch
I want to hold you so much
Well, that last part, not so much.


Fascinating transformations!


Gorgeous creature in a kind of scary, creepy way. I picture Liam creating some impressive artwork based on the Horned's fascinating characteristics. And who knew about the Monarch?! Someone in my area raising Monarchs and I suspect she doesn't know this re: navigation. She will be receiving this information pronto. Thanks. Kim in PA

Other testing has shown that under the right natural environmental conditions, the monarchs raised indoors can successfully calibrate their sense of direction to migrate in the correct southerly direction. I would tell naysayers to Zip it. There are many reasons to raise monarchs.

Love love love the Horned Devil.

Wonderful posts about the HHD. My mentor in things entomological would say to me at least once a year, starting around 1983, "you still haven't found a hickory horned devil?" I finally found one, on Middle Island in the Ohio River Islands NWR (in 2004). Took many photos. I've only seen one since. I've seen the adults several times as they came to light at my former home near Buckhannon, WV. Recently I've moved to Washington County, Ohio, and I'm interested to see if the species is more common here, near where I saw my first one, and where you've been sleeving.

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