By Peyton Proffitt
This month, curiosity drew me to the remarkable collection of insects housed at the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center. At first, I was overwhelmed by the number, age and diversity of the specimens, but after a few minutes, I decided to focus on specimens that made me think, “Oh, how pretty!”
Citheronia regalis, the regal moth or royal walnut moth, a Saturniidae species of moth occurring in North America, north of Mexico, caught my eye. As a caterpillar, Citheronia regalis is known as the hickory horned devil. Look up an image, and you’ll see it is aptly named. As a caterpillar, the hickory horned devil can grow up to 14 cm long, has massive red and black horns, a bright green body, and looks truly frightening.
During this time it feeds on deciduous trees, including hickories (Carya), Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), Butternut (Juglans cinera), American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) and ashes (Fraxinus). Once it is ready to begin pupation, the caterpillar expels its own guts and turns turquoise (seriously!), and burrows into a dirt chamber where, over the winter season, it transforms into an adult regal moth.
After all of that, the adult regal moth will never eat and will live for about a week. The females will take that time to lay their eggs and the males will mate throughout the duration of their adult lives.
In the Smokies, these moths are found from June through September. Their population in the United States is stable but is declining in a large part of its former range, especially in the northeastern United States. Regal moths are distinct in size and color pattern, with gray and orange wings and rows of creamy yellow spots. Yellow and black bands encircle the orange abdomen.
To read more about Citheronia regalis and other moths in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, pick up our newest guide, Butterflies and Moths of the Smokies