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OK, I’m a HUGE Nature Nerd

August 20th, 2010

So, I’m driving home from the farm after picking up milk yesterday afternoon and I spotted what looked like some trash in the road. When I got closer, I noticed it was crawling – not trash. I slammed on the brakes, pulled off the road, put on my flashers. When I got close I noticed it was a HUGE caterpillar with HUGE horns, I had never seen anything like it.

I ran back to the car, grabbed a container, and scooped it up to save him from getting smashed in the road. I knew it would be right at home in the woods by our house. When I got home and showed Mr Chiots, who was as impressed with this caterpillar as I was.

Earlier this spring I spotted a huge chrysalis in my front garden and I couldn’t find what kind of caterpillar it had come from and what kind of moth it would become. After searching and finding out that this was a Hickory Horned Devil Caterpillar, I realized that this was what became the chrysalis I spotted earlier in the spring. I think I spotted the moth that comes from it a few weeks ago as well, although I didn’t take photos of it or the chrysalis.

The Hickory Horned Devil is the largest caterpillar in North America, this one was 5 inches long. They look ferocious with the huge spikes on them, but they’re harmless. After being in the caterpillar stage for 35 days during which it eats a ton, it then burrows into the soil and pupates and overwinters and a pupa. They come out as Regal moths the next year and live just long enough to mate and lay eggs and are nocturnal. Too bad I forgot to take a photo of that moth and chrysalis, I may never see one again. (If you’d like to see what they look here’s what the moth looks like, and here’s what the chrysalis looks like, thanks to some Flickr members).

I’ve stopped many times to save turtles from being smashed the road, and once we saved some baby bunnies, but I’ve never stopped for a caterpillar before (although I do swerve to miss woolly bears all the time). I released this one in the woods behind the house, hopefully it keeps away from the road.

Every stopped the car to rescue something from the road?

34 Comments to “OK, I’m a HUGE Nature Nerd”
  1. Wanda on August 20, 2010 at 5:11 am

    Your thoughtfulness on the road is awesome! I’ve seen one of those caterpillars in our yard. It was impressive like yours is!

    Reply to Wanda's comment

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mark mile, Susy Morris. Susy Morris said: OK, I’m a HUGE #Nature Nerd #insects #caterpillar […]

    Reply to Tweets that mention Hickory Horned Devil Caterpillar | Chiot’s Run —'s comment

  3. christa on August 20, 2010 at 8:13 am

    I stopped traffic many years ago so some little ducklings would make it across the street safely. :)

    Reply to christa's comment

  4. kristin on August 20, 2010 at 8:17 am

    Yup, turtles. Although they’re mostly snapping turtles, which means my braver husband is the one who rescues them. With the aid of a large stick to keep from getting snapped.

    Reply to kristin's comment

  5. Stace on August 20, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Eastern box turtles and black rat snakes seem to be my specialty :)

    Reply to Stace's comment

  6. Sense of Home on August 20, 2010 at 8:53 am

    That is hugh! I have never seen a caterpillar like that. Thanks for doing the research so we could see what the moth looks like. I saw a hugh dragonfly yesterday on my step, larger than I have seen before. I took a photo and need to do some research now to see what kind it is and if it is native to our area or just travelling through.


    Reply to Sense of Home's comment

  7. Dave on August 20, 2010 at 8:58 am

    What is amazing is that it’s so large you could see it while driving! That is a pretty neat find. Aptly named caterpillar too!

    Reply to Dave's comment

  8. Seren Dippity on August 20, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Ok. yuck. That is the creepiest looking thing ever.

    I’ve rescued turtles on the road.

    I go out of my way to take care of spiders. Living in Houston for 30 years made me appreciate any creature that eats mosquitos for a living.

    Last year I had an infestation of gnats in my houseplants. While I treated the soil and put out sticky traps, I also had the help of some spiders that took up residence in my windows. They made very dense but almost invisible webs behind my blinds. Every day I’d clean the windowsills of dead gnat bodies that they had killed and cut out of their webs.
    I didn’t disturb the webs because I was fascinated. Nature INSIDE my house at work! I made a deal with the spiders that I wouldn’t disturb them as long as they stayed unobtrusively out of sight, no hanging from the chandeliers! Once my gnat problem was cleared up, they disappeared.

    Right now I have a garden spider pet. She hangs out at the top of my tomato fence and I feed her hornworms and grasshoppers by throwing one in her web every once in a while. Here’s a photo:

    Reply to Seren Dippity's comment

    • Susy on August 20, 2010 at 9:50 am

      Very cool, I used to have a huge wolf spider that lived by the back door. We called it “Winston” for quite a while, then she laid eggs, so she became “Winstonette”. I never fed her, I should try that sometime.

      I always leave the spiders and other bugs that make their way into the house. Sometimes I catch them and release them outside, but generally they get left alone. Some of them get eaten by the cats if they venture down low enough. The spiders that build webs in the laundry room by the back door are very welcome because they catch any moquitos that make their way in at night when we open the door.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • Seren Dippity on August 21, 2010 at 12:14 am

        Its almost scary how fast she can zip across that web to grab what I throw in. She moves in a flurry and wraps it up, then goes back to the center and 20 to 30 minutes later she goes and feeds from it. I think she waits for the venom to kick in and totally paralyze it.

        I’m not for sure, especially because there are so many types but I almost always assume that a spider that stays in one location for any length of time is female. At least most of the ones I’ve watched over time have usually ended up with an egg sack. I think the males are much more transitory.

        to Seren Dippity's comment

  9. deedee on August 20, 2010 at 9:46 am

    wow susy, that’s amazing! i’ve never seen anything like that before! the moth is even pretty!
    i stopped and picked up a one eyed bassett hound once. she had some kind of nasty skin thing going on and she was really old. i kept her at our shop for awhile, but no one ever claimed her. so i had to take her to the no kill humane society :( (we were already at our limit of 5 dogs!)

    Reply to deedee's comment

    • Susy on August 20, 2010 at 9:49 am

      We’ve picked up a couple of pets that way as well – remember Jeffrey?

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • deedee on August 21, 2010 at 10:26 am

        aw, jeffrey! my favorite fattest cat! i just showed joey the caterpillar pictures and he said “i’m not petting that bug!” he loves to catch woolly caterpillars, so i was interested to see what he said about that one! he also said he didn’t want one of those in our house!

        to deedee's comment

  10. Susan on August 20, 2010 at 9:56 am

    What an amazing creature! I would have rescued him/her myself! Earlier this week I came across a small hawk that had apparently flown into the power lines and was stunned. Luckily, I had a blanket in the back for my dogs, so I was able to bundle it up and put it gently on the side of the road. I also got to take a good, long, close look at it. What a beautiful bird.

    Reply to Susan's comment

  11. Corrie Carswell on August 20, 2010 at 10:42 am

    Last year, I was driving on a busy four-lane street and saw a turtle that was trying to cross the road. The funny thing was that he was waiting at the crosswalk, almost like he was waiting for the light to turn. I stopped and relocated him to my parents’ year. He responded to my kindness by hissing, trying to bite me, and peeing on me.

    The caterpillar is awesome! Beautiful and ugly at the same time.

    Reply to Corrie Carswell's comment

  12. MAYBELLINE on August 20, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    WOW. That’s incredible. Thanks for the nature walk.
    I don’t think I’ve stopped. I’m more aware now though.

    Reply to MAYBELLINE's comment

  13. Missy on August 20, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Whenever I see stray dogs on our back country roads I always want to stop and pick them up, but I know I’ll just end up falling in love with them and I can’t, so I have never stopped. I saw a dog the other day walking on the side of the road in the pouring rain and almost tried—it looked so sad! Unfortunately it’s a common occurrence in our area of Ohio and our dog pound euthanizes a huge number of dogs every week because of it. So in my mind I think that if I pick the dog up I’ll end up having to take it to the dog pound and then they’ll put it down—so I figure it has better chances on it’s own. There—that’s how I deal with my guilty conscience!

    Reply to Missy's comment

  14. Miranda on August 20, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Seriously – that caterpillar is so amazing.
    We stop for turtles frequently, and swerve for toads. I tried to get a HUGE snapping turtle off the highway once, at my own risk! Those things can seriously lunge!

    Reply to Miranda's comment

  15. Kelly on August 20, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    Awesome! We found a sphinx caterpillar last year in our yard (rescued it from being trampled by wild little boy children types) that was about 3″ long. We’re nature nerds too – we take pictures of everything cool we find in our yard. We found a dung beetle once, took video of a snake trying to eat a frog (frog too big, snake realized that… eventually), and found a box turtle laying eggs on our driveway this spring (sadly, something found the eggs). We did find out that box turtles are homing animals and the reason they try to cross roads is to return to their hatching place to lay their own eggs. You should always put them on the side of the road they’re trying to reach, and never relocate them somewhere else – they’ll just keep trying to “go home”.

    Reply to Kelly's comment

  16. warren on August 20, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    I love turtles too and I always stop and help them along…poor things!

    That caterpillar is stop-worthy too! Holy moley!

    Reply to warren's comment

  17. tj on August 20, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    …Rest assured, you are not alone in your nerdom… ;o)

    …I stop for turtles, swerve (safely) for woolies, stop for squirrels, rabbits, geese, deer, etc… I save spiders and remove them safely to the outdoors… See? Nerdom. You are not alone my friend…

    …Lovely caterpillar.

    …Blessings… :o)

    Reply to tj's comment

  18. Laura on August 20, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    I live in NC, and we had one of those moths hanging around our front yard for a day. It was incredibly beautiful and very large!

    You’re in for a treat!

    Reply to Laura's comment

  19. Sarah on August 20, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    I’ve never swerved to miss a caterpillar, but I’ve seen one that looks similar to this – a Cecropia moth caterpillar (photo here: They are so special!

    Reply to Sarah's comment

  20. Denise on August 20, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    Okay, my husband and children just found one of these in the road today. We had never seen anything like it before and quite frankly were a bit grossed out by the hugeness and look of it. I was wondering if it was some kind of strange invasive species that will wreak much havoc, but I am glad I read your blog tonight. I guess now we will release it from my kid’s bug catcher box and let it ravenously eat in the wild.

    Reply to Denise's comment

  21. Hanna Fushihara on August 20, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    That caterpillar is so amazing!!!

    The coolest thing I have rescued on the road is a Wood Turtle. My co-worker rescued a dazed Hawk a few weeks ago that we took to a rehabber and was fine afterward. I stop or more often, go “Oh no! OMG!”, panic, then have to turn around to try to save an animal or make sure one is not just injured and not dead already. I do it waaaaaaay too often. Last week I thought I ran over a turtle but went back and found that it was a piece of fried chicken……

    Reply to Hanna Fushihara's comment

  22. Jana Miller on August 21, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Hi, you linked to my photos on flickr. Thought you’d be interested in my webpage on this topic –

    Thanks for stopping and getting this HHD out of the road. Because it was on the ground it likely meant that it was looking for a host tree bury itself by to become a pupae.

    I swerve to miss caterpillars, lizards and grasshoppers in the road too. And pick up every turtle/tortoise I see anywhere near a road and move it to a safer place.

    Reply to Jana Miller's comment

  23. Stephanie Morimoto on August 22, 2010 at 12:14 am

    Wow — that caterpillar is INCREDIBLE! I’ve never seen anything like it; thanks so much for sharing the great photos of it, the moth and the pupa. I definitely go out of my way to keep our spiders safe and happy, indoors and out. If I ever saw something like this caterpillar in San Francisco, I’d definitely screech the brakes to save it.

    Reply to Stephanie Morimoto's comment

  24. Syrahsuzie on August 22, 2010 at 5:20 am

    I stopped for a cat that I thought had been killed by a car. Then I realised he was reacting to a barking dog so I took him to the vet. He said the cat had no injuries and was probably poisoned. He rehydrated him and I paid for him to be neutered. I am allergic to cats so we released him near where I had found him.We saw him every couple of months for the next 5 years.

    We also stopped for a Great Dane that was in danger of being hit by a car on a country road. My husband and daughter stayed with him while I went to fetch our van as we couldn’t fit him into our little car! The dog rescue centre couldn’t take him straight away so we kept him for a few days (he was really adorable) then one day when we were out there was a thunderstorm and he jumped a 5 foot fence to escape and we never saw him again. This was probably why he was on the road in the first place as we had just had a major thunderstorm.

    Reply to Syrahsuzie's comment

  25. nic@nipitinthebud on August 22, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    woah, that’s incredible. I wouldn’t have believed the size of it if it wasn’t modelled alongside a foot! Thanks for sharing it.
    I used to work in the Forest of Dean, a place in the UK notorious for sheep wandering in the road. I saw a lamb lying in the road once and that urge to help an injured animal transforms you into some with no fear. I thought nothing of standing in the road and commanding the cars to stop before scooping him up and laying him under a tree. It was really sad that the area is also notorious for speeding and he’d been hit by a car and was barely breathing. I can still recall vividly what his curly coat felt like and that he was about the same size and weight as my cats. There was nothing I could do for him though and I always think of him when I drive past that spot now.

    Reply to nic@nipitinthebud's comment

  26. Kathy C. on August 24, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Hi! Love your writing – thanks for sharing. We were on our way to Walmart and noticed a mama duck with a dozen ducklings waddling toward the parking lot. Mama walked over the sewer grate with no problem, but the babies all fell right through! We no sooner stopped our car to help that we saw a couple young, burly, working-type guys (blackened hands and all!) slam on their brakes, fly out of their car and team-lift the grate off the driveway. One guy hopped in the sewer and lifted each duckling out with mama flying at their heads. Not All the babies were saved! the guys got back in their truck and sped off. one word was spoken during the entire time. Our kids insisted on escorting the ducks to a safer zone. It was amazing!

    Reply to Kathy C.'s comment

    • Kathy C. on August 24, 2010 at 4:58 pm

      oops – meant to say ALL the ducklings were saved! My typing mistake.

      Reply to Kathy C.'s comment

  27. Janice on August 30, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    Wow, that dude is amazing!

    Reply to Janice's comment

  28. mikehunt on September 5, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    we found one!

    Reply to mikehunt's comment

  29. Barbara Correro on September 18, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    I live in Kemper County Mississippi and was cutting grass on my riding lawnmower when I came to a dead stop – this Hickory Hhorned Devil caterpiller was just beautiful with the brightest green and the tipped black horns! I, too, took pictures and released him/her into the woods. Nature is wonderful and we all need to be careful of our “footprints”.

    Reply to Barbara Correro's comment

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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