Ecology Around Historic Banning Mills

The property around Historic Banning Mills is sprawling with wildlife and virtually untouched natural forest. During a hike around our property, you can find an almost limitless number of species to observe in their natural environment! Check back for new additions to our ecology page as we uncover the unique life found hidden around our property and the surrounding area!

Hickory Horned Devil

Hickory horned devil caterpillars look fierce and can be almost as big as a hot dog, but they’re harmless. They have green bodies (that become turquoise as they age) and lots of prickled, orangey horn-like structures on their heads. They’re so big and fierce-looking that even chickens — which usually love to eat caterpillars — have been known to stay away from them.

HHDs eat leaves, chiefly those from hickory-type trees, such as walnuts, pecans, buttonbush, filbert, ash, and others. They also like persimmon leaves.

HHDs live in the deciduous forest areas of the eastern U.S. In earlier years you could find them as far north as Massachusetts, but now they only get as far as New Jersey. They’re more common down south — as far west as eastern Texas and as far east as central Florida.

They hatch from eggs in about a week, and then the larvae (the HHDs) live about five weeks -– usually from late July to the middle of August. They are then known as the Regal Moth.

They eat leaves, storing up energy for their pupation and final transformation. They eat a huge meal right before they start looking for soft earth to burrow into for pupation, when they live in dark brown cocoons.

It’s their last meal ever, because as moths, they don’t eat. They don’t even have mouths that can absorb nutrients. Also, pupation could last one season or even two, depending on when the pupa senses conditions are ripe for its emergence.

The HHD is the larva of the regal moth, which is the biggest moth found north of Mexico. It has gray-green and orange wings about four to six inches wide. It lives only about a week, and in that time this beautiful moth works as hard as it can to mate and reproduce, before it eventually dies of exhaustion.

Luna Moth

We spotted this beautiful moth right down the road from us this July! The Luna Moth is a Nearctic Moth which is in the Saturniidae family more commonly known as Giant Silk Moths.

The Luna Moth can reach a wingspan of 7 inches or larger but most commonly is found with a wingspan around 4.5 inches. The Luna Moth, like the Regal Moth does not have a mouth and cannot feed, but instead feeds off stored fat reserves left over from it’s caterpillar stage.

These moths lay between 200-400 eggs in one location or split into smaller groups and takes several days to finish laying them all. The Luna Moth can be found along the east coast from Florida to Maine and even into Canada!

Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue Heron is a resident bird of Georgia but can be found from Alaska all the way to South America. They are the largest of the heron family and a pleasure to watch as they fly and go about their daily lives.

At Historic Banning Mills, we are proud to have three nesting pair of Blue Herons. See below for some fun facts about them.

Blue Herons can have a wingspan of over six feet. They can stand three to four feet tall and weigh five to six pounds. The Blue Heron mainly nests in the tops of trees and can live together in large colonies called heronries of up to 500 nests! During the breeding season, the mating pair will stay together until the babies are grown. They will have different mates for the next season.

Male Blue Herons are larger than female Blue Herons. The male will bring sticks and present them to the female, who will then proceed to weave them into a platform type nest. She will then line the nest with moss, grasses, and other soft material. It can take up to two weeks to complete construction of the nest. They will return to the nest year after year to reuse it.

Female Blue Herons lay three to six eggs: plate blue in color. The eggs don’t hatch at the same time, meaning one of the babies will usually be stronger and more dominant, leading to a higher chance of survival. It takes twenty two months for a chick to mature before being ready to have its own chicks.

The Blue Heron is a very cautious bird and very wary of humans. The herons will abandon their nests if disturbed by much activity.

Blue Herons primarily eat fish but can be found eating salamanders, frogs, small mammals like voles and even small birds. 

River Birch

The River Birch is native to the Southeastern United States and usually resides along water. River Birch trees can grow to over 75 feet tall and have a trunk diameter of over two feet. The leaves on a River Birch can reach a canopy diameter of 40 to 60 feet wide. River Birches are fast growing trees and can live up to 150 years.

River Birch trees have very unique bark which can serve many different purposes. The bark of a river birch has a paper like texture which if dried is excellent for fire starting! The bark naturally peels as the tree grows older and can present various color accents in the winter. The sap can be used in making syrups and mixed drinks. Native Americans used River Birch to make canoes, wig wams, bowls, and paper for writing!