Meet the Banded Woolly Bear caterpillar. Over the weekend, I spotted this fuzzy little creature crawling around my driveway. The banded woolly bear, Pyrrharctia isabella, can be found in many cold regions, including the Arctic. The banded woolly bear larva emerges from the egg in the fall and overwinters in its caterpillar form, when it freezes solid. It survives being frozen by producing a cryoprotectant in its tissues. In the spring it thaws out and emerges to pupate. Once it emerges from its pupa as a moth it has only days to find a mate.
In most temperate climates, caterpillars become moths within months of hatching, but in the Arctic the summer period for vegetative growth – and hence feeding – is so short that the Woolly Bear must feed for several summers, freezing again each winter before finally pupating. Some are known to live through as many as 14 winters.Woolly Bear must feed for several summers, freezing again each winter before finally pupating. Some are known to live through as many as 14 winters.
Folklore of the eastern United States and Canada, according to The Old Farmer's Almanac, holds that the relative amounts of brown and black on the skin of a Woolly Bear caterpillar are an indication of the severity of the coming winter. It is believed that if a Woolly Bear caterpillar's brown stripe is thick, the winter weather will be mild and if the brown stripe is narrow, the winter will be severe.
The one I spotted definitely had more black than brown, so according to this little guy, our upcoming Winter will be more severe. -Todd Gutner @ToddWCSH
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