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Wooly Bears
October 12, 2015

Weather transition is in full swing now.

70's one day, and struggle to make 60 degrees the next day.

In the seventies today and the 50's tomorrow.

We haven't had a killing frost yet in SW Michigan, growing season is still officially on.

I'll pick these tomatoes soon and allow them to fully ripen inside.

There are even a few green ones hanging on the vines.

Green fried tomatoes, that's what I'm talking about.

Plenty of flowers still in bloom.

I guess this helps to make up for the late start this spring.

I don't like the shrinking days (daylight), but I do enjoy the warm and cool at the same time that only autumn seems to offer.

Fledged finches are still making their sounds, I love it.

October 9, I officially saw my first Dark-eyed junco (no picture).

White-crowned sparrows are everywhere right now, and will be for another week or so before they head a bit further south to their wintering grounds.

Juveniles look much like the adults, except the head stripes are gray and reddish/brown instead of black and white.

They will molt into adult plumage when they settle in for winter.

We managed to catch a little of ArtPrize this year.

It didn't seem as awesome as past years, still there was some good work.

Karen is struggling and is burned out from dealing mostly with her aged mother (91).

Thank you for your continued prayers.

Isn't this juvenile, Red-Belly Woodpecker becoming a young adult absolutly beautiful.

He comes several times a day and i've enjoyed watching the changes in is plumage.

You see the face still has a youthful look.

Just when you think insects are going into hibernation, we have an infestation of Stinkbugs around here.

Another insect you will see and in fact is common only in the fall is the 'Woolly Bear' or 'Woolly Worm' caterpillar.


So let's get on with this weeks topic shall we?


Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella):

The common moth is known by different common names at its two main life stages.

The adult is the Isabella tiger moth.

and the larva is called the banded Woolly bear or Woolly worm.

The larvae of many species of Arctiid moths are called "Woolly bears" because of their long, thick, fur like setae or hair.

The Banded Woolly Bear or Woolly Worm.

Most people aren't nearly as familiar with the Isabella tiger moth as they are with its caterpillar, the banded woolly bear.

While the striped black and brown Woolly bear caterpillar is the best known, there are actually eight different species of Woolly worms in a variety of colors, from light brown to white & black.

Today, I will touch on the familiar black and brown Woolly bear.

The colors vary according to the worm’s diet and its age as well as heat and moisture.

Did it grow up in a dry place or a wet area.

All of these play a factor in your Woolly bears.

As Woolly worms go through their instars (shed their skin), their color goes from mostly orange to the typical stripped look that is common in late fall.

Folklore has it that the more black the Woolly bear has on it, the more severe the upcoming winter will be.

As a child my parents told this as if it were a fact.

I think my parents did believe, and many people today still believe this to be true.

If this is true, we will start with a severe winter and finish mild, according to a local meteorologist.

But in fact, larvae produced in the same clutch of eggs can vary from mostly red to mostly black, even when reared under the same conditions, and this variability invalidates any actual temperature-related trends that may otherwise be evident.

The banded Woolly bear has three bands.

Two outer black bands and one middle reddish-brown band.

This species is black at both ends with a band of coppery red or rusty red color in the middle.

The adult moth is dull yellow to orange with a robust, furry thorax and small head.

Its wings have sparse black spotting and the proximal segments on its first pair of legs are bright reddish-orange.

The moth has a wingspan of around 2-2.5 inches (5-6.3 cm).

(Painting of a skywalk makes you feel as if you are walking through it.)

The Woolly bear is a sign of fall.

Kids love them and even many adults try to avoid running over them.

The banded Woolly bear larva emerges from the egg in the fall and overwinters in its caterpillar form.

This is why we don't see them in the summer months.

Well into October you may see them climbing trees, crossing the back roads, sidewalks and driveways, along with many that didn't make it.

After fattening up on a variety of grasses and weeds, these little autumn travelers, seek places to hibernate.

If you look under boards, rocks, loose tree bark, mounds of leaves, flower pots or even snow, you'll find cozy Woolly bears waiting for spring, when they continue feeding and growing.

Once the weather warms, the larva devours all the grass and weeds it can.

It pupates, and becomes an adult, which then lives through the summer.

The caterpillar can grow to around 2 inches (about 5 cm).

That same spring they spin their silk cocoons, within which they will change into moths after two or three weeks.

Adults moths live through the summer, mate, lay eggs and begin the life cycle over again.

(Dog walker and dogs are made of paper mache.)

Birds must spend a great deal of time caring for their feathers, since their lives depend on them.

Preening, bathing, dusting, anting, and other feather care operations, cannot prevent the feathers from wearing out.

Because formed feathers (like our fingernails and hair) are lifeless, horny structures, incapable of being repaired, worn feathers must be replaced.

Also like our fingernails and hair, feathers are made of 'Keratin'.

This process of replacement is termed moulting, or molting.

The old, worn feathers are loosened in their follicles (sockets) by the growth of new intruding feathers, which eventually push them out.

Molting occurs in regular patterns over a bird's body.

The adaptiveness of such patterns can be illustrated by the arboreal woodpeckers, which retain the key inner pair of long tail feathers used in bracing and climbing until the outer feathers have been replaced.

This is the reverse of the pattern found in most birds, which molt tail feathers from the center of the tail first, and then progressively toward each side.

The majority of adult birds molt once or twice a year, and the temporal pattern, not unexpectedly, is related to the wear rate on the feathers.

Feathers of species that migrate enormous distances or live in thick brush, dodging among twigs and spines, wear more rapidly than those of birds resident in one place or live in open country.

The former tend to molt twice a year, and the latter only once.

(Close up of Dog Walker.)

Caterpillars survive winter freezes by producing a cryoprotectant in its tissues.

Cryoprotectant is a substance that is used to protect biological tissue from freezing damage.

Insects and other Arctic and Antarctic wildlife create cryoprotectants (antifreeze compounds and antifreeze proteins) in their bodies to minimize freezing damage
during cold winter periods.

Insects most often use sugars or polyols as cryoprotectants.

Can you imagine the things a you can still learn :-)

Woolly worms can survive extreme cold temperatures because of the bristly hair that covers their entire body and their unique ability to produce an antifreeze-like coating made up of glycerol and other chemicals.

Scientists estimate that Woolly worms can probably survive temperatures of up to 90 degrees fahrenheit below zero.

In fact, live Woolly bears have been found frozen in a cube of ice.

Once the ice melted, the worms immediately picked up on their normal activity.

The Isabella Tiger Moth is common throughout most of North and Central America (except extreme northern Canada).

As is the case with most moths, Isabella moths are nocturnal and so you won't typically see them during the daytime.

The Isabella tiger moth caterpillar isn't very specific about its host plants.

It is able to use a variety of host plants and broad-leafed trees.

Like most of the tiger moth caterpillars the banded Woolly bear will roll up into a ball if you attempt to pick it up or disturb it in some way.

(Paper mache dog.)

Pay attention to this.

The setae, or hair of the Woolly bear caterpillar do not inject venom and are not urticant as some species will do.

They do not cause irritation, injury, inflammation, or swelling.

However, they will play dead if picked up or disturbed.

Handling them is discouraged however, as the bristles may cause dermatitis in people with sensitive skin.

Most hairy caterpillars like the Wooly bear are the larvae of various moths.

Why not, moths are hairy bodied.

Many of these are equipped with poisons or toxins in their hollow hair, like the Buck moth and the smeared dagger moth.

If you don't know your caterpillars, a Strong suggestion is to leave them alone.

I digress.

Woolly bears are one of the most docile creatures you will encounter.

This species is a generalist feeder, as it feeds on many different species of plants, especially herbs and forbs.

The hairy body and camouflage colors deter the Woolly worm from becoming a mainstay on the menu for birds and other predators.

Sometimes it is referred to as a hedgehog caterpillar because it plays dead and rolls into a protective ball just like the bristly creatures.

(Paper mache Pomeranian, close up below.)

Some Wooly Festivals:

Woolly bears are a big deal in Vermilion, Ohio (a rural area west of Cleveland).

The city dedicates an entire day of celebration to woolly bears at their annual Woolly Bear Festival.

The small, one-stoplight town of Banner Elk, North Carolina also hosts a Woolly Worm Festival.

They have a Woolly worm race with over 1,400 racing caterpillars.

The winner of the race is the banded 'Woolly Bear' that will predict the severity of weather of the coming winter.

Other woolly bear festivals include

Beattyville, Kentucky every October.

The Camargo, Illinois festival, complete with Woolly worm races and reports from local meteorologists.

Don't You Love It?

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

God Bless.

I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning.

J.B. Priestly (1894-1984) English Author

I like this quote don't you?

Each day offers a fresh start.

Thank you Lord for another day.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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