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Woolly Bears
October 31, 2016

After a couple of the most miserable fall days, weather-wise, the weekend rebounded nicely.

Wednesday wasn't even fit for the ducks.

Snow would have at least made the day brighter.

Many of you know what I'm talking about.

High temperatures in the upper 30's and low 40's.

A stiff wind blowing and an all day rain.

It is a challenge for this guy to remain positive on days like that.

(Thank You Lord.)

Weekend temps were in the low 60's with lots of sunshine.

November is tomorrow and still no killing frost around here.

Sadly, I will have to start cutting back and pulling up.

I know from past experience, that if I don't, winter will come fast and furious, leaving me with a mess.

Still, what is still in bloom is feeding the bees and a few butterflies.

The color always brings joy.

Enjoy the bird activity around you as much as possible.

Keep feeders and water sources clean too.

One 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, Woolly worm, Fuzzy bear, and even a Hedgehog Caterpillar.

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 or Woolly worm 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.

This is the legend:

The Woolly Bear caterpillar has 13 distinct segments of either rusty brown or black. The wider the rusty brown sections (or the more brown segments there are), the milder the coming winter will be. The more black there is, the more severe the winter.

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?

Environment plays a factor in your Woolly Bears.

As Woolly worms go through their six instar stages (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.

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 (also called the Woolly worm in some regions) 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.

It is now understood, that the longer the caterpillar lives, the more black it will become.

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).

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 and early November you will see them 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, pupates, and becomes an adult, which then lives through the summer.

As far as the story about the woolly caterpillar's coat, this is how Mother Nature helps it survive winter.

The fur is called setae and it isn't there to protect them from the cold weather.

Instead it actually helps them to a more controllable freeze.

Interesting Tidbits.

Once settled in, the caterpillars hibernate, creating a natural organic antifreeze called glycerol, a cryoprotectant in its tissues.

They freeze bit by bit, until everything but the interior of their cells are frozen.

Woolly bears can - and do - survive to temperatures as low as -90oF.

This ability to adapt to cold shows up particularly in the Arctic, where the woolly worms live in a strange state of slow motion.

In the spring, most caterpillars live for two to four weeks before becoming moths.

The Arctic woolly worms, however, spend at least 14 years in the process!

The woolly bear caterpillar has even been known to survive an entire winter completely frozen in an ice cube.

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

The Isebella 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.

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.

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 Forbes.

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 hedge hog caterpillar because it plays dead and rolls into a protective ball just like the bristly creatures.

Some Woolly 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 and 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.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."

2 Corinthians 5:17

"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

"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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