Monday, October 19, 2009

Woolly Bear

Yesterday was such a gorgeous, sunny day that my husband and I decided to take advantage of it by taking a nice long walk on the K&P trail, a 15 kilometer, multi-use, semi-urban trail that is available to the public for a variety of uses, including walking, hiking, cycling, horseback riding and cross-country skiing.

Along the way I took a few dozen photos, some of which I’ll undoubtedly share at some point (if ever I’m done sorting through them). But for now, I wanted to share a photo of a fuzzy little critter that fascinated me when I spotted it.

(Isn’t he the coolest-looking thing? His black and (slightly reddish) orange shades fit in perfectly with the Halloween holiday, don’t you think?)


I’d never seen this caterpillar before (shows how much I get out), so later at night I plunked myself down in front of my computer to search the internet for an ID. Not sure how to being my search, I decided to simply type in what the caterpillar looked like, so I wrote “black and orange caterpillar”. And POOF, google (unsurprisingly) came back with a gazillion hits (something google does very well) and after checking out a few web pages, I finally identified the little fuzzball.

Apparently, this little guy goes by the common name of “woolly bear caterpillar”, and he grows up to be the Pyrrharctia isabella,, commonly-referred to as Isabella Tiger Moth. That’s too bad, cause once again, I’d really hoped for a butterfly. Oh well.

There’s more.

These caterpillars are often seen crossing roads and paths on warm days in autumn in search of a dark and sheltered spot to spend the winter, which can be under bark or inside the cavities of rocks and logs. We spotted a few along the way, in the middle of the road, slowly, ever so slowly making their way across. It goes without saying that I had to stop every time we saw one, so I can move it to the side where it would be safe. I couldn’t just walk away, wondering if it would get crushed by the people, dogs, horses and bikes going by.

At some point, it dawned on my husband that we were never going to get anywhere if I was going to stop and ‘save’ every caterpillar from possible death, so he said: “You don’t need to stop for every single caterpillar; they’ll be fine”

To which I answered: “They’re in the middle of the road; how can they not get squashed?”

And he said: “They’re not going to get squashed. Let’s just keep going”

I decided he might be right, so I quit the ‘save the caterpillars’ mission and picked up the pace. And wouldn’t you know it, a couple of minutes later we happened upon a dead woolly bear. Squashed. Like I’d said.

(Words of wisdom to husbands: When your wife wants to move caterpillars to the side of the road, let her. It makes for a much more pleasant walk.)

Okay, so...

In the spring, the woolly bear caterpillar wakes up from its hibernation, feeding for a brief period before spinning its cocoon. A few weeks later, it emerges as the Tiger Moth, which, if you ask me, is rather dull-looking compared to the caterpillar stage.

Then there’s the superstitious stuff.

According to folklore of eastern United States and Canada, the amount of black stripes found on a woolly bear caterpillar in the fall is an indication of the severity of the winter. In other words, the longer the black bands, the more severe the winter will be; longer, colder and snowier. And just to complicate matters further: if the bands are brown instead of black, it also indicates a milder winter. In that case, how the heck does the orange fit in if the bands are brown?

And there’s even more.

If the woolly caterpillar’s head is dark (black), the start of winter will be severe, and if its tail is dark, then the end will be very cold. In addition, since this Halloweenish fuzzball has 13 body segments, it’s believed that each segment forecasts one of the 13 weeks of winter. Now, judging from the photos above, I should be expecting a crappy start to winter, which will depress me. And right before I hit rock bottom, the mild weeks will kick in, reviving me and giving me hope. And as soon as I’m happy and feeling good, the weather will turn on me once more and I’ll be depressed again. Just great.

Why couldn’t fuzzball be more orangey? I suppose I shouldn’t complain cause it could be worse; woolly bear might have been mostly black.


  1. Wooly bears are so much fun to read about. I recently did a post about them too. We have been seeing lots and lots of them around. Keep saving them when you can, I do too.

  2. We have lots of them down here in the North Carolina mountains, too. I swerve to avoid them in the road when I can. (Maybe I should get a bumper sticker that says, "I brake for Wooly Bears!") Here a lot of folks call them "wooly worms." There's even a big Wooly Worm festival where the highlight is a Wooly Worm race with the winner receiving a big cash prize. And that Wooly Worm Winner has the honor of predicting the winter for our area. In fact, it looked a lot like yours, with the brown in the middle and the black on each end. And since we've already had snow, I guess the Wooly Worm's right so far.

    Great post, as always.

  3. Hi Crafty Gardener, would you believe I'd never seen these little critters previous to this. I have no idea why. But I was fascinated when I spotted them. They're really cute. I didn't have the heart to leave them in the middle of the road. I'm a sucker for things like this.

    Ha ha ha...Beth! I can just picture you swerving around the road with your "I brake for woolly bears" bumper sticker. Is it woolly or wooly? I can't seem to get that straight.

    Anyway, I was reading about the festivals down south. I wanted to write a little something about that but this post would have been much too long. Also, it's material that I can use for another time, so it's all good.

    Thanks for your kind words about my post. I like to write the way I think, which can be pretty weird...:)

  4. I've never seen them before either which is not surprising since I hardly pay attention to the insect world. Or maybe they're just not that common in AB? Learn something new every day.

  5. Tatina, I hardly ever notice bugs when I'm walking. But on the K&P trail, you have to watch where you're going because sometimes there's horse poop on your path...yuck... You don't want to step on that!