Its that time of year again!! The temperature has dropped and snow blankets the Adirondacks. For most of us here, Winter can seem to last forever and any foresight we can get of what to expect, can be welcomed. Like many other creatures, the woolly bear is now nestled into their Winter hideaway and will hibernate until Spring.
As a Lepidopterist, I have had the privilege of interacting with these caterpillars in an up close and personal manner. These creatures are thought of by many as being simple and insignificant but I assure you they are anything but. The life of a woolly bear is long, arduous and miraculous. From ground dweller to free flight, the life of this larva is one of the greatest sights to witness throughout the insect world. We have had folks bring us a variety of insects in all stages of life in attempt to preserve their lives. In the past, we were brought woolly bear eggs from a couple who trimmed a tree not realizing eggs were laid on a leaf of one of the branches. We had an idea of what creature would hatch from these eggs and two days later 14 tiny black woolly bear caterpillars appeared. These caterpillars, the larva stage of the Isabella tiger moth, are hardy eaters and grow very quickly. Their orange band appears by the second instar and remains throughout the larval stage. After handling these creatures regularly, they ceased to roll into a ball – a defense mechanism when they are afraid and instead remained fully opened as if they were aware I was not a threat. When speaking to them, they would raise off their front legs toward my voice in acknowledgement something was there. As Autumn arrived, these little cuties were released back to the wild in order to bulk up for the coming Winter and seek out their cold weather getaway.
It is known that the woolly bear’s ability to forecast the coming Winter is folklore, but what an amazing way to bring attention to this fuzzy and interesting creature. The folklore suggests the wider this caterpillar’s brown ring, the milder the upcoming winter will be. If the woolly bear is mostly black, it means a harsher winter. If mostly brown, it means a milder winter. If brown at the head with more black near the tail, it means a winter that starts mild and ends harshly (and vice versa). The woolly bear may not be able to tell the future, but they may be able to tell us about the weather in the past.
The coloration and the length of the bands do have a correlation to how long there was warm weather until cold weather set in. The warmer and longer the growing season they have, the wider that round rust-colored band becomes in the middle.
Each time it sheds its coat, it becomes a deeper orange. Their furry coats protect them from freezing, down to -90 F so surely, they are equipped for Winter in the Adirondacks.
Check out my picture of a woolly bear taken this year in Wilmington at the top of this post. Follow the guide above to find out what this little guy predicts for the mountains this year. Let me know what you think he’s saying!!