Posts Tagged ‘woolly bear’

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

As the temperature heats up, so too does the activity of woolly bears

Woolly BearAs the old saying goes, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” During this transition, overwintering insects begin to reanimate. One insect that will soon regain mobility is the woolly bear, Pyrrharctia isabella Smith (Lepidoptera: Erebidae). The life cycle of this insect is complex, but if it is properly understood, then lepidopterists will have a much better chance of seeing one in the wild. 

The woolly bear overwinters as a larva. As the temperature gets cooler, the woolly bear larva will bask in the sun, using its dark coloration to gather heat. When the autumnal temperatures drop too low for basking to be sufficient, woolly bears ensconce themselves in leafy detritus. Snowfall serves to further insulate the moth from biting winter winds. Woolly bears are further protected by the chemical glycerol, which is produced by their bodies to protect them from extreme cold. This chemical is found in some antifreeze brands, and can be used in cars. Through strategic selection of overwintering sites and the use of glycerol, the woolly bear can survive temperatures as low as -60 oF.

Their survival can be put at risk if they are brought out of dormancy by unseasonal warmth, because they stop producing the chemicals necessary to protect themselves. Therefore, if a woolly bear is encountered in the wintertime, it is recommended that nature enthusiasts leave it alone.

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Friday, November 6, 2020

The Woolly Bear’s Winter Weather Prediction 

woolly bearMany of us have heard of the story that a small, fuzzy caterpillar Called the Woolly Bear (aka woolly worm or hedgehog caterpillar) carried the prediction of the coming winter on its back.  Whatever name you choose to call them, these cuddly looking caterpillars are often found in the autumn after they have left their food plants, a variety of grasses and weeds, in search of a sheltered spot where they can hibernate as larvae for the winter.

According to folklore, the amount of black on the woolly bear in autumn varies proportionately with the severity of the coming winter in the geographical area where the caterpillar is found.  The longer the woolly bear’s black bands, the longer, colder, snowier, and more severe the winter will be.  Similarly, the wider the middle brown band is associated with a milder upcoming winter.  The position of the longest dark bands supposedly indicates which part of winter will be coldest or hardest.  If the head end of the caterpillar is dark, the beginning of winter will be severe.  If the tail end is dark, the end of winter will be cold. In addition, the woolly bear caterpillar has 13 segments to its body, which traditional forecasters say correspond to the 13 weeks of winter.

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