Wooly Bears and Winter

I’m not a huge fan of bugs.  I don’t want to touch them, or step on them in bare feet, or get them stuck in my hair.  I even check the walls and ceiling for bugs every night before going to bed, to be sure none sneak up on me while sleeping.  But running in the woods during the summer, I really enjoy seeing the different colors and shapes of butterflies, moths, grasshoppers and dragonflies.  As long as I don’t touch them, it’s easy to forget  that they are bugs, and just enjoy seeing some cool little critters.

The butterflies and moths are really a wonder.  Their wings look so fragile, like they can’t possibly survive a breeze, never mind actually fly. But they are best viewed from a distance.  If you get too close, you don’t just see the pretty wings, but also the body.  And then there is no denying what they are …BUGS! Yuck!!

The moth at the top of the page is called an Isabella Tiger Moth.  It has pretty orangy – yellowy wings, and flutters around in the breeze.  This time of year though, there are fewer tiger moths, and more of their precursors, wooly bear caterpillars. Wooly bears are another one of those things that are cutest at a distance.  They are classified as “bristled” according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, and their fuzz is actually more bristly than wooly.  (I’ll take the almanac’s word for it, cause I’m NOT touching one!)

Legend says that these caterpillars can forecast the severity of the coming winter.  Supposedly, the more brown on the body, the milder the winter will be.  Like the tick and acorn correlation, there is probably a bit of truth to this, lost in a bunch of folk lore.  The amount of brown fuzz is actually an indicator of the age of the caterpillar: the older it is, the more brown fuzz there is, and the less black.  So the fact that last winter was mild means the wooly bears came out earlier in the spring, and had more time to eat and grow brown fuzz.

The caterpillars move incredibly slowly, so when you spot one on the trail, there’s plenty of time to get a good look at it.   And for now, I will be telling myself that the wide brown bands on all the wooly bears, are not a sign that last winter was mild, but rather that this one will be.

Get outside, and find some caterpillars to see, or some other critters before they all hide away for the winter!