The Woolly Bear (Arctiidae)
So the Woolly Bear (pictured below) is a pretty cool little character. So how does he helps us in the woods? Well, it is said that using him is a myth, and that may or may not be the case, although this little fellow is still predicting winters with relatively good accuracy. This is done by measuring the brown, rust-colored band in the middle of his body. The longer the brown patch, the milder the winter you can expect. And of course, the shorter the band and the more black on him, the harsher the winter.
I don’t believe there has been a whole lot of scientific research (or money) spent on this research, but there was some done on it. Doctor C.H. Curran tested this myth back in the 1950’s and concluded that using the Woolly Bear to predict the coming winter weather was about 80% accurate. He realized also that this experimenting was short and needed to be continued over time and in different geographic locations. But, that’s still pretty amazing! Most of Dr Curran’s research was done by collecting the Woolly Bears from Bear Mountain in NY.
Here are some other fun facts of the Woolly Bear.
The true Woolly Bear, is the larval form of Pyrrharctia isabella, the Isabella tiger moth. It has 13 segmented parts of which can be black or orange/brown.
“Woolly bear caterpillars, like most insects, progress through four stages in their life: egg, larva, pupa and adult. In autumn when woolly bear caterpillars are seen the most frequently on roads and sidewalks, they are nearing the end of their larval stage as a caterpillar.
The caterpillars seek out shelter in winter hibernacula under leaves, in rock crevices and under bark.
When temperatures increase in the spring to a certain point, the woolly bear caterpillars emerge from their hibernacula and briefly eat before spinning a cocoon to pupate.
The cocoon is fashioned from the bristles (called setae) of the woolly bear caterpillar — which aren’t woolly feeling at all — and are held together by silk. After one to two weeks a dull, orange-yellow Isabella tiger moth emerges. The two-inch wingspan is speckled with small black spots.
Caterpillars are the only stage at which the insect has chewing mouthparts. So the main purpose of the moth is to mate and lay eggs (if female). Once the eggs hatch (five to 12 days), the larval (caterpillar) stage begins again.
As the woolly bear caterpillar eats vegetation, such as dandelions, birch, clover and maples, its skin becomes tight. The caterpillar’s growth is limited by its exoskeleton which can’t increase in size. Therefore, the woolly bear caterpillar molts up to six times before maturity.” (Laura Roady)