October — Winter wares and Wooly Bears

What kind of bear is black and rust-colored, has six legs and travels at speeds of up to, oh, about 0.045 miles/hr? A woolly bear caterpillar, of course — our fuzzy fall friends, often found ambling across country roads.

There are a number of species of woolly bear caterpillars, but the best-known one is the banded woolly bear (Isia isabella), with black at both ends and reddish brown in the middle. The width of the central band can be quite variable, and folklore has it that the bands width is a predictor of the coming winter: the narrower the band, the more severe the winter will be. While research seems to have debunked that, showing the bandwidth varies depending on the age of the caterpillar and moisture levels during its development, some experiments still claim the woolly bear stripes are about 80% accurate!

Aside from their mystic and prophetic abilities, however, woolly bear insects are just plain old amazing. They can withstand freezing, live a very long life (for an insect), and of course, metamorphose from a worm to a winged moth.

At this time of year, the caterpillars are moving about looking for food and a place to spend the winter. Not content to just hole up for the winter, however, they may emerge on warmish winter days to enjoy a bit of sunshine and stretch their legs. In the spring they will spin a cocoon and emerge as an Isabella Tiger Moth.

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