Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Woolly bears on the move

The frost of the past two mid-September nights has set the woolly bear caterpillars to scurrying. Where they’re going, I’m not sure, but the little black-and-brown ’cats are crawling in droves down the driveway, along the edges of the front porch, and all over the roads near home.

I did notice this morning that nearly all the woolly bears I spotted wandering the driveway were headed south, which old-wives-tale logic says foreshadows a “bad” winter. Of course, “bad” winter in normal parlance translates in skier speak to “super snowy winter,” which bodes well for the snow lovers among us.

Other woolly bear lore says the coming winter’s weather can be predicted by the width of the middle, brown band of the fuzzy caterpillars. Supposedly, the wider the band, the milder the winter. I didn’t bother to measure the bands of the caterpillars in the driveway this morning… just tried not to step on them.

Woolly bears are the pandas of the caterpillar world – and probably the most well recognized, especially by children, who are easily enamored by the furry-looking critters. Pick one up, though, and it’ll curl into a ball, prickly “wool” side out. That’s not so intimidating to humans, but apparently it discourages birds from feasting on the little fuzz balls.

Whatever the woolly bears’ stripes and direction of travel say – or don’t say – about the impending winter, their bustling about lately is a sure sign that fall is here. The last two chilly evenings have set the woollies to seeking winter homes. These “bears” are certainly a lot smaller than our real bears – the black bears – but both types hunker down under cover to weather the winter. Woolly bears curl up through the cold months, waiting for spring to cocoon and transform into rather dull-looking yellowish-brown Isabella tiger moths.

The woolly bears’ recent activity is a good reminder that even in these days of lingering warmth and sunshine, it’s time to put up the firewood, clean out the gardens, and hang the storm windows. Winter is coming; I, for one, hope all those south-bound woollies are telling us it’ll be a snowy one.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings from a full life. For more information about woolly bear caterpillars, I recommend the article found at this link:

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