Today we found this little guy outside our door. Perhaps he was looking for a book (The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar?)!
Our visitor was a Woolly Bear Caterpillar. As adults, they become Isabella Tiger Moths. Though they may become motionless if touched or picked up (ours didn’t and was quite lively!), they don’t have any venom and aren’t dangerous.
These caterpillars generally begin life with a reddish-brown band in the middle and black at both ends. As they grow, the orange band will grow towards both ends of the body.
The caterpillars hatch from eggs in warm weather. When mature, they search for overwintering sites under under bark or inside cavities of rocks and logs. That’s why they’re most commonly seen during the fall when crossing roads and sidewalks, as they search for a winter home. In the spring, the caterpillars will spin fuzzy cocoons and transform into full-grown moths.
There’s an old legend that these caterpillars can actually predict the severity of upcoming winter weather.In the 1940s and 1950s, scientist C. H. Curran studied a small sample of these critters. After some study, he hypothesized that if the orangey band was taking up more than a third of the caterpillar’s body, the forthcoming winter would be milder than average. Lots of black could signal a colder than average winter.
There are actually annual festivals for the Woolly Bear! Oil City, Pennsylvania has a caterpillar named Oil Valley Vick, who will “predict” winter weather. The town hopes for Vick to eventually become as famous as Punxsutawney Phil and draw similar crowds!
The large amount of black on our caterpillar would match the Old Farmer’s Almanac predictions of a long, cold and snowy winter. Hopefully it’s just a myth!!!
If you’re interested in learning more about caterpillars, the library has encyclopedias for the topic in both children’s and adult nonfiction. Other libraries in the state also have useful resources available for inter-library loan. Bugs and Bugsicles – Insects in the Winter by Amy S. Hansen sounds particularly appealing, and is conveniently available right at Tilton/Northfield!