Saturday, June 11, 2011

Q Is For Question

I know, lame way to use "Q" but there are only a few topics relating to the garden that would fit the Q category. 

Question:  "What North American moth is more famous for it's caterpillar stage than it's winged stage?"

Answer:  It's the Woolly Bear Caterpillar Moth  ~aka~  Banded Woolly Bear  ~aka~  Willy Worm  ~or~  Woolly Worm.  The moth is known as the Isia isabella  ~or~ Isabella Tiger Moth.  Is it any wonder children have simply called it a woolly worm?  

It's that caterpillar you see in the fall and used since Colonial times as a prediction for the severity of the coming winter.  Superstition says the wider the brown stripe on the caterpillar's bristle coating - the more mild the winter.  Actually, the coloration indicates how near the caterpillar is to full growth before autumn weather stimulates it to seek a winter shelter. 

As a kid, I remember the thrill of seeing the caterpillars (yes, during more simple times) and announcing to the world the weather prediction for the coming winter.  So much easier than going to meteorological school. 

We'd pick up the little fuzzy guys and haul them around.  They tend to "play dead" when bothered.  They are very docile and easily found basking in the warm sun.

The moth has a wingspan of about 2 inches.  Fore wings are yellow-brown with a series or row of small black dots.  Hind wings slightly paler, slightly pinkish with several indistinct gray dots.  The abdomen has 3 black spots above on rear edge of each segment. 

The caterpillar measures 2 1/8 inch long and covered by stiff bristles.  The caterpillar is actually considered black.  The bands (which typically increase in size as the caterpillar matures) are in the red/brown color around the middle. 
The moth is found in meadows, pastures, uncultivated fields and road edges.  Because of their lack of vibrant colors, we've all probably seen and ignored them.

They range throughout North American except in very northern Canada.  It is from a large family called Arctiidae with most having the hairy caterpillar.  Should you want to do everything woolly bear, there are Woolly bear Festivals in at least four US cities. 

The caterpillar feeds on low herbaceous plants of many kinds, mostly wild; it is seldom a crop or ornamental pest.

Not a pest - fun for kids - this moth is the perfect insect!  

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