Cornelius' Corner

The Wooly Bear Caterpillar

Cornelius’ Corner: “The Wooly Bear Caterpillar”

Wooly Bear Caterpillar

Hi friends- Cornelius’ friend, the wooly bear caterpillar, here. Thanks for coming back to read more of our blog series! Today I will be sharing fun facts about my life cycle and hibernation.

This time of year, you’ll likely see us crawling around on the ground in leaf piles and underneath logs. Unlike some of my other friends around the Newlin Grist Mill Park, I don’t fly south or wait out the winter season. Rather I remain in my usual habitat sheltered under leaves, a rock or a log. In this season, when the leaves begin to change and fall, this is when me and my other fellow wooly bear caterpillars begin searching for leaves to curl up with for hibernation. If you’d like to see more of us around in your backyard, leave the dead leaves around for us!

Most people think that the thickness of my stripes is a predictor for how harsh the impending winter season will be. For example, if my brown band is narrow, the winter will be harsh, and if my band is thick, the winter will be mild. This is not actually true! Instead, the size of the brown stripe shows how old we are. When we first hatch, we are all black. As we grow, we add more brown hairs. If we hatch early in the season, we’ll have a wider brown stripe in the fall. But if we hatch later in the season (which is possible), we will have a narrower brown stripe in the fall. If you are relying on us for weather predictions, you are going to come to different conclusions depending on which caterpillar you encounter first!

As the temperatures get cooler, my metabolism gradually slows down, which helps me prepare for winter hibernation. The fuzzy bristles that you see on the outside of my body trigger my freezing process. My body will produce an “antifreeze” in the form of glycerol which in turn insulates my body to protect me from the fluctuating freezing and warming temperatures. While I’m fuzzy, I still need an extra layer of protection from the cold. In order to prepare for freezing, all of the tissues in my body start to dry out, and my circulatory system makes a cryoprotectant. My body produces this substance naturally to preserve my tissues from freezing with the cold winter temperatures as well as preventing any water inside of my body from freezing.

In the springtime, warmer temperatures trigger me to wake up and begin to thaw out. After I’m thawed, I’ll eat for a couple nights and then form a cocoon. Once in the cocoon, I fully go through metamorphosis and turn into an adult with wings and an antennae. This process takes about a month.

After metamorphosis, we wooly bear caterpillars get a new name too! We’re called Isabella Tiger Moths, and we have either tan or orange wings with small black markings and lots of fuzzy hair on my head. The one thing I won’t have is a mouth!  We don’t need to eat as adults because we only live long enough to mate and lay eggs. Two weeks later, the new eggs will hatch and more wooly bear caterpillars will begin their lives.

Thanks for reading my blog! Stay tuned for more posts. See you at the Grist Mill!

– Cornelius

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