Woolly Bear Caterpillar
Summary: Banded woolly bears are the larvae of the Isabella tiger moth. It is fuzzy and harmless, unlike other hairy varieties.
The Isabella tiger moth's fuzzy looking caterpillars are known as banded woolly bears. Your kids have probably picked them up and played with them, but there is little to fear. They are harmless, unlike some other hairy species.
The woolly bear caterpillar has black bands on both ends of their body and red, orange, or brown centers. As superstition goes, if as woolly bear's black bands are long, the coming winter will have harsh weather. However, the length of their black coloration actually depends on the amount of moisture they receive.
Should you pick up the banded woolly bear it will curl up and play dead. The solitary banded woolly bear is usually seen scurrying about on its own, as it does not like to congregate with its fellow woolly bear cousins.
The banded woolly bear eats grass and different types of plants. It overwinters in stacks of firewood or underneath bark or logs. Like most other caterpillars, it forms a chrysalis to begin pupation and remains there for three or four weeks. Some woolly bears go through metamorphosis in the summer, while others overwinter and pupate in the spring.
The adult that emerges from the cocoon of the banded woolly bear is the Isabella tiger moth which as a wingspan of up to 2 ½ inches. Their wings are typically yellow or brown, with black spots. Female Isabella tiger moths lay their eggs on several different types of plants, including sunflowers and corn. Isabella tiger moths have a unique trait that other insects do not have. They can emit a sound to ward off their predators.
Woolly bears are a big deal in Vermilion, Ohio (a rural area west of Cleveland). The city dedicates an entire day of celebration to woolly bears at their annual Woolly Bear Festival. The small, one-stoplight town of Banner Elk, North Carolina also hosts a Woolly Worm Festival. They have a woolly worm race with over 1,400 racing caterpillars. The winner of the race is the banded woolly bear that will predict the severity of weather of the coming winter. Other woolly bear festivals include Beattyville, Kentucky every October and the Camargo, Illinois festival, complete with woolly worm races and reports from local meteorologists.
Many people enjoy raising banded woolly bears before they develop into moths. Here are some tips on how to do this. Before collecting the woolly bears, find an appropriate container to store them. A small plastic container with a lid should work just fine. Make sure to poke some holes into the lid for ventilation.
Add some soil into the container to allow the caterpillars to burrow. Feed the woolly bears crumbled pieces of leaves or other plants. They actually enjoy eating dandelions, so you will have a good use for your weeds. Make sure to add a small amount of water once every two weeks or so. Do not over-water the soil, though.
When fall comes around, the woolly bears will become slow moving. This is their cue for them to overwinter. If you want to raise them into moths, keep them in a cool environment, such as a garage or a basement.
To raise them as moths, you will need a place to store them. You can create an emergence cage for them to live in as they grow. Take some old window screens and cut them so that they are about 8 inches high. Find two used tuna cans (make sure that the edges are filed smooth so you do not cut your fingers. Make a cylinder with the screen and staple the ends together. Place one tuna can on the top and one on the bottom of the cylinder. Now you have your emergence cage.
Put about 2 inches of soil inside the cage, as well as plenty of leaf debris for the woolly bears to munch on. Put one or two woolly bears in the cage and watch them develop into Isabella tiger moths.
If you want to catch adult Isabella tiger moths, keep in mind that they are attracted to light in the nighttime. If you hang a white sheet or tablecloth over a clothesline outside and place a light source behind it, you may be able to attract the moths.