Banded woolly bear

Pyrrharctia isabella

The moth ''Pyrrharctia isabella'' is known by different common names during its two main life stages. The adult is the Isabella Tiger Moth and the larva is called the Banded Woolly Bear. The larvae of many species of Arctiid moths are called "woolly bears" because of their long, thick, furlike setae.

The insect can be found in many cold regions, including the Arctic. The banded Woolly Bear larva emerges from the egg in the fall and overwinters in its caterpillar form, when it literally freezes solid. First its heart stops beating, then its gut freezes, then its blood, followed by the rest of the body. It survives being frozen by producing a cryoprotectant in its tissues. In the spring it thaws out and emerges to pupate. Once it emerges from its pupa as a moth it has only days to find a mate.

In most temperate climates, caterpillars become moths within months of hatching, but in the Arctic the summer period for vegetative growth - and hence feeding - is so short that the Woolly Bear must feed for several summers, freezing again each winter before finally pupating. Some are known to live through as many as 14 winters.
Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella) At porchlights near an overgrown backyard habitat in NW Georgia (Gordon County), US. Banded woolly bear,Geotagged,Pyrrharctia isabella,Summer,United States


The larva is black at both ends, with or without a band of coppery red in the middle. The adult moth is dull yellow to orange with a robust, furry thorax and small head. Its wings have sparse black spotting and the proximal segments on its first pair of legs are bright reddish-orange.

The setae of the Woolly Bear caterpillar do not inject venom and are not urticant—they do not typically cause irritation, injury, inflammation, or swelling. Handling them is discouraged, however, as the bristles may cause dermatitis in people with sensitive skin. Their main defense mechanism is playing dead if picked up or disturbed.
Banded Woolly Bear Fuzzy, reddish brown caterpillar with a black anterior end. Usually, they have black posterior and anterior bands, but the colors change as they molt to successive instars, and they become more reddish brown with age. The woolly bear's setae are not urticating, so they do not usually cause irritation or injury from being handled. However, their setae may cause dermatitis in some susceptible people. 

According to folklore, the length, thickness, and color of a woolly bear's color bands can be used to forecast how severe the winter weather will be. This myth dates back to colonial American folklore and is still widely believed today. However, the truth is that these caterpillars can't predict the weather. In reality, a woolly bear's coloring is based on how long the caterpillar has been feeding and its age. The width of the banding is simply an indicator of that current season's growth. Woolly bears molt six times before pupating, and with each successive molt, their colors change, becoming less black and more reddish brown - this is completely independent of the weather. The last point to address in debunking this myth is the reason for the woolly bear's "coat". The thickness of its setae has nothing to do with predicting severe weather. Rather, their setae helps them to freeze more controllably, and once the caterpillars begin hibernation, their bodies create a kind of natural antifreeze called glycerol. This ability to freeze gradually helps protect them during the cold winter months. So, it would seem that woolly bears have unwittingly gained status as being weather forecasting prophets and there is no scientific evidence to prove that they are actual prognosticators of winter weather. Banded Woolly Bear,Banded woolly bear,Fall,Geotagged,Pyrrharctia isabella,United States,caterpillar,moth week 2018,woolly bear


This species is a generalist feeder—it feeds on many different species of plants, especially herbs and forbs.
Woolly Bear Caterpillar - Pyrrharctia isabella This caterpillar was ready for winter!

Habitat: Meadow Banded woolly bear,Fall,Geotagged,Pyrrharctia,Pyrrharctia isabella,United States,caterpillar


Folklore of the eastern United States and Canada holds that the relative amounts of brown and black on the skin of a Woolly Bear caterpillar are an indication of the severity of the coming winter. It is believed that if a Woolly Bear caterpillar's brown stripe is thick, the winter weather will be mild and if the brown stripe is narrow, the winter will be severe. In reality, hatchlings from the same clutch of eggs can display considerable variation in their color distribution, and the brown band tends to grow with age; if there is any truth to the tale, it is highly speculative.


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