AppearanceThe 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.
FoodThis species is a generalist feeder—it feeds on many different species of plants, especially herbs and forbs.
CulturalFolklore 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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