Woolly Bear Caterpillars are Everywhere!
By Sandal Cate
NBNC Staff Educator
The staff at the North Branch Nature Center have reports from folks seeing lots of Woolly Bear caterpillars this autumn! The most recent sighting was one at the Nature Center on November 27. (That's Executive Director Chip Darmstadt in the photo welcoming a few.)
This seems to be a banner year for Woolly Bears, which are seeking good outdoor habitat for wintering over. Woolly Bears feed on plantain and other local vegetation, but they don't bother any valuable plants. So, even if there are a lot of them in your yard or fields, they won't cause any problems. Their biggest problem is getting from one side of a road to the other, so anything you can do safely to help them along is welcome!
Woolly Bear caterpillars will form a cocoon in the spring and then emerge from it as the Isabella Tiger Moth. Their life cycle starts all over at that point. Folklore hints that the amount of black banding will tell how hard the winter ahead may be. However, the black banding actually indicates the relative age of the caterpillar. Younger ones have more black than older ones.
Some insects like the Woolly Bear will often have a peak in their population. According to Dick Dearborn, a retired Maine Forest Service scientist, Woolly Bear numbers increase to a high point about every ten years. Perhaps warmer winters also help them survive into the spring. So if you continue to notice them, just realize they're headed for a protective log, leaf pile or building foundation to snuggle up for the winter. Don't we wish we could do that ourselves sometimes?
Meanwhile, with warm temperatures persisting, several plants are still in bloom at the Nature Center, including Fall Dandelion, Johnny Jump-ups and Scarlet Trumpet Honeysuckle (on the front porch).