I was out for a warm sunny walk on the first day of spring when I noticed a fellow creature out doing the same. It still seemed a bit sluggish from its long sleep, but this Wooly Bear clearly was enjoying the warm pavement of a bike path. I had forgotten they come out this time of year.
Woolly Bear Caterpillars are usually seen in the fall as they search about for a perfect place to curl up and spend the winter, which is usually under bark, a rock, a log, etc. Their heavy coats, along with producing natural organic antifreeze, help them over-winter. They can actually survive -90 degree F temperatures!This time of year, the bands seem to be less an augury of the next winter than a record of the rigors of the winter just past. The Wooly Bear seemed so glad to be out in the sun after this crazy winter that I didn't have the heart to tell it that the weather forecast for tomorrow predicts 4-8 inches of snow.
In the spring, they warm back up, begin to feed for a while and then form a cocoon, pupate and emerge as the Isabella Tiger Moth. Fertilized female moths lay their eggs on a variety of plants including birch, elm, maples, asters, sunflowers, spinach, cabbage, grass, and plantain, where the eggs hatch. The small caterpillars begin to feed on their host plants and the process starts all over again. There are usually 2-3 generations each year and it’s the last generation that over-winters as the Woolly Bear Caterpillar.