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365 Urban Species. #290: Wooly Bear


Photos by urbpan. Location: Olmsted Park, Boston.

Urban species #290: Wooly bear

Along with ladybugs, wooly bear caterpillars are among the most adored of the insects. This is not due to any function or service that they perform, simply their attractive, panda-like appearance, and the lack (or concealment) of such objectionable insect features as creepy abdominal segments, horrible mandibles, ugly appendages, and alarming pinchers. As far as most people are concerned, wooly bears are simply tiny cylindrical mammals. While it's nice to see at least one insect admired, it's baffling that very similar animals that have patchy "fur," or none at all, are reviled. Caterpillar hair is a defensive structure which helps prevent birds and other predators from eating the butterfly or moth larvae. Some caterpillar bristles contain venom and are dangerous to touch, but wooly bears can be handled safely.

Wooly bears are common throughout North America. Unlike picky specialists like the monarch, these caterpillars will eat nearly anything, from the dandelions to maples and many other plants in between. Introduced plants such as plantains may help increase the numbers of wooly bears in cities--these plants persist late into the fall and even winter, allowing the caterpillars a longer feeding season. Wooly bears are conspicuously active in fall, seen crossing sidewalks in search of a place to hide and sleep through the winter. In spring the caterpillars wake up and pupate, transforming into Isabella tiger moths, rather nondescript yellowish brown creatures.


The story about the brown band on a wooly bear being a predictor of winter severity is of course, plain bunkum.


This foam rubber pad in the Olmsted park woods was dragged there for humans to sleep on, but camel crickets and wooly bears were sleeping beneath it.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
okaree
Oct. 19th, 2006 02:22 am (UTC)
But don't rub them on your face, because those spines get in your skin and hurt like hell!

(What? It looked soft and fuzzy.)
(Deleted comment)
urbpan
Oct. 20th, 2006 10:41 am (UTC)
I think "Home Despot" is pretty damn funny!
vampyrusgirl
Oct. 19th, 2006 03:44 am (UTC)
Oh, how I loves me the wooly bears!!
(Deleted comment)
cowpewter
Oct. 19th, 2006 12:09 pm (UTC)
Oh man, in that last picture, the little wooly bear is all curled up to sleep, just like a cat or something. Too cute!
momomom
Oct. 19th, 2006 02:22 pm (UTC)
LOL
"objectionable insect features as creepy abdominal segments, horrible mandibles, ugly appendages, and alarming pinchers"

Tussock types are hairy scaries.
cottonmanifesto
Oct. 20th, 2006 05:53 pm (UTC)
Re: LOL
!! i think they're cute. :(
(Anonymous)
May. 20th, 2008 09:10 pm (UTC)
How does this relate to woolly bears?
1: woolly bears have cute mandibles
2: woolly bears have soft abdominal segments
3: woolly bears dont have pinchers

WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO WOOLLY BEARS!!!!!
mooncroneweb
Oct. 19th, 2006 03:43 pm (UTC)
I'm in high and dry Colorado US and I haven't seen a wooly bear in years. I miss em'.

Funny about the lady bugs being called "ladies". I just saw a show about beneficial wild fires produced by BBC and the Brit narrator called the ladybugs "ladybirds". Didn't know about that difference.

artemii
Oct. 19th, 2006 09:08 pm (UTC)
i often got wooly bears and some of their close relatives (especially one particular kind whose name i can't remember offhand) in my ex-garden. they were particularly fond of the viburnums and the boneset (oddly, much more so than the other eupatorium species).
bunrab
Oct. 22nd, 2006 05:10 am (UTC)
They look like very tiny guinea pigs.
perspicuity
Apr. 24th, 2011 11:36 pm (UTC)
gunna have to figure out how to grill these :)

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( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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