Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Woolly Watch

Christmas is a little over a week away and it’s raining cats and dogs at Bon Bon Acres!  What happened to winter?  The recent wave of warm weather has melted most of the snow received a week or so ago:  a pristine alabaster blanket displaced  by a brown and barren landscape! But while the temperate temps pose no problems for the birds, deer and other wildlife, concern is warranted for that fall  favorite,  the Woolly Bear Caterpillars. 

Otherwise known as the larval form of Pyrrharctia isabella, the Isabella Tiger Moth, the annual appearance of these sweet, harmless fuzzballs signals a change of seasons.  Legend has it the woollies can predict winter severity—i.e. the wider the middle brown section the milder the winter—but science says it’s more to do with the creature’s age and the moisture they’ve received.

Each autumn I collect up the little brown and black brushes and tuck them on shelves in my unheated garage where they can curl up and safely  hibernate away the winter.  Thanks to their heavy bristle-like coat—called setae-- and the ability to produce natural organic antifreeze, they can actually survive temperatures up to minus 90 degrees Fahrenheit!

These tough, tiny winter warriors, however, can become confused during prolonged periods of unseasonable weather. At that point they come out of hibernation and could face starvation. Fortunately,  it doesn’t take much for us to help as inadvertently warmed woollies can easily  be “re-cooled” until spring.  Simply scoop up the little fuzzballs—taking care not to damage  their whiskers--and put them in an airtight food container, like Tupperware, and store in the crisper section of your fridge. Then, when the cold temps return, or, if you prefer, when spring arrives, return them to the great outdoors.  

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