Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Woolly Wonders

Last week, Lauren and I teetered on our two-wheelers and pedaled our way to the creek.  On the handlebars, I balanced a plastic cup o’ tadpoles, treasures we had loved and fed and observed for all of 4 days.  This is a habit of ours, providing temporary refuge to wild wayfarers whilst we watch them.  We ought to hang up a sign, “Creature Comfort Bed n’ Breakfast”.  In this case, five tadpoles checked in and only 4 were checking out.  Perhaps I ought to scratch "Comfort" from the sign.  When we discovered the unfortunate demise, we knew it was time to release them. 

And so it was that we found ourselves riding slowly down the road, listening to the rustling cornstalks and making our way to the small creek that meanders nearby.  When you ride a bike with a small child, the purpose is rarely the destination.  A ride that would’ve taken me 5 minutes – tops – on my own, found us only halfway after 15 minutes.  We were delayed by a migration.  Woolly Bear caterpillars, bellies full of soybean and weed leaves, were crossing the road, drawn to the tall cornstalks on the other side. 

I believe God had little girls in mind when He created caterpillars.  They’re mostly lacking the ‘creepy’ and ‘dangerous’ factors that draw the bravado of boys.  Scooting along with their fuzzy fur coats, they look like macaroni-shaped teddy bears.  The fact that they sprout into colorful, winged fairies that flutter about our flowers is only icing on the cake.  So I wasn't too surprised when our tadpole release morphed into a caterpillar ‘rescue’. 

Woolly bears came into their own line of infamy back in 1948.  It was then that Dr. C. H. Curran began to make connections between the coats of the striped woolly bear and the weather.  He surmised that the length of the brown segment of the caterpillar was a precursor to the forthcoming winter.  Longer segments, meant a milder winter.  Scientifically, this is about as accurate as Groundhogs Day, but it’s fun to collect them and see what Mr. Woolly Bear’s prediction is.   In our case, the woolly bears had no stripe at all.  This dire prediction lead me to contemplate the purchase of a snow-blower.  Further inquiry, however, revealed that we had a naturally stripe-less strain, known as the Yellow Woolly Bear.  So, the snow-blower money is safely tucked away, and we will rely - once again - on our trusty, economical snow shovels.  

At this time of year, woolly bears are seeking shelter from the approaching winter.  If you find a few, you can provide it for them.  Simply give them fresh green grass daily and several large twigs in a ventilated container.  After a bit, your caterpillars will go to sleep.  They will not form a cocoon until spring, so please don’t give up when it seems they’ve died.  Place your container in a protected cold location, such as a garage or covered porch.  In the spring, they will awaken and after eating some fresh grass, they’ll begin to spin silky cocoons.  After a week or so, a Tiger Moth will emerge.  

"Where do bugs go in winter?" is a commonly asked question, and this is a great opportunity for kids - young and old - to see overwintering bugs in action.  It may not be as thrilling as spying on a hibernating skunk or bear, but it illustrates the same concept, with a bit less risk.  


Casa Mariposa said...

Wonderful, well written post! I love little girls, bike rides, wolly bears, and tadpoles so this is one of my favorite posts. :o) I had no idea frogs were still laying eggs in Sept!!

Lyn said...

I had a giggle imagining taking grizzly bears home to watch them hibernate! Yes, woolly bears are definitely a safer (and space-saving) alternative. Great post, Mollie.

Design to Grow said...

Tammy, most of the tadpoles were sprouting their legs, so I'm sure they hatched well back in August, but I was pretty certain they wouldn't last the winter in our little watering trough. Sad, because they were so much fun to watch. We'll have to catch back up with them at the creek come Spring. : )

Ooo...Lyn! I didn't think of the space-saving benefits. Good one! :D Thanks for the encouragement!

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