On a brisk afternoon walk with my wife my eyes and ears were tuned to the sights and sounds of hundreds of Canada Geese in the lake along the path we were on. She was noticing small things. Her discovery, while small, was significant. Equal or greater than mine. It prompted me to return and photograph this noteworthy find.
She discovered a Wooly Bear caterpillar. What would make the encounter with a tiny invertebrate worth repeating to you? It is a nature phenomenon.
Start with the name: Wooly bear, it sounds warm. It sounds large. It is mostly cold in winter and never large. It is the caterpillar of a moth. Pyrrharctia isabella is its Latin label. (… included for those who are Latin readers.) Other names for this spiny black and rust brown caterpillar are “black-ended caterpillar, and banded wooly bear. The hedge-hog caterpillar is another name given this invertebrate. The name fits since the wooly bear (WB) when touched will most often curl into a ball.
It does have one bear like quality-Polar bear to be specific. Since the WB is about 2 inches long, it is not at all close to bear size. But, the arctic relatives of the wooly bear pictured can survive winter extreme temperatures that exceed -60 C! In Fahrenheit that is about -76! The WB we saw was braving an air temperature of 30 F. It was moving too. WB caterpillars survive winter extremes by freezing. A Cryoprotectant allows the super-cooling of liquid in the WB body. These super cooling agents are similar to the glycol used in automobile radiators to prevent winter freeze ups. Our WB had been in a frozen state more than once before we saw it. It was still living.
The celebrated creature of our story will pupate, the non-feeding stage of life between larva and adult, when warm weather arrives. From this pupa the now adult becomes an Isabella Tiger Moth. The adult female moth does not eat, she will accomplish her life task laying her eggs, then with mission complete her life will end. During the later summer, a second brood will be produced from this first generation. The larva/caterpillars that emerge later in the summer will become the “Farmers Almanac” weather predictors of winter. While the WB does not predict winter any more than the groundhog predicts spring, there are those who look at the bands and attempt to make a coming winter forecast. In truth, band size on the WB is dependent on the quality of food available to the caterpillar, and how long it has been feeding. Weather does impact the bands. While it looks beautiful, even cuddly, the WB is not an accurate winter predictor.
One other noteworthy reason to become excited about a creature with no bones: It is a consummate survivor. This survivor WB spent the winter next to a very heavily travelled street in our neighborhood. Since hatching later last summer this WB has not travelled far by human standards. It is in the area near it place of hatching. It has been outside since. That is all day, all night while we have wintered inside. It survived winter temperatures of -25 F, winter storms with winds of 50-60 mph, and the tires of many cars. It is likely that it crossed the street before we saw it at least once. These alone are the things miracles are made of. Phenomenal works very well.
One of my favorite Bible characters understood the miracle of the WB. He expressed the God built tenacity of all life on the earth. Job said, For the life of every living thing is in his hand, and the breath of every human being. He was explaining the reason for his troubles to his friends, but his words explain the sensation of the Wooly Bear. The life of every living thing is in HIS hand. Job 12:10
Perhaps these words do not reach your heart as astonishing. But, think about them just a moment longer. My life, your life are both in the hands of the eternal living God. Above all things, He is love. That’s it: our lives are in the hands of God who loves us. Truly, there is nothing better. Look for the Wooly Bear. Instead of a winter weather predictor, see a living testimony of God’s perfect power and love.