Bug of Week 1: Woolly Bear Caterpillar

Go out and find a Woolly Bear Caterpillar this week! *The stiff hairs are not poisonous, but they can irritate your skin, so use gloves if you pick these cuties up. Be gentle and respectful to all animals, including insects.

The most well known "woolly bear" is called the Banded Woolly Bear, which has a reddish-brown middle and black ends. The caterpillar eats and eats until it forms a cocoon. Out of the cocoon hatches the adult form, the Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella)

HABITAT (WHERE THEY LIVE): The woolly bear is found in every state in the continental United States. This species is cold hardy, so it can live as far north as Alberta, Canada. Look for the woolly bear in grassy areas, meadows, pastures, woodland areas, and alongside roadways. The caterpillar will go into hibernation for the winter on the top of the soil, covered with a blanket of leaves, sticks, and other plant debris. 

NUTRITION (WHAT THEY EAT): Woolly bear caterpillars are herbivores, meaning they eat only plants. They feed on wild flowers, clover, dandelions, and any other plants that grow low to the ground. They are sometimes found eating leaves of maple and birch trees. 

Woolly bears are extra special, because they are their own doctors. They can give themselves "medicine" if they become infected with certain parasites. They do this by eating the leaves of plants that contain chemicals called beneficial alkaloids, like comfrey, borage, groundseal, and more. Eating the leaves of these plants then cures the caterpillar of the parasites.

PREDATORS (WHO EATS THEM): Predators of the woolly bear are birds, shrews, toads, frogs, beetles, spiders, skunks, and snakes.

LIFE CYCLE: Woolly bears start as little eggs, then grow into fuzzy caterpillars. These caterpillars form cocoons in the spring which then hatch into moths in the summer. The tiger moth only lives for a few days. During those few days, they find a mate, lay about 1,000 eggs, and then die. The eggs hatch into little woolly bear caterpillars, and the cycle continues!