Sunday, October 7, 2012


It’s a face only a mother could love!

Pyrrharctia isabella in the adult stage is a Tiger Moth, but in this stage of the game we call him the Banded Woolly Bear.
I spotted him on one of the slate steps in my walkway, taking a nap, maybe, or just warming up on a cool fall morning.
I had to lie down to photograph him, stretch myself out on the back lawn and push the camera through the grass. He was harder to photograph than I thought: at the slightest provocation, this little guy curled into a ball (more like a tight comma). I had to wait, motionless, while he figured out things were safe enough to unroll, and when he did, he moved lickety-split across the flagstone!
I’d miss the shot, of course; I had to pick him up (he’d curl up instantly), set him gently back on the slate, wait for him to uncurl again.
It took five tries!

The Woolly Bear emerges in the fall. One of its favorite foods is the aster, so I always plant extras, and it also likes sunflowers, grass and clover. It spends the winter under leaves or other plant material; I mulch my lily gardens with lots of straw and compost, so my Woolly Bear population is always high.  
WBs survive the Maine winters by literally freezing solid – no heartbeat, no blood circulation...nothing!
In the spring, after they thaw out, they’re back again, but only for a short while. They spend a week or so feeding, then spin themselves inside a cocoon; the adult moth appears in about thirty days.

Old New England tradition has it that the Woolly Bear is a weather forecaster – the wider the orange-brown segment band in the middle, the milder the winter will be. (I’ve heard that some scientist actually collected data for ten years or so trying to prove this, but I’ve never found his results!)
If there are really thirteen segments to a Woolly Bear, and this fellow has four distinct brown segments (with a little spillover on either end), I’d guess that we’re looking at an average winter this year in Maine – lots of snow and moderately cold. I’m close to the ocean, though, and temperatures here are usually a few degrees warmer than inland.

What are weather predictors in your part of the world?


  1. Deb, this is so cool! I admire your patience and persistence that you showed on this photo shoot. Your woolley bear is quite handsome. I hope that your winter is normal. I still have a feeling that ours is going to be rough. It was 11* this morning at 8:15! I guess that we will just have to wait and see.

    Kathy M.

    1. Only 11 degrees? Yikes, Kathy, that's pretty nippy for October; you Oregon folks must be made of tougher stuff!

  2. Wow, thankfully it wasn't 11 degrees here in Portland, Oregon. I was shivering at 45(so much for tougher stuff). In any case I think the Wooly Bear has kind of a cute face--and a very beautiful sweater. I'm going to have to take a look at my asters and see if I can find any. I'm also keeping an eye on my Maine weather stick, which is happily pointing to the sky. It's supposed to be 73 today...79 yesterday.