Where I live, it’s woolly bear season! Woolly bears (or woolly worms) are those cute little black and orangish-brown striped caterpillars you see crawling around in fall (depending on where you live). Found in the U.S. and southern Canada, wooly bears are really the caterpillar stage of the Isabella tiger moth.
Every woolly bear has 13 distinct segments. Their ends are black, but their center is that orangish-brown. Legend has it that woolly bears can predict the type of winter we are going to have. The more brown, the milder the winter. The more black, the more severe the winter.
In 1948 Dr. C.H. Curran, an insect expert, went to Bear Mountain north of New York City to see if that legend could be proven scientifically. For eight years he studied a small sampling of woolly bears. His conclusion: there seemed to be some truth to the legend. However, being a good scientist, he admitted his sampling was too small and his time frame was too short to prove or disprove the legend. Since then, other scientists have discovered that the width of the brown color can tell you the caterpillar’s age. The wider the brown, the older the caterpillar. This means, he (or she) hatched earlier in the season—which means the previous winter was milder! (You might have to read that sentence a couple of times!)
Woolly bears are gentle. They don’t bite, bark, or spit. Their only defense is to curl up into a ball. (There are some days I can identify with that posture!) Also, woolly bears always seem to be scurrying somewhere. Where are they going? They’re searching for food, of course. Wooly bears are “generalist eaters,” which means they aren’t picky. They eat a wide variety of plants.
More importantly, woolly bears are scurrying because they are searching for a suitable place to sleep for the winter. They like to nestle behind the bark of a tree or burrow under some dead leaves. Woolly bears don’t have to worry about freezing either because they have their own “anti-freeze”! When spring comes, the magic happens. Those cute caterpillars spin their cocoon and presto! They are transformed into Isabella tiger moths!
Some places have woolly bear festivals. Vermillion, Ohio (just west of Cleveland) celebrates the woolly bear every year with costume contests for children and pets as well as 500 caterpillar races. It may not be the Kentucky Derby, but it’s great fun. Other places have festivals too in North Carolina, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario, Canada.
Here’s a story about my personal encounter with a particular woolly bear many years ago. I was waiting for a bus in Perrysville, PA, north of Pittsburgh. I was standing on a very busy street when, I looked down and saw a woolly bear heading straight towards the street. Aghast, I reached down, cupped him in my hands, and carried him away from the street. When I put him down, I carefully pointed him toward the west—away from the traffic. I went back to the bus stop. A few minutes later, I saw the same woolly bear heading for the street again. A second time I carried him to safety and directed him to “go west, young man (or young woman)!”
But a third time, he disobeyed my wise counsel and was heading for the street. Frustrated, I picked him up, checked both ways for traffic, and then ran across the street with him cupped safely in my hands. I then gently deposited him in some grass on the other side. When I put him down, he continued east, away from traffic, and headed toward a yard with an expansive lawn with big old trees. I remember admiring his determination. He knew exactly where he was going and was not deterred by the well-meaning nun who was frustrating his plan! In a way, I envied him, and wished I was always as clear about the direction of my life!
Woolly bears are cutest when they’re moving. So here’s a 90 second video that focuses on woolly bears moving. It’s appropriately called “Woolly Bears on the Move.”
Have you had any experience with woolly bears? As a child? As an adult?
Is there any other creature in God’s vast creation that intrigues you? or puts a smile on your face?
PS: This week I am making my annual retreat. I promise to hold all of you, the readers of my blog, in special prayer. I really appreciate your “patronage” to “Sunflower Seeds” and your beautiful and insightful responses.
The song today is “Holy Now” by Peter Mayer. I used it a few years ago, but I love it so much, I’m using it again. Mayer says we used to limit “holy” to specifically religious things like scripture, Mass, and holy water. But now he believes everything is holy—including all water, trees, a tiny chirping bird, and (we would add) even a scurrying woolly bear!
Now it’s your turn. Do you have anything to say about this reflection and videos? If so, please respond below!