Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Three Caterpillar Day

The familiar woolly bear caterpillars were out and about today, crossing highways and walkways (squish) looking for safe places to hibernate.  Call me crazy, but I actually try to dodge them when I'm driving.

I assume their orange coloring and hairs are a message to predators that they are distasteful.
According to meteorology myth, the coloring on these creatures suggest the severity of winter - the larger the lighter band, the less severe the winter will be.  The abundance of the orange band is an indication of the age of the caterpillar rather than seasonal prognostications.

If you try to handle one, expect it to assume the defensive posture:  it will curl up into a ball.

While I'm not bothered by the bristly hairs, they have caused allergic reactions in some people.  If you start to itch, gently put it down.

The larvae of the creamy-colored Isabella Tiger Moths (Pyrrharctia isabella) feed on greens along roadsides - plantain, dandelions and grasses.  They over-winter as caterpillars, then pupate into a hairy cocoon in early spring.

If you find one and want to try to over-winter it, click here for information.

This Pale Tussock Moth, also known as Banded Tussock Moth, (Halysidota tessellaris) caterpillar was crawling up an elm tree at Buena Vista Park in Alma, Wisconsin.

While there is a wide range in the color of this caterpillar's bristles, the black head and elongated black and white hair "pencils" on the head and rear are diagnostic.  Look for a dark black stripe down the center of the back.

The larvae feed on several trees, including ash, birch, hickory, oak, poplar, tulip tree, walnut and willow.

The Pale Tussock Moth caterpillar reminded me of a caterpillar  I spotted several in September at Pictograph Cave State Park in Billings, MT, an American Dagger Moth.  This one was feeding on a huge Box Elder tree near the parking lot. 
This colorful, but hairless Zebra Caterpillar crossed my path later in the day, along the Chippewa River State Trail.  It's the larval form of the Zebra Caterpillar Moth.

I assume it was feeding on the alfalfa in the field along the trail.

The larvae also feed on cabbage, carrot, clover, dandelion, dock , pea, pigweed  strawberry, sweetfern, blackberry, blueberry, hazel, apple, birch, cherry, plum and willow.

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