Overview

Brief Summary

If you live in North America, chances are good that you’ve come across the banded woolly bear caterpillar, a fuzzy caterpillar black on either end and red in the middle. However, you might not have associated it with its adult moth form, an unimpressive small yellow-orange moth with a fuzzy body, which is known by a different common name, the Isabella tiger moth. Pyrrharctia isabella has a widespread distribution, mainly in open parkland and prairie habitats across North America, and this species has much folk lore surrounding it. For example, the size of the caterpillar’s red band is said to predict the severity of the upcoming winter (in actuality, the the age and instar of the caterpillar determines the band size). There are several annual festivals dedicated to celebrating the woolly bear (e.g. in Vermilion, Ohio, Banner Elk, NC, Beattyville, Kentucky, and Lewisburg, PA). Pyrrharctia isabella generally undergoes two generations a year, the second of which hatches from eggs into caterpillars in the fall, which then go dormant under leaf litter to overwinter cold climates. To prevent damage occurring to their tissues in freezing climates, they produce a cryoprotectant in their hemolymph (circulatory fluid). Over the summer, caterpillars grow to full size, eating a wide diversity of host plants including: asters, birch leaves, clover, corn, dandelions, elm leaves, maple leaves, sunflowers, and nettles. If disturbed, caterpillars will curl up and lie still, as if dead. Despite common belief, the stiff hairs (setae) that cover their bodies do not irritate the skin if they are picked up.

(Layne et al 1999; Layne and Kuharsky 2000; Wikipedia 2011)


  • Layne, Jr., J.R., C.L. Edgar, and R. E. Medwith, 1999. Cold Hardiness of the woolly bear caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella Lepidoptera: Arctiidae) American Midland Naturalist. 141(2): 293-304
  • Layne JR Jr, Kuharsky DK. 2000. Triggering of cryoprotectant synthesis in the woolly bear caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella Lepidoptera: Arctiidae). J Exp Zool. 286(4):367-71.
  • Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 26 September, 2011. "Pyrrharctia isabella". Retrieved September 27, 2011 from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pyrrharctia_isabella&oldid=452443640
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Comprehensive Description

General Description

The amount of black on the forewing is somewhat variable, but this species is fairly distinct with its yellow ground colour and black markings. Females have a pink tinge to the hindwing, whereas males have a yellow hindwing.
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Distribution

Widespread across the U.S. and southern Canada. It is likely at its northern range limit in the southern boreal forest of Alberta.
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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Ecology

Habitat

This species inhabits open parkland and prairie habitats.
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Trophic Strategy

Known to feed on a wide variety of plants, primarily herbs and forbs.
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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Mid June to mid July.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Pyrrharctia isabella

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 22 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

NNAACATTATATTTTATTTTTGGAATTTGGGCAGGAATAGTAGGAACTTCATTAAGATTATTAATTCGAGCAGAATTAGGAATGCCCGGATCCTTAATTGGAGATGATCAAATTTATAATACTATTGTTACAGCTCATGCTTTTATTATAATTTTTTTTATAGTTATACCTATTATAATTGGGGGATTTGGTAATTGATTAGTTCCTTTAATATTAGGAGCCCCTGATATAGCTTTCCCCCGAATAAATAACATAAGTTTTTGACTTTTACCCCCATCTTTAACTTTATTAATCTCAAGAAGAATTGTAGAAAATGGGGCAGGTACCGGATGAACCGTTTATCCCCCCCTTTCATCCAATATTGCCCACGGTGGTAGTTCTGTTGATTTAGCCATTTTTTCTTTACATCTAGCAGGAATTTCTTCAATTTTAGGAGCTATTAATTTTATTACCACAATTATTAATATACGATTAAATAATTTATCATTTGACCAAATACCTTTATTTGTTTGAGCGGTAGGAATTACTGCTTTTTTACTTCTTCTTTCTTTACCTGTTTTAGCAGGTGCTATTACTATACTTTTAACAGATCGAAATTTAAATACATCATTTTTTGATNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Pyrrharctia isabella

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 23
Specimens with Barcodes: 91
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Although widespread, this species is usually not common.
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National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Wikipedia

Pyrrharctia isabella

The Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella) can be found in many cold regions, including the Arctic. The banded Woolly Bear larva emerges from the egg in the fall and overwinters in its caterpillar form, when it literally freezes solid. It survives being frozen by producing a cryoprotectant in its tissues. In the spring it thaws out and emerges to pupate. Once it emerges from its pupa as a moth it has only days to find a mate.

In most temperate climates, caterpillars become moths within months of hatching, but in the Arctic the summer period for vegetative growth – and hence feeding – is so short that the Woolly Bear must feed for several summers, freezing again each winter before finally pupating. Some are known to live through as many as 14 winters.[1]

Adult, the Isabella Tiger Moth

Appearance[edit]

The larva is black at both ends, with or without a band of coppery red in the middle. The adult moth is dull yellow to orange with a robust, furry thorax and small head. Its wings have sparse black spotting and the proximal segments on its first pair of legs are bright reddish-orange.

The setae of the Woolly Bear caterpillar do not inject venom and are not urticant – they do not typically cause irritation, injury, inflammation, or swelling.[2] Handling them is discouraged, however, as the bristles may cause dermatitis in people with sensitive skin. Their main defense mechanism is rolling up into a ball if picked up or disturbed.

Diet[edit]

This species is a generalist feeder – it feeds on many different species of plants, especially herbs and forbs.[3]

Related Species[edit]

Recent research[4] has shown that the larvae of a related moth Grammia incorrupta (whose larvae are also called "woollybears") consume alkaloid-laden leaves that help fight off internal parasitic fly larvae. This phenomenon is said to be "the first clear demonstration of self-medication among insects".

In culture[edit]

Folklore[edit]

Folklore of the eastern United States and Canada holds that the relative amounts of brown and black on the skin of a Woolly Bear caterpillar (commonly abundant in the fall) are an indication of the severity of the coming winter. It is believed that if a Woolly Bear caterpillar's brown stripe is thick, the winter weather will be mild and if the brown stripe is narrow, the winter will be severe. In reality, hatchlings from the same clutch of eggs can display considerable variation in their color distribution, and the brown band tends to grow with age; if there is any truth to the tale, it is highly speculative.[5]

The name of the town of Sedro-Woolley, Washington State, is believed to derive from the Woolly Bear. The town is the result of the union of Sedro and Woolley Bug, and that Woolley Bug referred to a plethora of P. isabella larvae when the town was first built.

Woollybear Festivals[edit]

Main article: Woollybear Festival

Woolleybear Festivals are held in several locations in the fall.

  • Vermilion, Ohio, in October, begun in 1973, features woolly bear costume contests for children and pets and the Woolybear 500 caterpillar races.[6]
  • Banner Elk, North Carolina, begun in 1977, features crafts, food, and races. The winning Woolly Bear predicts the winter weather for the following winter.[7]
  • Beattyville, Kentucky, begun 1987, called the "Woolly Worm Festival," features food, vendors, live music, and a "Woolly Worm Race" in which people race the Woolly Bear caterpillar up vertical strings.
  • Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, in early fall, begun in 1997, featuring crafts for kids, food, games, a pet parade, and a "Weather Prognostication Ceremony."
  • Oil City, Pennsylvania, Woolley Bear Jamboree, begun in 2008, features "Oil Valley Vick" to predict the winter weather. Though some may have hoped[by whom?] he can someday draw a crowd similar to Punxsutawney Phil, Oil Valley Vick made his first and only prognostication in 2008.[8]
  • Lion's Head, Ontario, it has been held for two years now to rival Wiarton Willy
  • Little Valley, New York has held a "Woolley Bear Weekend" [sic] since 2012.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Co-produced nature documentary Frozen Planet. Series 1, episode 2, at around 26min 45sec.
  2. ^ Mullen, Gary Richard; Lance A. Durden (2002). Medical and Veterinary Entomology. Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-510451-0. 
  3. ^ "Entomology Collection > Pyrrharctia isabella". E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum, University of Alberta. Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  4. ^ ""Woolly Bear Caterpillars Self-Medicate -- A Bug First" - National Geographic". Retrieved 2009-03-14. 
  5. ^ Predicting Winter Weather: Woolly Bear Caterpillars, The Old Farmer's Almanac, 1999.
  6. ^ http://vermilionchamber.net/festivals/woolybear/
  7. ^ Old Farmer's Almanac, 1999.
  8. ^ Robertson, Dan. "Oil Valley Vick & the NWPA Wooly Bear Society". Mystic Outer Rim Society. Retrieved 29 March 2012. 
  9. ^ http://www.cattco.org/events/2013/10/19/wooly-bear-weekend-local-manufacturers-and-artisans
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Following Lafontaine and Schmidt (2010), the traditional Arctiidae have been transferred to the family Erebidae as a subfamily (Arctiinae), with former subfamilies such as Lithosiinae now treated as tribes. The circumscription of Arctiinae remains virtually identical to recent circumscriptions of Arctiidae, but circumscriptions of some taxa within the Arctiinae have changed.
The larvae (caterpillar) are known as Banded Woolly Bear, Blackened Bear or Woolly Bear.

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