Just in case you didn’t know it, wooly worms are not made of wool. Not at all. They are worms. Made out of worm-like material. That’s such a lie. They are caterpillars. So, who the hell named them wooly worms? That’s as bad as Jumbo Shrimp. Well, ranting aside, I do think wooly worms are misunderstood. I am going to try my best to explain their purpose in life, and why they crawl across the road when they know they shall most surely die.
I brake for wooly worms. I brake for anything that is alive. And things that I think are alive. I remember braking for an alligator while driving through Florida. Well, except that as I came upon it, we saw that it was a shredded tired from a truck that had pulled over just beyond it. Well, from far away they do look like alligators.
One time I braked (broke?) for a rabbit, and my son yelled from the backseat, “Great, Mom! Save the rabbit, kill the family.” Last fall I hit a squirrel on the way to school. I cried all the way to the parking lot . Squirrels just don’t know what the hell they want to do. “I want to go this way. No, wait. Maybe not. I will go back. No, I think I will go back. No…” It was just so sad. But, when I got to school, and pulled myself together and started taking roll, one of my students raised her hand and asked, “Ms. Mendenhall, how come kids have to go home when they get pink eye, but teachers don’t have to?” I guess it was obvious that I had been crying over my “squirrel encounter.”
So,once again, I have meandered off of my intended topic. Wooly worms. Ok, the misunderstood wooly worms are roaming all over the countryside. But, you are probably asking yourself, “Self, why are there wooly worms in the fall?” Wooly worm is the common name for the larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth. But, it doesn’t look like a tiger at all. Seriously, who is the Einstein who made up these names? You may have seen an Isabella Tiger Moth, or ITM as I call them (another lie) at night. They are nocturnal.
Anywho, they over winter in the caterpillar stage. If they are disturbed, they will roll themselves into a tight, little ball.
Woolly worms are often found in autumn after they have left their food cache in search of a dark and sheltered spot where they can hibernate for the winter. With the warmth of spring, the little caterpillars become active again and make their little coccoon to hang out in until they morph into the tiger moth.
There is a lot of folklore about the little critter. There’s even Wooly Worm festivals. The most famous weather prognosticator is, of course, the groundhog, who uses shadows to determine the length of winter. Like a little shadow puppet. The wooly worm faithful believe that the colors and width of the bands of those colors on the worm determine the severity of winter.
Oh, but not so fast, my wooly worm friends. The coloring on these little guys do not predict the weather. Not at all. Sorry to burst your wooly worm bubble. The coloring varies depending upon their age and their diet. “You are what you eat,” in other words.
Wooly worms can survive ice cold temperatures because of the bristly hair that covers their wooly body. But, here is the fact that makes them a “kick-ass” creature. (I made that up). Wooly worms produce an antifreeze-like coating made up of glycerol and other chemicals. Wooly worm scientists estimate that wooly worms can survive temperatures of up to -90 degrees Fahrenheit. They make their own anti-freeze. So, dear God, don’t eat a wooly worm. I mean, I don’t know why the hell you would want to. If I wanted to murder my ex-husband, I could grind a bunch up into a wooly worm juice (add some grape or orange juice of course) and have him drink it. Columbo would never be able to prove that he didn’t swallow one that dropped out of a tree and landed on him while he was sleeping and his mouth was open from snoring and he swallowed it. (I have such an active imagination when it comes to plotting). But, seriously, if someone realizes this, they will begin making wooly worm coats out of the little bodies. Someone call PETA.
So, the next time you are out walking and see the little wooly worm, give him a little salute. He is quite worthy of admiration.
Just don’t eat the damn thing.