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Pyrrharctia isabella: A Refresher Course March 19, 2009

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.
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On my way out the door yesterday morning, I noticed something I deemed unusual in the driveway: a woolly bear caterpillar, right where a huge ice puddle used to be. I couldn’t recall ever having seen a woolly bear in the spring. Aren’t they a fall phenomenon?

I wondered if this one was alive. I took a very close look, and it wasn’t moving. I poked it gently, but it still didn’t move. It was quite fluffy and fresh looking, though. Had it been preserved in the ice? Had it fallen from a bird’s nest hidden in the sliding barn door above?

I decided to move it so I wouldn’t run it over while backing out of the driveway. I picked it up, and it curled quickly into a ball. Definitely alive. I put it on the threshold of the barn doorway. When I got home, it was gone.

It turns out that woolly bears hibernate. If I haven’t seen them in spring (and who knows?—maybe I simply don’t remember), it’s just by chance. As the plants come back, they chow down, pupate, and become Isabella tiger moths. You can see photos of both beauties on Wikipedia.

Of course, I recognize the moth. But the fact that I wasn’t aware of their connection to woolly bears raises various questions for me. Did I never wonder what happened to these caterpillars? Did I simply love looking at them because they are so beautiful, swerving when I could to try to avoid them as they crossed the road? Did I enjoy the winter-weather-prediction lore while not really believing it (that the length of the brown stripe will determine winter’s severity)? Did I just accept and not question? Or did I once know (which seems likely), but like so many things, the facts just slipped away? But slipped away where? Do the slipped-away facts hibernate? Pupate? And if so, what do they become?

Comments»

1. Bridgett - March 19, 2009

That is my kinda post.

2. helen - March 19, 2009

Oh, I so like the idea of facts pupating. I think they emerge as brilliant ideas, which are immediately trodden to death by doubting coworkers.

3. Adam Byrn Tritt - March 19, 2009

Slipped away facts becomes stories for children.

Today I somehow forgot I was going to be 45. I got the calculator to figure it out. My wife immediately called our daughter. Stories for children.

I used to play with those caterpillars. When I moved south I was warned about them being poisonous. One fell out of a tree and into the gap between my collar and neck.

Definitely a story for children. But I might clean up the language a bit.

4. Craig (Maito Sewa Yoleme) - March 19, 2009

I always liked playing with them, and reciting the Fuzzy Wuzzy poem over them. Their suction-cup feet were fascinating.

Adam, for three years running I told myself I was a year older than I was, which made my actual birthdays rather disconcerting. I think I know how old I am now, but of course I could be mistaken.

5. damyantig - March 19, 2009

slipped-away facts hibernate? Pupate? And if so, what do they become?

They make stories. Not just the slipped-away facts, but slipped-away emotions, experiences, memories—they all transform into stories.

And just as the fattest caterpillars become the biggest, most beautiful moths, the most touching slipped-away facts or emotions transform into the most memorable story.

6. indigo bunting - March 20, 2009

B: Thanks!

H: I had to guffaw bitterly, what with you being so in touch with the real world and all.

A, D: You are on the same page. And I like it.

C: Re: first paragraph. I can’t tell you how easy this is to imagine.

7. Eulalia (Lali) Benejam Cobb - March 20, 2009

A lovely post, with that great metaphorical swoop at the end.

Have you heard the red winged blackbirds around here lately? Do you suppose they eat the caterpillars as they emerge from hibernation?

8. Deloney - March 20, 2009

Very nice to read this on the first day of spring.

9. Mali - March 20, 2009

This sentence intrigued me …
“Did I simply love looking at them because they are so beautiful, swerving when I could to try to avoid them as they crossed the road?”

I agree, they ARE beautiful (once I looked them up on your link).
Are they so big you can see them as you drive and they cross your road?

Great post by the way.

10. indigo bunting - March 21, 2009

Mali: They are maybe two inches long, maybe not quite. But they are fluffy, and one can see them (singularly) crossing the road in autumn…

11. Cedar Waxwing - March 25, 2009

Wooly Bears are always so special to see. I love them. Don’t see them often enough.


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