This is a lovely time of year to get out for a hike. On Saturday, we took some friends visiting from California out to the Theler Wetlands trails at the head of Hood Canal. We enjoyed patches of warm sunshine and both white and dark clouds against the blue sky as we leisurely took in the tidal estuary and the Union River.
Our friends’ seven year old daughter, Savannah, counted more than 150 banded woollybear caterpillars (Pyrrharctia isabella) on the trails. This is the time of year where the banded woollybears are commonly seen wandering in search of a cozy place to overwinter. When found in spring, they are looking for a spot to
safely pupate. A well known old wives’ tale suggests that the width of the orange center band on a woollybear indicates whether the upcoming winter will be harsh. The wider the band, the colder the winter is the saying. When you see 150 of them in an hour or so, it’s easy to shrug off the tale, as each caterpillar seems to have a differing opinion as to whether this will be a mild or severe La Nina.
Banded woollybears are the larval stage of the smallish Isabella tiger moth (1⅝ to 2 ⅛”), in the family Arctiidae. Tiger moths hold their wings like a tent over their body, rather than spread out flat. Other types of tiger moth caterpillars are also plentiful in autumn, are of similar size to the banded woollybear, but sport slightly different colorations. We saw several color variations of the yellow-spotted tiger moth larva (Lophocampa maculata), which is not too dissimilar to the woollybear, both in the larval and adult forms. The larvae were plentiful in the native plants along the trails, everything from Douglas aster (Aster subspicatus) to coastal willow (Salix hookeriana). Apparently the Isabella tiger moths, which are nocturnal (not all moths are nocturnal), can be seen around lights at this time of the
year. With any luck, I’ll spy one while putting up my Halloween decorations over the next week so that I can post a photo of it.
Theler Community Center and Wetlands Trails
Trails open dawn to dusk daily; admission is free. Hours for the exhibit center vary; call 360-275-4898 www.thelercenter.org
© Colleen Miko, 2011