Banded woolly bear caterpillars easily catch the eye

It's autumn in the garden, and there are many sights to see, including a cute fuzzy caterpillar called a banded woolly bear.



Fall is a mad dash around the garden these days.

Busy gathering up tender plants to store out of freezing temperatures, dismantling fountains to be scrubbed and stored, picking up chestnuts so we don’t grow a forest of trees next spring, cleaning up the veggie garden, collecting the last bit of seed, putting the lawn furniture away.

It is a race against the clock…and the weather…to get everything done. Panic is setting in. But just when the pressure is getting intense, there are some surprises to delight the day when least expected.

Working my way along the garden bed, focused on picking up chestnuts from amongst the plants, I came face to face with the brilliant blue flowers on my autumn gentian, Gentiana sino-oronata.

What a blue! A breath of summer sunshine. It certainly exemplifies why David Tarrant favours this colour in the garden.

Just as bright is the yellow autumn hue in the leaves of my gas plant, Dictamnus albus rosea. Well…perhaps not as bright as some other yellows and golds in the fall garden but the gas plant is proving to be a delightful, totally unplanned combination overhanging the gentian blue.

Another autumn sighting in the garden was a cute fuzzy caterpillar, roughly about an inch or so long…a banded woolly bear. This little guy easily catches the eye.

Stiff, short bristles, or setae, with distinctive markings…black at the front and rear ends with a band of bright copper rust in the middle, it is the larva of the Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrhartica isabella).

It is generally thought this particular moth species has only one life cycle per year with the slightly unusual occurrence of the larvae emerging from their eggs in late summer/early fall.

These guys are really bustling around at this time of year, getting their fill of food and looking for a suitable hibernation site under the leaf litter before the winter cold sets in.

They are largely considered beneficial, restricting their diet to such plant material as grasses, clover, plantain and dandelions.

It has been found the caterpillars produce a repellent chemical through eating leaves high in alkaloids as a way of killing the larvae of parasitic flies that prey on soft-bodied caterpillar species.

Banded woolly bears also produce a cryoprotectant chemical that enables them to withstand freezing temperatures. One study in western Pennsylvania demonstrated this caterpillar could withstand –5C temperatures over a period of seven days with 100 per cent survival rate.

When the weather warms in spring, the banded woolly bear caterpillar resumes eating before spinning its cocoon for the pupation stage.

Adult Isabella tiger moths emerge in roughly two weeks identifiable by their honey brown forewings with black spots. Sex is determined by the colour of the hind wing. Males have the same honey brown colouring as the forewing…females have a pinkish hue on theirs.

Females of this moth species have a unique way of releasing pheromones to attract any males in the area.

In most moths, the sex gland is rotated outward and exposed to the air so the sex-attracting pheromone evaporates from its surface. In the Isabella tiger moth, the gland is a branched tube, or pair of tubes that is invaginated…folded inwards so that the outer surface becomes an inner one. The release of sex pheromone, affected by the rhythmic protrusion and retraction motions of the female’s abdominal tip, causes a visible emission of liquid droplets of vapour. This is the first known incidence in moths of an air-borne sex-attracting pheromone being released as a liquid.

Enough about fuzzy caterpillars for now. Have to find my old mill hardhat. These falling chestnuts are lethal!

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her column appears every second Friday.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cumberland photographer Sara Kemper recently took the top spot in a Canadian Geographic photography contest. Photo by Sara Kemper
Cumberland photographer takes top Canadian Geographic photo prize

Sara Kemper shows what home means to her in Comox Valley photo

Gord John stands during question period in Ottawa in Sept. 2020. (PHOTO COURTESY CHRISTIAN DIOTTE, HOUSE OF COMMONS PHOTO SERVICES)
2020: A Year in Review with Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns

NDP MP wants to ‘build back better’ in 2021

A concept plan for the Bevan Road industrial lands from 2020. Council recently approved variances to help move along the development. Image, Village of Cumberland
Cumberland approves variance for Bevan industrial lands

Change allows one site to be smaller than the minimum lot size

The Comox Valley RCMP have issued a warrant for Brittany Forrest. Photo supplied
Comox Valley RCMP issue arrest warrant for 29-year-old woman

The Comox Valley RCMP have issued an arrest warrant for 29-year-old Brittany… Continue reading

On average, the Comox Station receives 60 call outs per year. Photo by RCM-SAR member Chris Beech, Media.
BOATING WITH BARB: Victoria JRCC and RCM-SAR Station 60 Comox work together to save lives

Barb Thomson Special to The Record Just imagine you wander down to… Continue reading

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Stand up paddleboarder Christie Jamieson is humbled to her knees as a pod of transient orcas put on a dramatic show on Jan. 19 in the Ucluelet Harbour. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Ucluelet paddle boarder surrounded by pod of orcas

“My whole body is still shaking. I don’t even know what to do with this energy.”

Inmates at Metchosin’s William Head Institution are being given COVID-19 vaccines as part of the first phase. Around 600 inmates will be vaccinated in the coming days. (Black Press Media file photo)
William Head prison inmates in receive first doses of COVID vaccine

Priority set for older inmates and those with underlying medical conditions

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

A water taxi at Victoria’s Fisherman’s Wharf. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man arrested after stolen water taxi raced up Victoria’s Gorge Waterway

Man is facing recommended charges of theft over $5,000 after leading police on marine chase

Most Read