Reub's journey

18 October 2009

Woolly bears

Christina Rossetti

Brown and furry
Caterpillar in a hurry
Take your walk
To the shady leaf, or stalk,
Or what not,
Which may be the chosen spot.
No toad spy you,
Hovering bird of prey pass by you;
Spin and die,
To live again a butterfly.

Christina Rossetti was many things in her lifetime: a children's poet, an animal rights advocate, a Victorian romantic, a model for her artist brother Dante Gabriel Rosetti, a charity worker in a home for prostitutes. But she wasn't much of a naturalist, as I realized when I came across this poem from my childhood. Toads wouldn't eat woolly bear caterpillars, and the caterpillars turn into moths, not butterflies. I suppose the line "to live again a moth" doesn't sound all that great. Ah well, I shouldn't go splitting hairs anyway.

On recent walks we have been seeing woolly bear caterpillars, who emerge in the fall and overwinter as caterpillars. Their funny little bodies create antifreeze that allows them to survive freezing temperatures. After eating voraciously in the springtime, they pupate and turn into yellow Isabella Tiger Moths in the summer, who then lay eggs, and the cycle begins again. Miraculous, really!

I have read that it is not true that woolly bears can predict the severity of the winter by the amount of warm red hair that they have (the wider the band of red-brown, the milder the winter), that sibling caterpillars have differing amounts of colors at the start, and that eventually the black shrinks for all of them. Even if this is all true I am unwilling to give up the idea that they may be predicting something, each and every one of them. I just don't know what it is they're saying.


  1. I used to love to play with these as a kid and watch them walk across sticks.

  2. yes, we LOVE these guys, they are often along with us on our walks...thanks for all the information about them! i've been lazy about figuring out their winged counterpart, and love that info about the antifreeze! amazing.

    we also love CR's "wind" poem, and have turned it into a little play we re-enact often out in the world...

  3. I haven't seen a caterpillar in years. I used to love them. I always thought they were so pretty and cute.

    This is a great picture.


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