Why did the Woolly Bear cross the road? The short answer is...it's "time."
To answer this probing question we must first look at what is known by the scientists. Since I am not one by title, I did what any one of you would do in my shoes; I Googled. Since there are a few gazillion places where bits of information exists, I thought I might compile most of it on this blog entry once and for all. Here is what I discovered from experts on the question that was "bugging" me in a few poignant bullet points:
- Woolly Bear Caterpillars are present in the spring and from late summer to late fall.
- They produce one to two generations per year.
- The second generation is the one noticed in late fall when the woolly bears are crossing the roads, usually in great haste as if they have someplace special to go. In fact, they are only scurrying to find a sheltered location under dead plant debris, etc., where they will spend the winter as a larva. In the spring, they will feed briefly before changing into a cocoon and eventually a moth. Eggs laid by the female moths start the cycle over again.
- Tiger moth caterpillars of the Arctiidae family, often called woollybears, are covered entirely with dense clusters of tubercles from which arise short tufts of hairs or long hair "pencils" of varying colors.
- The hairs on these caterpillars can be irritating when handled by individuals with sensitive skin.
- Host plants are mainly weeds and other non-crop plants such as dandelion, dock, aster, goldenrod, plantain and some grasses.
- The banded woolly bear is found throughout the U.S., Mexico, and southern Canada but not the rest of the world.
- Vermilion, Ohio (west of Cleveland) holds an annual Woolly Bear Festival — claimed to be the largest one-day festival in Ohio. Festivities include a parade, woolly bear races and an “official” analysis of the woolly bears and forecast for the coming winter.
So basically what I found out from my perusing told me what people "think" is the reason for their suicidal autumnal crossings: hibernation. Yeah, okay...whatever...I'd prefer to invent some other important reason that they do it. For if they are the important prognosticator of all things winter, must they not be involved with a much more scientific bit of meteorological research involving road crossings? Why just crawl from one side to the other, risking everything in the process just to take a long winter nap, when we all depend on them so heavily for a peek at our climatological future? I suppose I'll never know will I? Nevertheless, one day I will venture to Ohio to bond with others in search of the greater meaning of the wily woollie's wayward wanderings; if not for answers, for a great party for absolutely no scientific reason. Why? Because that's what we humans do. We look for happy distractions in a world filled with too much sadness. We seek comraderie when we feel lonely, and we celebrate anything; even the width of the orangish fibers on a bug if it will keep us from seeing just how long winters in the midwest can be. We look to the Woolly Bear in the fall and the Groundhog in the spring to help make sense of it all.
Perhaps we all just wish, hope and we dream of crossing the roads of life safely to a better place and greener grass, on the other side.