Ice Storms and Woolly Bears

My neighbour (from the posting “Secret Trails and Hidden Ponds”), stomped the snow off his boots as he entered the garage uttering an epithet (of a procreative nature) regarding the weather.  Just about every morning I drop in for a few minutes to visit and pick-up some precious pearls of wisdom.  This particular morning, a week after the ice storm of 2013, he expressed surprise that he’d spotted a woolly bear caterpillar the day before.  “He was wandering around on top of the ice, so I picked him up and tossed him into the shrubs beside the garage here” he told me.  The man designates anything he doesn’t know the gender of, as “him”.  Unless it has breasts and annoys the Hell out of him, then it’s a “her”.

I began to explain that woolly bear caterpillars over-winter in the larval stage, but didn’t get far, as the conversation promptly turned to how great Chrysler products are.  How he shoulda held onto that ’54 New Yorker he had way back when.  “It’d likely be worth $100,000 by now” he assured me.  ‘Course, last week it was a ‘57 Imperial and woulda been worth only $85,000.  I guess they get more valuable by the week, and change names too.  As he continued to preach the Gospel of Jesus Chrysler Our Lord, all I could think was Holy CRAP! That’s me in 10 years.  Someone please hold me … I’m scared.

I have a standing agreement with the wife to shoot me if I ever pledge allegiance to ANY automotive brand.  I also requested she finish me off before some junior journalist can get me to say “I’m one hundred years young” on TV.  Not much danger of me living that long anyway, so I doubt she’ll have to make good on it.

Now I forgot what I was writing about.          Oh yeah, woolly bears (I had to peek at the title).  ‘Course, my neighbour mentioned that the black band in the center was wider than normal so we’re in for a good Winter.  I did mention the ice storm the week before didn’t I?  Not to mention, the band in the middle is chestnut.  The ends are black.  Whatever.

Every time the caterpillar casts off its old skin, the center chestnut band gets a little wider and some simply grow faster than others, depending upon local conditions.  So, as the insects age, the center band gets wider at different rates.  As for forecasting the coming Winter, I know a guy who can’t remember the model and year of the car that woulda been worth $100,000 today, but he can remember how wide the chestnut band on a caterpillar was last year ?  I don’t think so.

Though … in my 30 years of experience in the field of Product Development, I’ve witnessed some amazing pachyderm challenging feats of memory.  There were Production guys who remembered a product causing a problem every time they ran it.   They just never blamed it on mentioned it, until productivity was in the toilet.  I guess they didn’t want to be whiners.  There were Marketing Mgrs who remembered exactly what a product looked and tasted like, 3 years ago.  Not to mention the Accountants who distinctly recalled the raw material costs of that product were less than half what I just quoted them.  Human memory … ain’t it grand ?   ‘Course, the very fact I remember all that (about 3 years since retirement) is a testament to human memory in itself.

The caterpillar’s colored band widths aren’t gonna tell you anything about next year’s weather. It (like most animal weather predictors), might tell you about last year’s weather though.  ‘Course, we already know about that.  I know what you’re thinking … thanks for nuthin’ you fat bastard caterpillar !  No it’s not the caterpillar’s fault.  We’re the ones who print things like the Farmer’s Almanac (which didn’t mention the ice storm of 2013 you’ll notice).

If the previous Winter was long and late, the life cycle of the woolly bear will be late, hence, they won’t be as advanced come Fall, so their chestnut bands will be smaller.  This is simple supposition – yes.  I know of no documented scientific studies done to prove it.  So if you’re pissed about the Farmer’s Almanac cheapshot, OK you got me.

So, in light of my neighbour’s commentary on the weather, does the tri-banded, furry little fellow freeze solid and thaw again come Spring ?  There are a lot of beasties thought to do that.  They don’t, and neither does he.  Our intrepid little hero’s body contains glycerol which protects the cells from freezing.  Glycerol (aka Glycerin) is used in the human food industry as a moisture preserver and thickening agent in everything from dairy products, through breakfast cereals and meats, to candy and beer and much more.

As the caterpillar’s body temperature drops below the freezing point one chemical reaction halts, which allows another to begin producing glycerol.  We’ve all heard fantastical stories of animals freezing solid and being re-animated when thawed.  I assure you, this can’t happen.  The very concept of freezing solid is when all the moisture, in all the cells, in an animal’s body has crystalized/solidified.  If that happens, it’s game over.  Non negotiable.

I don’t have any pictures of the moth that the woolly bear eventually becomes, but just Google Isabella Tiger Moth Picture to see lots of them.  With the number of caterpillars you see in a Summer, you’d expect to spot at least one adult moth in your lifetime, but I haven’t.  Actually, I probably have seen lots of them, I just didn’t notice.  They’re one of those beasties that’s more impressive in its younger life than it’s later.  Remind you of any other species ?


One comment

  1. John Iafrate · · Reply

    Tell your buddy that Chrysler is now fully owned by Fiat- Italian power. Now that ’57 has gotta be worth at least $12.75 Euros.


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