Friday, September 6, 2013

Fuzzy-Wuzzy and Fully Woolly

The birch in its fall glory
It's hard to leave behind a garden that you've cultivated for nearly two decades. One can't help but feel sort of parental about living things carefully tended for years and years. 
So it felt very sad to say good-bye to the birch tree planted the year before my child's birth, the vine maple bought at a farm stand as a spindly sapling now grown to three-trunked splendor, the vibernum and dogwood shrubs framing the living-room window, and the perennials that faithfully reemerged every spring like good friends who travel far and wide but always stop by while in town.
The garden at our new home is still terra incognita as our first priority has been unpacking all those wretched boxes and moving furniture around. 
A professional landscaper created the space, aiming for an easy-care garden of shrubs and small trees, with one small densely planted flower garden. So it's got some structure...and appears to be just begging for the cottage-garden treatment, when time and budget permit.
In the meantime, I did some poking around in the flower bed to see what was there, and came across this fellow hanging out on a dock leaf.

The caterpillar, nearly two inches in length, was exceedingly fuzzy and exceedingly placid. It scarcely budged even as I turned the leaf over to observe it from all angles. 
After some research online and in books, I'm guessing it's a caterpillar of the Virginia tiger moth, commonly known as a yellow woolly-bear. This makes it a cousin of the more familiar brown-and-black-banded caterpillar of the Isabella tiger moth, called just woolly-bear and known in folklore for predicting how severe winter will be by the ratio of brown and black on its fuzzy body.
It took a while to find its head.
Yellow woolly-bears range in color from black to a yellow so pale it's nearly white. Golden yellow is the most common hue. This one's vivid orange-red is a variation often seen. I don't know if certain shades are linked with different areas of the country.
Virginia tiger moths are a widespread species, found across most of the temperate United States and Canada. 
In the Pacific Northwest, they're abundant at lower elevations and are found in habitats ranging from coastal rainforests to meadows and farmlands. And, as you can see, Cottage Lake back yards.


Caterpillar feet

There are two or three generations of caterpillars each year, and the last generation overwinters as a pupa.
This one will surely be looking for a safe place to settle down , if it hasn't already done so by the time I hit "publish" on this. It will spend the soggy season as a glossy, dark pupa cloaked in a cocoon made of its own bristles.
I couldn't find anything particularly fascinating or noteworthy about this particular species in any of my books or online, but it does have some pretty cool relatives in the tiger-moth family. 
Adult moth, from Wikipedia

One species, for example, is able to make ultrasonic clicking noises with a set of membranes, called tymbals, on its thorax at a rate of up to 4,500 clicks per second for the purpose of jamming the sonar of bats and thus avoiding being a bat's midnight snack.
When our resident woolly-bear grows up, it'll emerge in springtime as a fuzzy white moth fringed antennae and a row of orange and black dots on its abdomen. How long it will be until spring, and how harsh our winter will be, is not in the skill set of this woolly-bear...but after last night's furious rain, thunder, and lightning, I hope it's found a place to live that has a sump-pump, french drains, and clean gutters.