Winter is slowly creeping up on us in our part of the world. The last few days have been decidedly chilly, and I do not feel ready for this weather. It got me thinking about those little black and orange (how Goth!) caterpillars you encounter in the fall, the banded woolly bears.
I am sure you have probably seen these guys, all fuzzy and leaf-eating, hanging out in the fall. They’re pretty remarkable little creatures! Born in the autumn, they are suitably dressed for the season with their burnt orange and black coloring. The remarkable thing is that these fellows stay as caterpillars over the winter when they literally freeze solid! Like the princesses in some sort of really messed up fairytale, their heart stops beating, then the rest of their organs and blood slowly freeze hard. The caterpillar is essentially dead for the entire winter, trapped in a frozen state. Brr!
Once spring comes they thaw out, able to survive this extreme due to a cryoprotectant present in their tissues. In very cold climates these caterpillars can go many winters without pupating if the summer months do not provide enough feeding to prepare. Freezing and thawing, freezing and thawing. Finally they go on to pupate and become the lovely tiger moths (above)!
Tiger moths only live a few days (all that suffering for so little), just long enough to mate and pass on it’s genetics.