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Fuzzy Wuzzy Was A (Wooly) Bear

17 Sep
A tiger moth caterpillar (Arctiidae) climbs a grass stem.

A tiger moth caterpillar climbs a grass stem.

When I was little I was always taught not to touch caterpillars because they might sting.   ‘Especially the fuzzy ones.’   This training has survived in me and even today I am leery of the fuzzy variety of caterpillars, despite knowing that the stinging caterpillars are vastly in the minority and fairly distinctive.  Luckily, friend and caterpillar expert Laura Ann was with me when I encountered this particular fuzzy fellow in the Welder Wildlife Refuge, so I not only had the opportunity to pet the little guy, but to try him out as a mustache and unibrow.  He was a bit too active for either post.  “Arctiids are fast,” Laura Ann pointed out helpfully, as my temporary unibrow made its escape.

Tiger Moth Caterpillar - Arctiidae

A fuzzy black tiger moth caterpillar.

Tiger moths, family Arctiidae, take their name from the pattern common on many members’ wings, which often includes orange and black markings on a white background.  These are relatively common visitors to light sheets here in Texas.  Their caterpillars are often fuzzy, giving them the common name “wooly bears” or “wooly worms.”  Like other caterpillars, its prolegs (the additional pseudo-legs it has as a larvae) are equipped with one or two rows of tiny curved hooks called crochets (see prolegs on the picture above).  The hooks allow them to climb smooth surfaces like plant stems and leaves.  The patterns and placement of these hooks are used for identifying many immature Lepidoptera.