Several readers asked if I could give woolybears some attention as they are seen everywhere at this time of the year. A woolybear is the caterpillar or larva of a moth called Pyrrharctia isabella or Isabella for short. Although there are over a hundred species, the one that we see locally most often is reddish-brown with black bands. It looks as though someone has neatly clipped it to be appealing to both children and adults. Be careful if you handle them however as the hairs from woolybears can be extremely irritating to your eyes.
One can find this caterpillar in the winter as well as it does not form a pupa in the autumn. In the winter they are “woolybearsicles,” frozen but able to withstand tissue damage due to their unique “antifreeze.” We see woolybears in the autumn as they are looking for places to overwinter. I doubt that you will find just one location or one plant on which they feed as they are indiscriminate feeders. Woolybear caterpillars just love gardens. Some people put up aluminum foil barriers around valued plants as the larva seems to have difficulty climbing a smooth surface. In the spring the caterpillars begin to feed again and mature into a yellow tiger moth with black spots.
Can woolybears predict the upcoming winter? Folk wisdom has it that the wider the width of the reddish-brown band, the worse the upcoming winter. The only problem with this theory is there is a natural variation among woolybears so relying on them as a predictor of winter weather should probably regarded simply as fun.
Now hopefully you stopped pruning your roses in September. If so they may have produced rose hips, the fruit of a rose. My favorite are those produced by the rugosas. They are large and flavorful whereas the hips from some roses are small and dry. Rosehips resemble small tomatoes but are not related. My interest here is culinary. Only harvest rose hips from roses that were not treated with insecticides. Wait until after the first frost. They are ready when they give just a little bit to pressure from your fingers. Cut or break the hips off the stems. Wash, then cut off both the blossom and stem ends. Let the rose hips dry. Cut them in half and remove the seeds if you plan to use them for tea. If you wish to use them in marmalades you can skip this step. Rose hips are a wonderful fall tonic as they are full of Vitamin C, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. Roses aren't just a pretty face!