A furry black and orange creature with clawed feet and crushing, opposable mandibles has been spotted crossing local roadways and paths including the Huckleberry Trail in the New River Valley. Witnesses describe the creature as “cute,” and Virginia Tech entomologist Eric Day does not seem alarmed.
The woolly worm, also known as the woolly bear caterpillar, appears when fall sets in as it searches for a place to overwinter and later pupate. In midsummer, it is seen again, but has transformed into the Isabella tiger moth, Day said.
Folklore suggests that careful reading of the caterpillar’s black and brown pattern can predict the length and severity of the winter. The more black in its fuzzy coat, the longer and harsher the winter, some say.
Science suggests something different can be predicted, primarily how much of a glutton the caterpillar is.
“The middle orange band gets bigger and bigger the longer they feed. If you have a really small black area on the woolly worm it just means they had a really good summer and they had a lot of good feeding,” Day said.
Day welcomes the benevolent creature’s arrival, since he says it isn’t a nuisance or destructive like other fall and winter insects that frequent homes. He associates it with the coming cool weather and the turning of the leaves.
“It’s a harbinger of fall,” he said .
– Justin Cook | The Roanoke Times