Bristling at the Cold

Its brown and black bristles help this creature survive harsh winters.

Image by Luke Groskin
Image by Luke Groskin

Tempting as it may be to see growing crystals or ice formations in the picture above, those prickly spikes are actually the bristles, or setae, of a caterpillar called the woolly bear. A loveable larva known for its fuzzy-looking brown and black body, the woolly bear is the Punxsutawney Phil of the insect world. Each year for several decades, residents of Banner Elk, North Carolina, hold a woolly bear race. The winning caterpillar supposedly predicts the severity of the upcoming winter—the more brown on the champion’s segmented body means a milder season, according to legend, while more black signifies harsh times ahead. The woolly bear itself is adapted to surviving freezing winters without becoming an insectile ice cube—and the bristles are part of its strategy. How so? Check out the video below, by SciFri’s video producer Luke Groskin.

Meet the Writer

About Julie Leibach

Julie Leibach is a freelance science journalist and the former managing editor of online content for Science Friday.

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