On October 22, 2017, Fuzzy, the Woolly Bear Caterpillar, came into my life. Actually he came into my hatchway. I didn’t know a lot about Woolly Bear Caterpillars but I had decided that if Fuzzy wanted to live in my hatchway I was going to find out what he needed in order to survive. I did a post about Fuzzy that you can read here.
He needed leaves to lie under and eat and some water on the leaves each day to drink. It was Fall and most of the leaves had dropped from the trees and were brown. I tried several types of leaves before I found the ones Fuzzy preferred. How did I know he preferred these leaves, because he ate some. They were the leaves from my pear tree, it’s a non-fruit bearing pear tree. I gathered up as many leaves as were left so I could switch out fresh ones every now and again.
I put a pile on the floor at the bottom of my hatchway. I was debating if I should bring Fuzzy inside, as it was going to get so cold when Winter arrived. However, in my readings, Woolly Caterpillars like the cold and if you bring them inside it would be too warm for them and they would die. Ok so the hatchway it is. I found another caterpillar in March, that’s why there is another set of leaves on the next step up. I set that caterpillar free a few weeks ago as I was not sure if he was alive or dead. I put him in my garden.
Every morning I bring bird feeders out thru the hatch, so each morning I would greet Fuzzy with a good morning. I would wet 10 leaves, yup I counted 10 leaves each day cause that’s just the way I am, I would talk to him for a few minutes and then would say goodnight to him at the end of the day, when I brought the feeders back in. Boy it was so cold in there during the Winter, and I worried that maybe it was too cold, but apparently it was not.
Spring arrived and I started reading more articles about Fuzzy. One said to add a twig to the environment so that the caterpillar could climb it to cocoon or pupate as they called it. So I added a twig and waited and waited and waited. No cocoon. Hmmm.
I was having water issues in my cellar and after a day of heavy rains a large part of my cellar had water, plans were made to have it fixed. A few days before the workers were to arrive I planned to move Fuzzy so he wouldn’t be disturbed. It happened to rain again that day and more water came in, including on the floor of the hatchway where Fuzzy was. I had bought a container for Fuzzy to stay in while the workers were here and when the work was finished, I planned to put him back. When I went to get him, the floor was quite damp and so were the leaves. I laid out some paper towels to put the wet leaves on and as I cleared away the leaves there was no Fuzzy. Oh No!! Where’s Fuzzy…I looked everywhere and could not find him. No, he couldn’t be gone, after all this time…I just saw him a couple of days ago…who knew I would panic over a caterpillar, but after 7 months I had become more attached to him than I had realized.
Then it occurred to me….did he cocoon??? I looked in the crevices around the door jam and I saw what looked like a hairball. I got my phone and turned on the camera and magnified it so I could see better as it was night and rather dark in there. Huh, is that Fuzzy? I ran upstairs, googled “what do woolly bear caterpillar cocoons look like?” and yup that hairball was my Fuzzy!!! I was so excited.
The workers were coming the next day, I told them to be careful. When I got home that night, I checked on Fuzzy and the workers had done some work in the hatchway. I did not know they were going to do this, apparently they needed to seal the side wall. They sanded the cement down and then sealed the wall. Of course the wall was nearest to where Fuzzy was and his cocoon was covered with cement dust. OH NO!!
Once again I ran to Google, don’t you just love Google, and looked up to see if it was ok to move a cocoon…turns out it is. So I got a big plastic jug, more twigs and leaves and carefully removed the stuck cocoon from the wall. I have to say I was so afraid I was going to ruin the process. The article said to be careful not to snap the piece that’s sticking out of the cocoon, but I couldn’t see anything as there was not a lot of room where Fuzzy was. So I hoped for the best and gently removed him. Phew, ok next I took my little paring knife and delicately removed as much cement dust from him as I could. The twig I got was from my lilac tree and conveniently it had a curly vine on it that wrapped around the cocoon, perfectly holding Fuzzy in place.
Uh oh…which way was the cocoon hanging! I think the bottom is the end with the most cement dust on it, so that’s the way I’m going to hang him. It takes from 10-15 days for the Isabella Tiger Moth to emerge from the cocoon. Day after day I would check to see if Fuzzy had emerged. I wondered if the vine was too tight around the cocoon although it barely was holding him in place, no I think he’s fine. I changed out the leaves every few days and waited.
Saturday, May 26 2018, at 5:30 a.m. I hear some fluttering noises coming from the container. I got up to see what it was and there was Fuzzy, clinging to the netting I had put across the top of the container staring up at me. I was such a proud Mama at that moment. Fuzzy you did it!!! You emerged…you are now an Isabella Tiger Moth…and so pretty. It really was so exciting…I was so relieved that he didn’t die from either the noise of the sanding machine or the cement dust. He completed his cycle. Now what?
Well according to what I read you can keep them for 1-2 days, their wings have to dry and uncurl. Fuzzy’s wings looked really good to me, so I wondered when did he emerge? Anyway, he hung around from the netting for several hours and then dropped down into the leaves for the remainder of the day sleeping. Exhausted from his birth, I expect. I put some more fresh leaves in for him to eat and started to read more articles. Apparently they don’t eat after they metamorphosize. The female moth will emit a scent to attract the male moth to fertilize her and then she will fly and drop her eggs in various spots for the cycle to continue. Also in my readings I discovered that Fuzzy is actually a she. Female Woollys are about 3 inches longs while male Woollys are 2 inches long. So she went from Fuzzy to Isabella.
Saturday night when I went to bed she started to fly around in the container and I thought, hmmm she seems ready to leave. It was midnight, quiet and peaceful outside and warm too. A good night to go fly into the brave, new world! I brought the container outside, said my goodbyes and removed the netting. Nothing. She remained on the leaves and did not fly away. I waited about 10 minutes, still no flight. Ok then, in the morning, let’s go back to bed.
About 15 minutes after going back to bed she started flying around again…a lot! Ok, ok I think you’re ready now…and out the front door we went. As I set the container down to put my shoes on, she was already on the outside of the container…wait Isabella let me open the door and get you outside.
I was hoping to record her flying away but it was dark and she was in a hurry so I did not. I wonder if she will be out there in the morning as I am writing this at 2:10 a.m. following her release. I couldn’t sleep. Update: she was not out there today but happily on her way to find a mate and continue the cycle of life.
What a most wonderful, magical experience that was. I thanked her for coming into my hatchway and sharing this bit of God’s work with me. I may even go looking for another Woolly Caterpillar next Fall!
Til then….thanks Fuzzy/Isabella…it was the best! I decided her name should be Fuzzibella!!
Maybe it will be one of your kids I find next Fall, Fuzzibella! 😉