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Nov. 20, 2013

Picture of the Week: Woolly Bear Bristles

by Julie Leibach

Click to enlarge images
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. 

About Julie Leibach

Julie is the managing editor of ScienceFriday.com. She is a huge fan of sleep and chocolate. Follow her @julieleibach.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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