A Woolly Bear of a Caterpillar
If you enjoy climbing the cliffs of Bodega Head on the Sonoma coast, keep your eyes out for bears--woolly bear caterpillars, that is.
The so-called "woolly bear caterpillar" is reddish, black and woolly and has a voracious appetite much like that of Joey Chestnut. It is the Ranchman's Tiger Moth caterpillar, Platyprepia virginalis.
Richard "Rick" Karban, professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, studies this critter. "It has a taste for most alkaloid containing plants, like fiddleneck, although it doesn't appear to sequester the alkaloids," he told us. "The alkaloids may help caterpillars survive their parasitoids, however."
The reserve, which surrounds the Bodega Marine Laboratory, is a unit of the University of California Natural Reserve System and is administered by UC Davis.
Several woolly bear caterpillars were munching on fiddleneck. Another rolled around near a patch of California poppies and we couldn't tell what its menu included. It looked good, though!
You can read Karban's research on "Diet Mixing Enhances the Performance of a Generalist Caterpillar, Platyprepia virginalis," published last February in the Ecological Entomology journal.
A woolly bear caterpillar munching on foliage at the Bodega Head. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A woolly bear caterpillar munching on fiddleneck. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)