“Pop-pop, look what I found!”
My granddaughter proudly lifts the opaque blue lid on the plastic container to reveal a mass of tangled leaves, grass, needles and dirt. I peer into the mixture and search for some sign of the origin of her delight.
“See!” Deftly she extracts a fuzzy inch-long caterpillar. “Her name is Kelly.”
“She looks like a wooly bear,” I comment, noting the wide brown midriff band.
“Isn’t she cute?” My granddaughter smiles, turning the worm over in her tiny palm. “Actually, I don’t know if she’s a girl; I just decided that she’ll be one as long as I have her.”
“I don’t think she’ll mind.”
“And look, Pop-pop, she’s got sixteen feet—I counted them.”
“So she does,” I say, peering at the tiny appendages and taking her word for it.
“Look, her feet have hair on them!”
I look closer and adjust my glasses. “So they do. You’re a pretty good observer.”
My granddaughter beams with the self-satisfaction of a scientist, then suddenly frowns. “Perhaps he’s a boy after all,” she says, half to herself. “I’ve never heard of girl caterpillars having hairy feet.”
“There’s an exception to every rule,” I comment, “especially in the animal kingdom. Here, let’s look on the computer. We can do a web search on wooly bear caterpillars.”
I type the key words into the Google search bar and bring up the results. Seconds later, after several clicks, we are perusing text and photographs of wooly bear caterpillars.
“It says here,” I muse, “that some people think you can tell the severity of the coming winter by the width of the brown band on the caterpillar’s belly. The narrower the band, the harsher the winter. That means lots of snow and a long cold winter.”
“But Pop-pop, winter is over. Now it’s spring!”
“So it is. I suppose we’ll have to wait until fall to make that prediction. But meantime, Kelly will be eating lots of leaves. Then she’ll spin a cocoon around herself and hibernate like an old bear in the winter time. A few weeks later—voilà, Kelly will emerge from her cocoon as a full grown moth. See—here’s a picture of what she’ll look like.”
“Wow! Kelly is going to look so pretty.” My granddaughter stares at the photograph and then looks down at the fuzzy worm in the palm of her hand. Delicately, she strokes the tiny brown and black bristles.
“I hope she waits a little while before she spins her cocoon,” she says. “Right now, I like her just the way she is—even if she does have hairy feet.”