dshubble's picture

Woolly bear

Observed: 9th May 2010 By: dshubble
Leaf Beetle Recording SchemeSouthampton Natural History Society
Invertebrates expert

Very hairy large caterpillar (4cm or so), dark above, reddish around head and lower sides. Moving rapidly through grassland.

Species interactions

No interactions present.

Species with which Garden Tiger (Arctia caja) interacts


Kluut's picture

Care in use of name

The name is amply descriptive, but a woolly bear is a beetle larva - usually the carpet beetle - Anthrenus verbasci

RHoman's picture


I don't think the beetle has a monopoly on the name. See for example:

I am sure that generations of children referred to the Garden Tiger caterpillar as a "wooly bear" back in the days when the species was far more common that it is now.

Robert Homan

Kluut's picture


Like so many common names, the name woolly bear must be regional.
I have never known any caterpillar to be called it and when I have, on a very few occasions, been presented with and asked what a larva of A. verbasci was, I have been greeted with either disbelief or silence, and never a suggestion that a woolly bear was anything but a cuddly toy.
We used to collect large numbers of garden tiger caterpillars as children and we never knew them as anything but hairy caterpillars - even my father had no name for them and he was full of local names for plants and animals.

rimo's picture

I've always known 'woolly

I've always known 'woolly bear' to mean Garden Tiger larvae - it seems to be more of a west country thing? Anthrenus larvae were always known as 'those little buggers eating my insect collection'...

Record your ladybird sightings!

Kluut's picture


I can't imagine very many people other than cursing Anthrenus.
Regional names are set to either disappear or spread due to the www, adding to the confusion - until now I would have certainly thought it extremely odd to be told by a lad from the west country that he had a box of woolly bears in his bedroom and was feeding them cabbage leaves!!! (They do eat caggabge leaves - that was what we fed them as kids, knowing no better).
I don't recall seeing the name mentioned in any books in connection with caterpillars, but all of the very few books on insects that I have owned or read use the name for Anthrenus.

rimo's picture

Cabbage leaves are fine for

Cabbage leaves are fine for them - slightly wilted cabbages are a good way to rear the larvae over the winter if you want to avoid the difficult hibernation stage!

Sounds like a good argument for latin names to me...

Record your ladybird sightings!

Martin Harvey's picture

woolly bear

Woolly Bear equalled Garden Tiger for me, growing up in west London! At which time I was learning my moths from Richard South's "The moths of the British Isles" (first published 1908, my reprint was from 1973), which says of Garden Tiger "the caterpillar, generally known as the Woolly Bear ..."

Have heard the name used for Anthrenus larvae as well.

Entomologist and biological recorder

rimo's picture

I first learnt my moths from

I first learnt my moths from South, as did my father - that may have had something to do with it!

Record your ladybird sightings!