Triggering of cryoprotectant synthesis in the woolly bear caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella Lepidoptera: Arctiidae)

J Exp Zool. 2000 Mar 1;286(4):367-71.


Isabella tiger moths (Pyrrharctia isabella) overwinter as caterpillars (i.e., woolly bears) that can survive freezing at moderate subzero temperatures. We observed an increase in hemolymph osmolality for field-collected woolly bears during October (325 +/- 47 to 445 +/- 27 mOsmol/liter) and tested the influence of temperature and moisture levels on cryoprotectant production. Laboratory acclimation was done at 5 degrees C in moist conditions and at 25 degrees C acclimation in both dry and moist conditions. Body water contents were diminished by dehydration at 25 degrees C for 4 days (57 +/- 4%). Caterpillars collected in early October did not alter their hemolymph osmolality during cold acclimation, but caterpillars increased by 45% (to 647 +/- 90 mOsmol/liter) after 4 days at 5 degrees C following their collection in late October. Hemolymph composition was markedly changed in caterpillars experiencing dehydration at 25 degrees C (1042 +/- 200 mOsmol/liter; 507 +/- 225 mmol glycerol/liter), whereas caterpillars showed no change in their hemolymph composition when kept moist at 25 degrees C. Our experiments reveal that both dehydration and cold acclimation rapidly induce cryoprotectant synthesis in P. isabella caterpillars. J. Exp. Zool. 286:367-371, 2000.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Cold Temperature
  • Cryoprotective Agents*
  • Dehydration
  • Hemolymph / chemistry*
  • Moths / physiology*
  • Seasons
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance*


  • Cryoprotective Agents