If there is one charismatic Arctic invertebrate, it has to be the Arctic woolly bear moth, Gynaephora groenlandica (Wocke, 1874; Lepidoptera: Erebidae: Lymantriinae). G.groenlandica is one of two species in the genus Gynaephora occurring in North America. 

G. groenlandica was thought to be a High-Arctic endemic species until recently, when a new subspecies was described from alpine areas in the SW Yukon (G. g. beringiana (Barrio et al. 2013); see also Lukhtanov and Khruleva (2015) for a taxonomic revision). Still, the Arctic woolly bear moth is one of the best examples of a cold-adapted species, with overwintering caterpillars that have served as model organisms for understanding physiological adaptations to freeze tolerance (Kukal et al 1988, 1989).

G. groenlandica has an extraordinarily extended developmental period of up to 7 years (Morewood and Ring 1998). Low temperatures constrain the feeding activities and metabolism of caterpillars during the short Arctic growing season, and biotic factors like parasitism and phenology of its host plant further confine larval activity to a brief period after snowmelt.

To avoid the peak of activity of adult parasitoids (Kukal and Kevan 1987) during mid-summer, caterpillars spin silky hibernacula and become dormant until the next spring (Kukal and Dawson 1989).

-Isabel Barrio

References and links:

  • Barrio, I. C. et al. 2013. First records of the Arctic moth Gynaephora groenlandica(Wocke) south of the Arctic Circle – a new alpine subspecies. – Arctic: 1–15.
  • Bennett, V. A. et al. 1999. Metabolic opportunists: feeding and temperature influence the rate and pattern of respiration in the high arctic woollybear caterpillar Gynaephora groenlandica (Lymantriidae). – J. Exp. Biol. 202: 47–53.
  • Kukal, O. and Kevan, P. G. 1987. The influence of parasitism on the life history of a high arctic insect, Gynaephora groenlandica (Wocke) (Lepidoptera: Lymantriidae). – Can. J. Zool. 65: 156–163.
  • Kukal, O. and Dawson, T. E. 1989. Temperature and food quality influences feeding behavior, assimilation efficiency and growth rate of arctic woolly-bear caterpillars. – Oecologia 79: 526–532.
  • Kukal, O., Duman, J.G. and Serianni, A.S. 1988. Glycerol metabolism in a freeze-tolerant arctic insect: An in vivo 13-C NMR study. – J. Comp. Physiol. B 158: 175-183.
  • Kukal, O., Duman, J.G. and Serianni, A.S. 1989. Cold-induced mitochondrial degradation and cryoprotectant synthesis in freezetolerant arctic caterpillars. – J. Comp. Physiol. B 158: 661-671.
  • Lukhtanov, V. A. and Khruleva, O. A. 2015. Taxonomic position and status of Arctic Gynaephora and Dicallomera moths (Lepidoptera, Erebidae, Lymantriinae). – Folia Biol. (Praha). 63: 69–75.
  • Morewood, W. D. and Ring, R. A. 1998. Revision of the life history of the High Arctic moth Gynaephora groenlandica (Wocke) (Lepidoptera: Lymantriidae). – Can. J. Zool. 76: 1371–1381.
  • Caterpillar survives frozen death