Monday, December 9, 2013

Do Woolly Bear Caterpillars Predict Winter Weather?

Last Saturday, I was sitting around a lunch table, and suddenly the topic of winter came up.  One lady shared the story about the woolly bear caterpillar predicting the severity of winter.  Since we just had survived the first major snowstorm here in South-Western Ohio, I listened up.  I was already tired of the cold weather and being cooped up in the house.  What is this tale about the Woolly Bear caterpillar?  Can it be a clear prediction for a harsh or a mild winter?  It’s kind of like the ground hog predicting the end of winter. That gave me the idea to look up the folklore behind the woolly bear worm.
Scientific Facts about The Pyrrharctia Isabella Moth
The caterpillar is the familiar Banded Woolly Bear, and even today it seems necessary to point out that the width of the brown band has nothing to do with the severity of the forthcoming winter. The caterpillar can be seen running across roads in October. It is seen again in February and March, after having spent the winter as a full-grown caterpillar. Before winter the caterpillar feeds on various low-growing plants such as Plantago and Taraxacum, but does not feed again until spring before it pupates in a silken cocoon in which larval hairs are incorporated. The adult moth, which has distinctly reddish forelegs, has a rather unpleasant smell!

In some parts of the world, it is believed that the severity of the winter can be predicted by the intensity of the black on the Isabella tiger moth’s larvae (caterpillar). In the American Northeast, it is believed that if the woolly worm has more brown on its body than black, it will be a fair winter. If the woolly worm has more black than brown, the winter will be harsh.

In 1608 Edward Topsell, a naturalist, called them "Palmer" worms - so named after the "palmer", or wandering monk - because of their roving habits and ruggedness (they are seen so late in fall). He also mentioned they were known as "beare worms." They have further been compared to bears in that they hibernate and have a similar walking gate. They have a dark hairy appearance, and curl up into a ball when touched. Today they are commonly referred to as "woolly bears". "Woolly bears" are caterpillars of moths and there are over 2,000 species of them.

As cold weather approaches, the "woolly bears" are one of the few species of caterpillars known to hibernate. In spring they emerge very hungry! They feed for a short time and then build a cocoon made from hairs of their shed larval skins mixed with silk which they make from glands in their own bodies. After pupating they emerge from their cocoons as adult moths.

I think for the most part, people find these caterpillars cute, fuzzy and downright fun to watch as they inch their way across a sidewalk.  These harmless caterpillars have enjoyed being the center of weather folklore for a very long time!  Like the groundhog’s shadow, the woolly worm’s thirteen distinctive black and reddish-brown bands have become a rule of thumb in forecasting winter.

According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, the longer the middle brown band, the milder and shorter the coming winter; the shorter the brown band, the longer and more severe winter will be.

The woolly worm tale was popularized in the 1950s by Dr. C. H. Curran, the curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Over an eight year period, he collected woolly worms and measured the width of their colored bands, generally finding wider brown segments, which he linked with milder winters in New York during the same time period.

Festivals celebrate the Woolly Worm Caterillar

Three festivals are planned each year in honor of the clever creatures: the Woolly Bear Festival in Vermillion, Ohio; the Woolly Worm Festivals in Banner Elk, North Carolina and in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. And the myth continues on, all over the United States.

What’s the Forecast for the Winter of 2013/14?

·       Overall mild

·       Start of winter will be more harsh than the end of winter.

·       Early spring

Other Nature’s signs

Here are some other ways of looking at nature and predicting weather: Winter Outlook 2013-2014 Animal Style! You'll love the spin plants & animals can tell us all

I copied some of the information in this blog from the respective websites.  I enjoyed he legacy and the tales connected to the Farmer’s Almanacs which I hope will never be taking away completely because they make good conversation topics.

No comments: