Woolly Bear

Woolly Bear by pixygiggles
Woolly Bear, a photo by pixygiggles on Flickr.

Another photo from earlier last month, a Woolly Bear Caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella) on a Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum). Hopefully my ID’s on these are correct. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) So often I’ve heard the old folktale that Woolly Bear Caterpillars can predict the weather.

“According to legend, the wider that middle brown section is (i.e., the more brown segments there are), the milder the coming winter will be. Conversely, a narrow brown band is said to predict a harsh winter.” [Source: Predicting Winter Weather: Woolly Bear Caterpillars]

However, according to that source article I found on the Old Farmer’s Almanac website, Predicting Winter Weather: Woolly Bear Caterpillars, it’s more likely that the brown band represents the previous winter rather than predicting the future winter. Again, from that same article:

Most scientists discount the folklore of woolly bear predictions as just that, folklore. Says Ferguson from his office in Washington, “I’ve never taken the notion very seriously. You’d have to look at an awful lot of caterpillars in one place over a great many years in order to say there’s something to it.”

Mike Peters, an entomologist at the University of Massachusetts, doesn’t disagree, but he says there could, in fact, be a link between winter severity and the brown band of a woolly bear caterpillar. “There’s evidence,” he says, “that the number of brown hairs has to do with the age of the caterpillar—in other words, how late it got going in the spring. The [band] does say something about a heavy winter or an early spring. The only thing is . . . it’s telling you about the previous year.”

It’s still a fun story, and I can see why it became folklore. 😉


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