December 26, 2009

How Smart Are the Woolly Bears?

(photo by Jon Yuschock,
The fuzzy "Woolly Bear" caterpillar is often seen crossing roads and sidewalks any time from Spring to Fall, but more often in the late Fall.  According to weather folklore, the longer the middle brown band, the milder and shorter the approaching winter will be.  The shorter the brown band, the longer and harsher the winter will be.

This seems to have started in the late 1600s when farmers wanted something from nature to help them predict the weather. 

So just how savvy are these woolly bears when it comes to predicting the winter?  That depends on what you want to believe!

The Old Farmer's Almanac mentions the relationship between stripes and weather. And there are some people who may buy a new, warmer winter parka based on the woolly bear's stripes. After all, the woolly bears seem to be correct 80-85% of the time.  And you have to admit that it is fun seeing these little guys in the fall and then speculating about the winter that may be coming.  Why, you can even use it as a conversation starter during your coffee break!

However, scientists insist that even though wide brown bands often do fit in with the mild winter at the time, sometimes woolly bears have been found living near each other but their brown bands have shown different predictions for the same winter!  Scientists speculate that the length of the colors may show the age of the caterpillar. As the woolly bear molts and gets closer to being an adult, it becomes less black and more brown. 
By the way, did you know the woolly bear is the caterpillar or the larvae of the Isabella Tiger Moth 

And did you know there are festivals honoring this cute little caterpillar?  There is the Woolly Bear Festival in Vermilion, Ohio, and the Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, N.C. 

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