It just occurred to me that folklore is often included in the subjects I write for shirlandyou. I wondered do I really believe in this stuff, if not, than why does it keep cropping up in my writings? Well, I believe I know why! I am not trying to legitimize it, it is simply an excuse for having fun. So what is next?
I blame my husband for this one because he came in the other day with one arm stretched out, fist closed, as if to give me something. That something was a wooly bear
caterpillar and perish the thought, it was all black, not a bit of tan was on his back. In the fall, we see them crossing roads and sidewalks searching for sites where they can winter over, like under bark or inside cavities of rocks or logs. The one I now held in my hand had been crossing our macadam driveway and was so close to being the same color that I’m surprised my husband saw it.
I emailed my daughter to say, “Oh no, your dad just brought in a wooly bear caterpillar and it is all black.” She knew, immediately, that this was a circumstance of concern. So it’s not just we older generation who consider the wooly bear caterpillar to be a predictor of the winter that lies ahead of us. The fact that this one was an all black one was bad news.
Typically the bands at the end of the caterpillars are black and the one in the middle is brown or orange giving the wooly bear its distinctive striped appearance. According to legend, the wider the middle brown section, the milder the coming winter will be but the narrower the band is said to predict a harsh winter. No band at all, and I wonder if its time to plead for mercy?
I know, some of you are thinking I’m putting too much trust in this whole, weird myth. If it’s just a myth, then why do some towns hold annual wooly worm festivals complete with caterpillar races and then give an official declaration of the wooly worm’s prediction for the winter? The 35th Annual Wooly Bear Festival was held recently in Banner Elk, North Carolina, and as a result a weather prediction of cooler than normal temperatures and an increase in the amount of snow was forecast. Like ours, their caterpillars must have been exempt of brown or orange.
Most scientists discount the folklore of wooly bear predictions as just that, folklore. But let me tell you about Dr. C.H. Curran. He conducted an eight year survey of these worms at Bear Mountain State Park, near New York City, returning to the park every year. By the way, he is the former curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. His surveys found an eighty percent accuracy rate for the wooly worm’s weather predictions. I also must tell you that other researchers don’t agree with his success rate.
Weather men will tell you that long range weather forecasting isn’t easy! So why do they keep trying? It’s fun! We know how often they are wrong, so why not believe the most recognizable caterpillar in North America? Before we put the wooly bear caterpillar outside where he could continue his search for a winter home, I took one more look at his all black body, then a quick look outdoors where snow covered the ground and two words came to my mind, “head South.”
So much for myths! But before I go, have you checked out what your honeybees are doing lately? If they are storing honey-in-mass, they are preparing for a severe winter. Take it for what its worth!