Wooly Bear Or Forecaster?

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

This is the wooly worm my husband dropped into my hand.

This is the wooly worm my husband dropped into my hand.

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.

This wooly worm is the color combination we were hoping to find.

This wooly worm is the color combination we were hoping to find.

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!

13 thoughts on “Wooly Bear Or Forecaster?

  1. Lets give him a chance and see what happens. He can’t possible do any worse than the weathermen. They seem to be wrong more times than right. Weather forecasting is important to us sailors…so we notice the errors.

    Like

    • Hi Connie: So you think our wooly bear caterpillar should be given a chance to prove himself right? I agree that our professional forecasters are often wrong and since you and your husband are sailors you have watched them closely. I’m with you, give wooly bear a chance! In the meantime, head for Florida. 🙂 Happy sailing to you.

      Like

  2. Makes me wonder how these things start! Right now I have a window open because it is so warm down here. It’s hard to believe that it will be a cold, harsh winter. I’m glad you documented this so we can look back and see if it was right this time. I wonder if they have these down in Florida?! lol

    Like

    • I think the Florida wooly bear is completely florescent orange and I hope that means a warm, beautiful winter.This bit of warm weather is taking a chunk out of winter in Northeastern PA. I’ll take every chunk. Thanks for writing Janine.

      Like

  3. Hi Shirley, I found a caterpillar here about a week ago and it was all black. I didn’t even realize that it was a wooly bear. I thought that it must be the caterpillar of a different type of butterfly or moth. So now you have solved a mystery for me!! I didn’t realize about the stripe in the wooly bear’s middle, and how some folks use that to predict whether or not a winter is going to be mild or severe….very interesting!! I’m hoping for a mild winter, so I hope that “wooly bear” predictions are wrong. LOL

    Like

    • Hi Colleen: If the last few days’ temperatures are any indication of the winter ahead, you are getting your wish. Thanks for writing and from now on you’ll recognize our weather indicator when you see one. Write again.

      Like

  4. You keep your “black wooly bears” down there in Sweet Valley. Ours up here in Hallstead have more brown in the middle than black on the ends. You got me to thinking about what my Grandpa Brandon used to say about the colors. He claimed that if there was more black on the front of the wooly bear, we would have more cold and snow the beginning of winter. It would get milder in the middle and then some more cold and possible snow toward spring. How about this, when does the wooly bear start forecasting . . . Dec. 21. Oops, must be your wooly bear is right, there’s a fine snow just started up here.

    Like

    • What fun, Brandon. I like your Grandpa’s theory on the wooly bear caterpillar. Wish ours were like the ones he found. You didn’t say what Grandpa Brandon said about the all black ones. Everyone’s thinking old wooly is wrong but you’re right, winter doesn’t start until the 21st. Thanks for writing, Brandon. Blessings.

      Like

      • I don’t remember that Grandpa ever said anything about black ones. You have to remember that was many years ago. LOL I just remember his putting one in my hand and telling me it was a wooly worm and what it represented. I didn’t even know what the right name was for it at that time.

        Like

    • Hang in there, Chuck. We’ve already passed 8 days of December and its been warmer than usual. Hope your experiences have been the same way up there in Maine. Each warm day means less cold ones. If it keeps this up, we may have to fire wooly bear. Thanks for writing, Chuck. As usual, you made me laugh!

      Like

Please leave a comment. I love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s