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October 15, 2012

Wooly Bear Caterpillars – good winter weather predictors?

- by Debra Anchors

Wooly bear caterpillar
According to legend, the wider a wooly bear caterpillar’s middle brown section, the more mild the coming winter will be. A narrow brown band at the center of the wooly bear caterpillar is said to predict a harsh winter. But is it true? One would need to study thousands of wooly bear caterpillars over a number of years to confirm the folklore.

Isabella tiger moth
The true woolly bear caterpillar is the larval form of Pyrrharctia isabella, the Isabella tiger moth.  Frost signals the wooly bear to search for an over-wintering site. Wooly bears crawl around looking for a space to spend the winter –under bark, rocks or logs. Once secure and protected, a wooly bear caterpillar can survive temperatures as low as  -90°F!

The folklore goes like this:  

  • The more narrow the middle band (or wider the black end bands) of a wooly bear caterpillar, the more harsh the winter will be. 
  • If the black band at the head of the caterpillar is wider than the end, the beginning of winter will be harsher than the end of winter.
  • If the black tail band of the caterpillar is wider than the band at the head, then vice-versa; late winter will be harsh.

There is no hard science behind the folklore, but some of us think the wooly bear is much more accurate at predicting a harsh winter than many meteorologists.  But, what do you think? Can woolly bears predict winter weather?

You may enjoy the additional information included in this video from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

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  1. It seems to me that there must be at least some truth to this legend as it has been widely distributed througout history. Most legends have at least some basis in fact.

  2. Hi :D I believe that insect are the perfect weather forecasters :D Sincerely, Kula May


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