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Nature's weather forecaster

Have you seen a Woolly Bear lately?
Have you seen a Woolly Bear lately?

Jill Colton, staff writer

October 17, 2010 — The all-time winter weather predictor is the one and only Woolly Bear caterpillar.

The longer the middle brown band, the milder the winter.
The longer the middle brown band, the milder the winter.

It's fall and that means the changing of the leaves, drinking apple cider, looking for the perfect pumpkin and the appearance of one of the world's most recognizable caterpillars, the Woolly Bear.

The Woolly Bear is no ordinary insect. This cute and fuzzy caterpillar is at the center of weather folklore. Much like the groundhog's shadow, the 13 distinctive black and reddish-brown bands that make up the colouring on the Woolly Bear are famous for helping to forecast winter.

According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, the longer the middle brown band, the milder and shorter the coming winter. In contrast, the shorter the brown band, the longer and more severe winter will be. Folklorists believe that each segment corresponds to one of the 13 weeks of winter. Additional folklore facts pretaining to the Woolly Bear include, the thicker the coat, the colder the winter and if they're travelling south, this means they're trying to escape the cold winter temperatures.

However, the myth really is just that. According to Ohio State University Extension entomologist Barbara Bloetscher, the folklore holds little, if any, scientific weight.

Isabella Tiger Moth
Isabella Tiger Moth

But that hasn't stop the fable from growing. The Woolly Bear folklore has been around for decades, and has even spawned various festivals around the United States, celebrating the furry caterpillar's genetics.

Also known as the Woolly Worm, Fuzzy Bear or Hedgehog Caterpillar, these slow-moving creatures are usually spotted during the fall as they search for a perfect place to hibernate during the winter months. Their long coats produce natural organic anti-freeze which keeps them warm in bitter cold temperatures. In the spring, the Woolly Bears warm back up, form cocoons and emerge as Isabella Tiger Moths.

With files from the Sault Ste. Marie Horticultural Society

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