Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Woolly Bear Caterpillars; Predictors of Weather?

By: Gardennia nutti

I was on a wonderful fall hike with friends last week and came across a fuzzy friend: a wooly bear caterpillar - the larval stage of the Isabella tiger moth. I don't know about you, but I've always loved these insects. Who can resist small, wooly, striped creatures? One friend looked at the caterpillar and quickly pronounced that we were heading into a mild winter.

At first I just thought she was carrying something stronger than water in her container, but after seeing the look of confusion on our faces she quickly told us all that it was "widely known" that if the brown stripe between the two black stripes is thick we could expect a mild winter. She then pointed to the caterpillar as proof of this "widely known" concept.

Not willing to give up hope on a mild winter I did a little digging on this theory and discovered that this is indeed a "widely known" myth. It's so widely known that the American Museum of Natural History conducted a study to see if there was any correlation between wooly bear markings and the severity of the upcoming winter. As you might imagine, there is no correlation. So the next time you see these wonderful creatures, think of them as extremely good predictors of Isabella tiger moths, but not of our winter weather.

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