October E-News: Woolly Worm Weatherman


Image Source: Pixabay.com

Halloween is the time for dressing up & pretending to be something or someone else, right? In that case, we feel that October seems to be the perfect month to celebrate the incredible Woolly Worm! Each fall, this friendly caterpillar steps into the shoes of a meteorologist to provide his take on the upcoming winter forecast! Discover how this creepy, crawly critter has been predicting the weather for Western North Carolinafor generations! 

For many, many years, legend has held that woolly worms can predict whether the coming winter will be mild or harsh. This legend is especially popular across the mountains of Western North Carolina. But we wondered if there was any scientific truth behind this saying or if it was just an old wives’ tale? 

Woolly worms are actually the larval stage of the Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrharctia Isabella) They are known by various names, including “woolly bear caterpillars,” “banded woolly bears,” “fuzzy bears” and “black-ended bears.” Each autumn, woolly worms take shelter under leaves and other low-lying vegetation. In the spring, they complete their transformation into Isabella tiger moths. Woolly worms get their name from their fuzzy appearance. They have black bands at each end with a red-brown band in the middle.

If you are a Western North Carolina Native, you know that the woolly worm is a common site during the Fall. Legend has it that Native Americans taught the pioneers how to “read” a woolly worm to predict how bad the coming winter would be. After doing a little research, we found out you can read them a few different ways. First and most commonly known, you can read the patches of colored fur or hair. Woolly worms have black bands and reddish-brown bands. According to legend, the thinner the brown bands, the harsher the winter. Or basically, if there is more black, then the winter will be more rough; more brown, then winter will be more mild. People have taken this a few steps further and looked at each individual stripe on the worm-one for each week of winter. So, if the worm has 4 black stripes at the front followed by 4 brown stripes, we will have a cold, rough December, then a milder January-in theory. Some also say the thickness of the hair on the worm is a predictor. If the hair is thicker, then the winter will be worse. And finally, some check out the direction it is traveling! If the woolly worm is headed north, then the winter will be milder. If the worm is going south, then prepare for a longer, cold winter. In the past few decades, Woolly worm enthusiasts claim that the critters’ winter predictions have been on target about 85% of the time.   

You may have seen this common caterpillar lying around & not even known of its incredible weather prediction skills. The stripes of the woolly worm, read from head to rear, correspond to various weather conditions throughout the upcoming winter season. People who believe that woolly worms can predict the weather say that a narrow red-ban means a harsh winter lies in the months ahead while the wider the red-brown band is, the milder the coming winter is supposed to be. However, not all woolly worms are created equal – each woolly worm is unique & has its own differences displaying slight differences in its stripe patterns.  So how do you know which woolly worm knows his weather?

One local town in Western North Carolinasolves this problem by hosting its own Woolly Worm Festival each year. The Banner Elk Woolly Worm Festival hosts the official NC woolly worm races & predicts the forecast forNorth Carolina’s upcoming 13 week winter!  Each year, hundreds of caterpillars race by traveling up a string (something that woolly worms love to do if given the opportunity). Apparently, worms are completely right almost 3/5th of the time and half right 4/5th of the time. Who needs weather.com when you have nature’s own meteorologist weatherman woolly!

But how accurate are woolly worms at predicting the weather? As it turns out, Scientists say that the Woolly Worm forecasting method is not very accurate. Their independent tests have found no correlation between woolly worms’ bands and winter weather. Instead, they note that the color and size of a woolly worm’s bands are likely affected by several factors, including availability of food, conditions during development, age and species.

Click here to check out the site for the Banner Elk Woolly Worm Festival. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this year’s prediction to see how the forecast pans out! 

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