Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Can the Woollybear Catepillars Predict Winter Severity?

There has been talk that this winter may be harsh and many of my Facebook friends have been talking about seeing dark woollybear catepillars and afraid that this may mean there could be a nasty winter headed our way!

Rhonda Ferree, University of Illinois Extension, Horticulture Educator commented on my Facebook page and said that she had written an article about woollybear catepillars and winter prediction in the following article:  Woolly Bear Caterpillars and Weather Predictions


In this article, she says the following: 
"According to superstition, the amount of black on the woolly bear's bristle coating forecasts the severity of the coming winter. Ferree says, "It is the relative proportions of the black and reddish-brown portions of the caterpillar that are supposed to predict the winter." The longer the black segments on the ends of the caterpillar, the harsher the coming winter.

One of the problems with trying to forecast the winter using these insects is that the tiger moth has similar caterpillars as its larval stage. Unfortunately, there are about 260 species of the tiger moth and each species has a different color variation. Plus the caterpillars shed their skins or molt six times before reaching adult size, and their colors change with each molt.

According to Donald Lewis, Entomologist from Iowa State University, there is some year-to-year variation in the amount of black hair on these caterpillars, but the differences are caused by age and wetness. Older caterpillars have more black than young ones and caterpillars that fed and grew in an area where the fall weather was wetter have more black hair than caterpillars from dry areas. (IT HAS BEEN A WET FALL!) SKP

If they are going south, it is going to be a harsh winter. If they are headed north, it will be a mild winter. Rhonda was driving east and west, so she doesn't know what that means! If you don't believe woolly bears can predict the weather, you might instead want to look at pig spleens, groundhogs, hornets, persimmon seeds, or read what "The Old Farmer's Almanac" says. You can watch the weather forecasters using their high-tech equipment. Or, you can just wait and see what winter has in store for us." - Rhonda Ferree

So, I took a Facebook poll.  I asked my Facebook friends what color of woollybear catepillars that they were seeing in their "neck of the woods" and here is what they said:

Picture provided by Bridget Hill
  "He says (picture above) it's going to be mild at times and harsh at others... Lol" -Bridget Hill

Picture shared by Kaitlynn Bissonnette, University of Illinois Plant Pathology Graduate Student
"That picture (above) was from last year. But I have seen all colors in the field so far this year." -Kaitlynn Bissonnette

"You will have to cut a persimmon seed in half to get you the real scientific winter prediction." -Raymond Elder

"There are a ton of black ones at my house!" -Carrie Gordon

"I have seen dark ones crossing the country roads." -Jaynen Kates 
(Hmmmm, I should of asked her which direction they were headed!)

"85% of what I have seen so far this year have been black, a few tan, orange and two white." -Jeff Knodle

"All we have seen have been black and dark brown and maybe a couple sorrel" -April Eddington

(Sorrel? - I think she is an art teacher!)


Shannon Hadley Tester's photo.
Picture taken by Shannon Tester

"This is what I have seen (picture above)." -Shannon Tester

"I have seen black, brown, orange, and white." -Kristy DeLuka


Wendi Slightom's photo.
Picture taken by Wendi Slightom

"This is what we have (picture above) at my house. Very dark ones!" -Wendi Slightom

"Mine are very dark also." -Doris O'Malley

Picture taken by Melissa Cauble, Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District



Picture taken by Monte Epley
So, what is your winter prediction?






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