Winter weather folklore: Woolly Bear Caterpillar


If you live in Michigan, at some point or another, you may have heard many unique and interesting methods to predict the upcoming winter.

No, we're not talking about the pages Old Farmer's Almanac. We're talking about clues given to us by Mother Nature that are all around us outdoors, and for this article in particular, we're talking about a small, fuzzy creature.

That creature is none other than the woolly bear caterpillar (also known as the woolly worm)!

Woolly Worm Indicators For Winter

According to the old folklore, the severity of the upcoming winter depends on the amount of black on the caterpillar during the fall. The longer the black segments on the caterpillar, the longer, colder, and snowier the winter will be. For a mild winter, you'd be hoping for a bigger brown band in the middle.

The positioning of the bands are also important to the folklore as they may indicate which part of the winter may be harsh. For instance, if the head of the caterpillar is dark, the start of winter will be more severe. And if the tail end is dark, the end of winter will be severe.

As with many tales that are passed on, there are plenty of different variations. Supposedly, you can also get a read on the winter by the direction which the caterpillars may be traveling. If they're traveling in a southerly direction, it is said that they're trying to escape the cold winter of the north, while a path north indicates a mild winter.

The Final Verdict: Not Really (Surprise?)

Despite the popular belief, woolly bear caterpillars are not a great indicator for the winter ahead. And if you've ever seen a caterpillar with long black segments followed by a long, harsh winter, then it was purely a coincidence.

The coloring of the woolly bear has more to do with its age, how long it has been feeding, and the specific species. A better growing season will lead to more growth, which results in red and orange bands that are more narrow. This is actually is a better signal of the current or past season.

Colors can also show the age of a woolly bear caterpillar as they shed their skin multiple times before they actually reach their full size. Each shedding the black coloring becomes less common, with more red appearing.

And lastly, there are hundreds of species of tiger moth (which the whoolly bear eventually becomes), with each species having different color patterns.

While they may not be the indicator you're hoping for, we can't blame you for holding onto any hope of avoiding a bitterly cold winter. But look at it this way, if you're dreading the upcoming winter and see a woolly bear with long black segments, you can rest easy knowing it doesn't mean much in reality.

Copyright 2017 WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


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