Which way winter? Watch woolly worms!

Posted by | October 16, 2009

You could check to see if the bees are flying low, observe the size of the acorns on the trees, or pay close attention to how foggy recent mornings have been in order to gauge what kind of a winter it’ll be.

Easiest of all, you could get yourself over to Banner Elk, NC this weekend to the 32th Woolly Worm Festival, where more than 1,000 of the little critters will compete for the honor of proclaiming the official winter weather forecast. Beattysville, KY also hosts a Woolly Worm Festival; this year is their 20th one. At either festival, the worm that most quickly reaches the top of a three-foot piece of string gains fame and glory, makes his mark in local weather history, and wins prize money.

Woolly WormMountain folk use the brown and black stripes on the woolly worm to predict winter’s path. Tradition says that the black stripes predict cold and snowy weather, while brown stripes point toward milder conditions. Furthermore, the narrower the band, the harsher the winter. Woolly worms have 13 different bands of color, each representing the 13 weeks of winter from December through March.

The woolly worm is known in the scientific world as Isia Isabella. Other common names for this caterpillar are woolly bears, black-ended bears and banded woolly bears (the name approved by the Entomological Society of America). After hunkering down in a tight ball for the winter, the Isia Isabella will emerge next year as a tiger moth.

The woolly worm’s genus—Pyrrhactia—includes many different species. Some are solid black without any bands, and others have bands of varying sizes. Woolly worms go through six larval stages before entering their pupal or winter cocoon stage. In other words, the caterpillar molts six times and the color and size of its bands may change from molt to molt. Scientists say variations in their bands are linked to differences in species and larval stage, not the weather. But you can still root for your favorites at your favorite Woolly Worm Festival every fall, regardless!

Sources: www.woollyworm.com/node/7

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