Did you know the woolly bear's coat, the direction he's traveling, and segments of color are all clues to the type of winter weather we'll have?

This time of year the woolly bears are actively searching for a dark, sheltered spot to hibernate as larvae for the winter. The caterpillar is also known as the woolly bear caterpillar, the banded woolly bear even a hedgehog caterpillar because it curls into a tight bristly ball and “plays dead” when picked up or disturbed. According to folklore, this fuzzy fellow can predict the weather.

The caterpillar has segments of rusty brown and black. Usually, they're black on both ends with a rust-colored section in the middle. The Farmers Almanac says you might see them almost all black or all rust. A myth says that if the broader the rusty brown band, the milder the winter. The larger the black band, the longer, colder, snowier, and more severe more severe winter will be.

Cindy McMullen/TSM
Cindy McMullen/TSM

If the head end (which I think is on the left in the picture above) of the caterpillar is dark, the beginning of winter will be severe. If the tail end is dark, the end of winter will be cold. Also, Weather.gov says the woolly bear caterpillar has 13 segments to its body, which correspond to the 13 weeks of winter.

It's also said that the woolly bear caterpillar's coat will show the upcoming winter's severity. The fuller the coat, the colder the winter. And last but not least, take note of the direction he's traveling. If the woolly bear's crawling in a southerly course, it's trying to escape the cold winter of the north and if the woolly bear's crawling on a northward path would mean a mild winter.

This tale has been around since colonial times. However, Weather.gov says it grew in popularity after Dr. Howard Curran (curator of entomology from the American Museum of Natural History) did a small study in 1948. He went out to Bear Mountain, New York and counted the brown bands on 15 different specimens. He then made his prediction for the winter. It was published in the New York Herald Tribune also picked up by the national press, and the rest is history.

In the photo above I count five segments of black, six segments of brown and three segments of black again. It looks to me like it's going to be a severe winter. What do you see?

[Information from The Old Farmer's Almanac and Weather.gov]

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