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Woolly Bears Seen Crawling in Old Zionsville

What’s their prediction for the upcoming winter?

Have you seen them yet? 

Those fuzzy, reddish-brown and black caterpillars that crawl around on the ground in the fall. Sometimes their colors blend in with the falling leaves and they are hard to spot.

People in Old Zionsville have found some woolly bears crawling along walkways and driveways. They have been spotted crawling across the roads and some alleys since September.

The woolly bear caterpillar—with its 13 distinct segments of black and reddish-brown—has the reputation of being able to forecast the coming winter weather.  

It is the larval form of the Isabella tiger moth. According to almanac.com, the medium-size moth, with yellowish-orange and cream-colored wings spotted with black, is commonly found in northern Mexico, throughout the United States and across the southern third of Canada.

Known since colonial times as the “woolly bear,” the caterpillars do not actually feel much like wool—they are covered with short, stiff bristles of hair. They hatch during the warm weather from eggs laid by the female moth and search for overwintering sites under bark, inside rock cavities or under logs. Come spring, woolly bears spin fuzzy cocoons and transform into full-grown moths.

But do the woolly bear caterpillars really forecast winter weather?

According to legend, the wider the middle brown section is, or the more brown segments there are, the milder the coming winter will be. A narrow brown band is said to predict a harsh winter.

Superstition says the black band at the head predicts when winter arrives, and the black band at the end of the caterpillar predicts how long it will last, while the middle brownish band predicts winter itself. 

For example, a long black front band means winter will come early; if it is long in back, winter will last late. The more segments in the middle that are reddish-brown, the milder the winter.

But is it true?

No scientific studies have ever been done on the subject. A lot of woolly bears would have to be studied in one place over a number of years in order to prove or disprove the folklore.

But a number of people believe in the old wives’ tale—especially those who live, or have lived, in rural areas.

So, what is the prediction for this coming winter? 

The woolly bears that have been seen in September and October had a long, black band in the front—about a quarter inch in length, and a short, black end section—about an eighth inch in length. The middle brown section was about a half inch in length. Old Zionsville natives read this as an early winter, but mild, with an early spring.

We’ll see if the woolly bear predicts correctly. So far, it appears to be correct, especially with the 15-16 inches of

Susan Koomar November 13, 2011 at 04:12 PM
Better woolly bears than stink bugs, Peggy. Thanks for another charming column!

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