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Wooly Bear Caterpillar Predicts Winter (?)

Glenn MacGrady

Staff member
Oct 24, 2012
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Maggie says the wooly bear caterpillar was a good predictor of winter when she was growing up. The type of winter predicted varies by the amount of brown in the center of the caterpillar, as per this chart:

Wooly bear chart.jpg

Here is a picture of a wooly bear Maggie took on our driveway recently:

Wooly bear caterpillar 2023.jpg

I think the head is on the left (antennae?). Overall, it looks like a mild winter in southern New England that ends somewhat harshly.

What do your caterpillars look like? If you don't have any, how the heck do you predict the winter where you are and what will it be?
Yesterday I found one in my garage that was totally black fron to back with no brown band whatsoever. What does that mean? Here off the east end of Lake Ontario, I am confident tha we will receive our normal allotment of many feet of lake effect snow accumulation.
Yesterday I found one in my garage that was totally black fron to back with no brown band whatsoever. What does that mean?

The more black, the harsher the winter. Totally black? Get out your warm parkas, skis, snow shoes, shovels . . . and bulldozer.
We are no stranger to heavy snow. I remember growing up with scenes on my road simillar to these from a few years before my time:

He is tightly curled up, must be cold, or knows something the rest of us don't.


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scientific literature

National Weather Service

Can modern mumbo jumbo and government bureaucracies be more reliable than centuries of empirical human experience, such as wooly bear caterpillars, groundhogs and: "Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky in morning, sailor's warning."

Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis: “Like a red morn that ever yet betokened, Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field, Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds, Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.”

Matthew 16:2-3: “When in evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: For the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering.”
There is an entire festival built around this in NC. It was last weekend.

From their facebook page: There are 13 body segments in a Woolly Worm and 13 weeks in the winter season. Each body segment of the winning Woolly Worm corresponds to that week’s weather.

Weeks 1-4 - Below Average and Snow
Week 5 - Below Average and Light Snow/Frost
Weeks 6-7 - Average Temperatures
Weeks 8-10 - Above Average
Weeks 11-12 - Below Average and Light Snow/Frost
Week 13 - Below Average and Snow

Always enjoy finding wooly bear caterpillars outside around the house. While I don't tend to trust their prediction abilities, I do watch the mast crop and have found that when it's very heavy (like it is this year), we tend to have a long, hard winter. That's fine with me. I'd rather deal with snow than ice or freezing rain any day of the week.

That's all for now. Take care and until next time...be well.

Winter cold must be coming soon. I have seen an uptick in the number of wooly bear caterpillars seeking refuge in my barn this week. I even found one curled up in my Old Town Guide safely tucked away for the winter in the barn. It is interesting how they will just curl up in seemingly unprotected spots. They all have a similar banding pattern. I have always had what seems to be a reasonably healthy population on my property. This likely is due to the abundant larval and adult moth food sources in our small fruit orchard, pollinator garden, and nearby meadow managed to promote milkweed for Monarch butterflies.

Winter cold must be coming soon.

Sim, as our resident entomology household, it would be more informative if we knew where you were. If you put your location in your Account Details page, it will show up under your message avatar as a clickable geographic link. You open your Account by clicking on your screen name/avatar in the upper right corner of any page.