Breakdown: Weather folklore and why you shouldn’t trust a caterpillar to predict winter

Why you shouldn’t trust a caterpillar to predict the winter outlook

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Let’s face it, there is a lot of folklore in the world of weather that says you can predict how the seasons will turn out. In this episode of the Breakdown, we will dive into the Woolly Worm folklore and explain why you really shouldn’t trust it to help predict how the winter season will play out in the Mid-South.

According to folklore, the amount of black on a woolly worm in autumn varies proportionately with the severity of the coming winter in the locality where the caterpillar is found.

The longer the woolly worms’ black bands, the longer, colder, snowier and more severe the winter will be. Similarly, the wider the middle brown band is, the milder the winter will be. Seems simple right?

Well moreover, the position of the longest darkest bands, supposedly indicated which part of winter will be coldest or hardest. If the head of the caterpillar is dark, the beginning of winter will be severe. If the tail is dark, the end of winter will be cold.

It has also been told that if there are 13 segments of this caterpillar, then we could expect, you guessed it, 13 weeks of winter.

This folklore gained popularity across the country after Dr. Howard Curran did a study in 1948, which his prediction was published and thus picked up by the national press and still talked about to this day.

Unfortunately, studies have found that this folklore is not true. According to the National Weather Service, the coloring of the woolly worm is based on how long the caterpillar has been feeding, its age and species.

Better growing season, the more the insect will grow, resulting in the narrower red-orange bands in the middle. Which means the width of the banding is based on the current or past growing seasons.

Coloring also indicates the age of the bug, as the caterpillar sheds its skin six times before becoming an adult, which causes the changes in colors.

There are also 260 species of tiger months, the adult version of a woolly worm, which all have various color patterns for when they reach adult hood.

In conclusion, while it might be fun to look at a woolly worm and see its coloring, don’t count on it to help you predict the winter outlook. Lleave that to the WMC Action News 5 First Alert Weather Team.

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