The Suitcase Lady

Woolly

November 15, 2016, 8:33 pm

Last month my husband and I missed a wonderful event. We missed it because we didn’t  know the event existed until a big woolly bear ambled up our driveway.

Woolly bears are the caterpillar of the Isabella Tiger Moth. The moths are seldom seen as they only live about two weeks and come out at night. The charismatic woolly bear caterpillar, on the other hand, is a common sight in fall and is said to be a predictor of the severity of the winter ahead. After spotting this large, fluffy larva, I was motivated to find out what its stripe indicated and how this folklore started.

Woolly bear myths have been around since Colonial times, but went viral in 1948 when  Dr. Howard Curran, the curator of entomology at New York’s Museum of Natural History, did a study in Bear Mountain, New York. He took along a reporter from the New York Herald Times. Dr. Curran found and measured the bands on about fifteen woolly bear specimens. He subsequently validated the myth that a wide rust-colored band in the middle of the larva’s body meant a severe winter ahead. News services around America picked up the resulting newspaper article that the caterpillar was a seer.

Scientists today debunk his findings. Current and more controlled studies indicate that the bands actually indicate what happened the PREVIOUS spring. The better the growing season, the shorter the rust-colored band will be and the longer the black ones.

In the midst of my woolly bear research, I discovered that four woolly bear festivals are held in America each October. The longest running one is in Vermilion, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie. Highlights include a two hour parade, woolly bear races and a costume contest.

Who could imagine that a lowly worm could be the inspiration for the largest one day festival in the state of Ohio?

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1 Comment for this entry

  • John

    Hooray for inspiration from the small things that weave the canvas threads of the big picture… Hope is sewn into us all.