Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Woolly Bear Predicts

At the turn of every season, an Environment Canada spokesperson offers up a long-range forecast. Winter this year, for the most part, warmer than normal and dry. Cynics suggest, and sometimes I am one, that the pronouncement signifies its opposite, so expect a long, cold, wet winter. Fortunately there are other ways to find out what's coming.

The caterpillar of the Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella) steps up. The proportion of orange to black predicts the coming winter, it's said. Is it reliable? Well, sure. At least as reliable as the human professionals. There are a number of other indicators in the natural world to consult. High cones on the evergreens, lots of snow, for example. The spruces around here have produced substantial cone crops, all very high. So, spruce trees say the weather professionals have the precipitation wrong (oh, I hope the trees are right--last winter was much too dry), while the caterpillars are saying they have the temperature right. White cedar cones, also plentiful, are right to the bottom of the trees, as are the juniper berries. Insignificant? Or disputing the spruce trees' prediction?

woolly bear caterpillar
Warm day yesterday--I found this caterpillar trucking along through the field.

Lots of orange, hardly any black: a mild winter, could Environment Canada be right?!? On reflection, lots of orange, and hardly any black at the back end, normal amount of black at the front. Perhaps a more nuanced prediction than I can read.

woolly bear caterpillar
When you pick one of these up it curls into a tight ball.

2 comments:

Lynne said...

We were just talking about woolly bears today- we haven't seen any yet. As kids, we would pluck handsful of them off of the road and then hold them waiting for them to uncurl and crawl up our arms. Tickly!

Kati said...

very interesting post. It often seems to me that we have become so distanced from the events in the natural world that we really have lost our ability to read what is going on right in front of us. I've seen a few woolly bears but didn't stop to play with them as I did as a child. Maybe it's time to go play!