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Conservation-Predicting Winter Isn’t Up To The Caterpillar By: Kevin Williams, Grundy County Conservation Director

October 24, 2019
Reinbeck Courier
I suppose most people today take more stock in the meteorologist’s predictions than anything else when it comes to long-term weather. It’s still fun each year to talk about the Old Farmer’s Almanac and its prediction for winter. That publication has been around for a long time, in fact, it is the longest continually running periodical in America. But a predictor that has been around a lot longer than that is the Wooly Bear Caterpillar. The most famous of which is probably the Banded Wooly Bear. This one is distinctively marked with black bands on each end and a reddish band in the middle. I know you’ve seen them as they boldly charge across the highways in the fall. What they are doing is searching for a winter hiding place. In the spring, they will begin searching for a last good meal before spinning cocoons made of silk and their own hairs. Within the cocoon, a metamorphosis occurs and out emerges the adult form – an Isabella Tiger Moth. These medium-sized moths range in color from white to light orange with scattered black spots across the wings and abdomen. It is then that the moths focus their attention on reproducing. They lay two batches of eggs per year. You will find them in clusters on the underside of leaves. They hatch in only 4 to 5 days and begin a summer life of gluttony as they prepare for winter. Now back to the Wooly Bear Caterpillar as a winter weather predictor. Some folklore states that the wider the center band, the more severe the winter (actually I’ve also read the wider the black end bands, the more severe the winter). What size bands have you been observing this fall? Still others say the fuzzier the caterpillar, the harsher the winter will be. I enjoyed watching a Banded Wooly Bear caterpillar on Sunday with my almost three-year old Grandson. Of course, I could have given him all of this biological information that meant nothing to a youngster his age. He just enjoyed watching and touching it. But I will tell you. In reality, the varying width of bands is the result of the aging process and nothing to do with weather predicting. The caterpillar will molt 6 times in its life and with each molt, the black bands recede and the reddish middle gets larger. So, the band width is out the window but maybe you can still pin your hopes on the fuzziness factor!

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