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Woolly or won't he?

Fact or folklore: The woolly bear caterpillar can predict winter weather. The woolly bear is black at both ends with a reddish brown or rust colored in the middle and also is called the fuzzy bear caterpillar. According to the National Weather Service, folklore says the amount of black on the woolly bear in autumn varies proportionately with the severity of the coming winter in the locality where the caterpillar is found. The longer the woolly bear's black bands, the more severe the winter will be. The width of the middle brown band is associated with a milder upcoming winter. The position of the longest dark bands supposedly indicates which part of winter will be coldest or hardest: If the head end of the caterpillar is dark, the beginning of winter will be severe. If the tail end is dark, the end of winter will be cold.

Despite the compelling folklore surrounding this insect, the truth is that this caterpillar can't predict what Old Man Winter has in store for us. This myth grew in popularity after Dr. Howard Curran, curator of entomology from the American Museum of Natural History, did a study in 1948. He went out to Bear Mountain, New York with a reporter, his colleagues and their wives, and counted the brown bands on 15 different specimens. He then made a prediction for the winter. This news story was published in the New York Herald Tribune, was picked up by the national press and the rest is history. For more on this fuzzy critter, visit


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