Woolly bear caterpillar: A predictor of the winter season ahead?

Published: Oct. 18, 2023 at 9:13 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 18, 2023 at 12:19 PM CDT
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QUAD CITIES, Iowa/Ill. (KWQC) - Folklore passed down from generation-to-generation has said that a woolly bear caterpillar, also known as a woolly worm, can predict whether or not we are going to have a harsh winter.

The folklore tells us that if there is more black than the brownish-orangish color on the woolly worm, it will be a colder, harsher winter. And if there is more orange/brown than black, you can expect a milder winter with perhaps not as much snow.

Woolly bear caterpillars have 13 segments to its body, and it is said to represent the 13 weeks of the winter season.

But is there truth to the folklore?

Not exactly. Caterpillars cannot predict weather.

All woolly worms start with a full body of black hair during the spring, but as the year progresses, the black hair begins to change to the orangish-brown shading.

The amount of the brown/orange color has more to do with what has happened in the past as opposed to what will happen in the future.

The coloring on the caterpillar is based on how long it has been feeding, and how old the caterpillar is.

If it was a good growing season, the caterpillar will be bigger, leading to less of the orange and brown coloring in the middle.

Just like Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t have a great track record in predicting an early spring, the woolly worm can’t be relied upon to predict our winter.

However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, can predict the winter ahead.

The organization is expected to release its winter outlook Thursday. TV6 will provide updates.