World around you: A closer look at something you might see every day
BY KELLY BOSTIAN World Outdoors Writer
Sunday, October 28, 2012
10/28/12 at 7:42 AM
More people know the woolly bear caterpillar for its folklore than its lifecycle.
The famed prognosticator's 13 black and reddish-brown bands are to winter weather as the woodchuck's shadow is to the coming of spring.
According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, this bit of lore gained popularity in the 1940s and '50s with Dr. C.H. Curran, curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Curran collected numerous worms and decided to test the old legend that said the more reddish-brown segments on the caterpillars, the milder the winter. For eight years he collected the worms and shared results through a reporter friend at the New York Herald, although the Almanac suggests it was all in fun and just gave Curran and friends an annual excuse to travel and enjoy fall colors in the country.
A form of the tradition continues today.
The ski resort community of Banner Elk, N.C., still holds a Woolly Worm Festival each October with dozens of people racing their woolly bear caterpillars up 3-foot strings over the course of two days until, in a final heat, a winner is crowned.
The owner of the winning woolly wiggler gets $1,000 and the worm is relied upon for a winter forecast with each of its 13 segments representing one of the 13 weeks of winter. The darker the stripe, the colder and snowier the forecast is for the corresponding week.
On Oct. 20 the Associated Press reported a worm named Lickety Split won the contest. Its 13 rings were interpreted to signal the first five weeks of winter would be snowy with below average temperatures, the next six would be average to below normal, the 12th would bring unusual cold, and more snow would fall in the final week.
Folklore aside, the woolly bear is just the simple larval form of the rather plain-looking Isabella tiger moth, a yellow-orange moth with small black spots on its wings.
More brown bands on a caterpillar likely indicate it is an older caterpillar, according to Iowa State University's BugGuide.net.
The worms are common across most of North America and are found in many areas with grasses, asters, birches, clover, corn, elms, maples and sunflowers among their available foods. The first of two annual broods pupates in summer and a second brood overwinters as a caterpillar.
Oklahoma State University entomologist Richard Grantham said that in this area, depending on weather and other factors, three generations may happen in one year. "Last-generation late instars overwintering in leaf litter would explain how you can see a few of these out in the spring," he said in an email.
Original Print Headline: World around you
A woolly bear caterpillar makes its way across some deadwood in south Tulsa County. KELLY BOSTIAN/Tulsa World