Woolly Worms, Winter & Climate Change

Published on: Nov. 4, 2008

Woolly WormsAbout this time each year I see woolly worms wherever I go. They’re on the sidewalk near my front door, they’re on the highway, they’re on my mind. So yesterday as we met to develop a presentation on climate change and our role in adapting to it, I naturally thought of them again. You know, predicting tough winters by reading woolly worm color? Being in a room with scientifically-minded people with a special interest in all things wild, I figured they might be able to answer the seasonal question: “What does the color pattern of woolly worms say about the coming winter?”

I must first make clear that I do understand that this is just an old tale (the scientist wanted to be sure I wasn’t spreading ignorance). However, I was impressed when he actually could describe what that old tale supposedly was. “The wider the middle rust-colored band, the milder the winter will be. The more that black on either ends dominates, the harsher the winter.” I asked if he knew of any studies done just to disprove this and he knew of none.

Fortunately, I later found useful website info on this subject: http://www.extension.org/pages/Wooly_Worms_and_the_Weather. One of these explained the basis of woolly worm color variation and why it wouldn’t be predictive of winter weather. While I appreciate knowing more about these interesting creatures, part of me would rather maintain some happy ignorance. I never believed they’d help predict winter weather, but keeping the option alive in the back of mind just makes makes it more fun to pay attention to them. I usually don’t go along with the idea ignorance is bliss, but in this case maybe it is….

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