WESTFIELD, Mass. (WWLP/WOOD) — One of the most widespread superstitious tales concerns the big furry coat of the woolly bear caterpillar.
The tall tale goes say that the thickness of the brown stripe on the caterpillar will tell you how harsh the upcoming winter will be, like an autumn groundhog. If there is a lot of brown, the winter will be mild; if there is only a narrow strip of brown on their backs, expect a harsh winter.
There has actually been some research into this old wives’ tale. Dr. C.H. Curran, former curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, surveyed the bugs in the 1950s. His studies showed that the woolly bear caterpillars had an 80% accuracy rate. However, today’s entomologists say no one has been able to replicate the study.
Today’s insect experts agree that woolly bear caterpillars are not accurate predictors of winter weather. Many variables contribute to changes in the caterpillar’s coloration, including larval stage, food availability, temperature or moisture during development, age, and even species.
Don’t be fooled: All-black fuzzy caterpillars aren’t woolly bear caterpillars at all. They are a slightly different species that transforms into the giant leopard moth.
Jean in Westfield sent photos of her local woolly worms to NEWS10 sister station, 22News in Springfield.