High: 66° FThe new Farmer’s Almanac arrived this week. That’s a big deal here in Maine, where we can boast to being the home state of the almanac’s headquarters. We also tend to be pretty interested in the book itself: not only do Mainers love the folksy wisdom and no-nonsense facts listed therein, but we also tend to be really, really interested in the almanac’s predictions for winter, since we endure more than our fair share of that season every year.
Low: 47° F
Conditions: Mostly clear and calm
Here at caninaturalist headquarters, we love the fact that, more times than not, the Farmer’s Almanac is shockingly accurate in its predictions. We also love that they continue to embrace time-honored (and occasionally scientifically-suspect) means for testing seasonal conditions. One of our favorites of these yarns is that you can predict the severity of the season by looking at the local creepy crawlies.
This is a wooly bear. More precisely, it’s a caterpillar about to metamorphize into an Isabella moth.
For years, all sorts of almanac readers have been swearing that you can tell how long, cold, and generally miserable a winter will be based on the wooly bear’s coat. The caninaturalist and I were curious about this fact, so we did some investigating. According to the Almanac’s website, this tradition was first tested by Dr. C. H. Curran, curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He and his wife collected dozens of wooly bears and examined their markings in the hopes that it might tell them something about the climatological fate of the seasons. They even went so far as to consult other scientists, meteorologists, and who knows who else.
In the end, Curran's results proved mostly accurate but not overly rigorous as far as methodology is concerned. But that didn’t really matter much to anyone. Thanks to media coverage of this story, The Original Society of the Friends of the Woolly Bear was formed, mostly as an excuse for leaf peeping, cider drinking, and (every so often) caterpillar studying. Through their incorporation, the popularity of the wooly bear was assured.
The caninaturalist and I set out this morning to see if we could find a wooly bear for our own study. We knew two facts about the wooly bears' habitat: they like flower foliage and sunny places. So, for our first stop, we thought we’d examine our sunflowers. We were pretty sure we wouldn’t find anything, since these flowers are 1) cut and in a vase and 2) stationed firmly on our kitchen table. But much to our surprise and delight, we found a lively specimen:
Next, we considered the wooly bear’s diurnal behaviors. When it gets cold outside, the caterpillar tends to curl up like this:
Here’s what we found on our living room chair:
We don’t want to sound alarmed, but we’re pretty sure the house is infested with these buggers. This is what the bedroom looked like just an hour after those first two shots were taken:
At this rate of reproduction, there could be millions of these fuzzy caterpillars in our house by the end of the month. I guess that means we have one very cold winter ahead. And we probably need a box of mothballs, too.