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Just Outside My Door 09/20/12

September 26, 2012
By ELAINE G. COLE - COLUMNIST ( , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

One of the loveliest times of the year in my estimation arrives Saturday. It matters not whether it's sunny, cold or rainy, for the fragrance of autumn is in the air. Although few trees and shrubs have are donned their fall attire yet, I know soon they will be transformed into magnificent colors. We haven't had a frost yet, so many flowerbeds are still blooming and the insect voices are still calling nightly. Meadows, roadside asters and golden rods continue to bloom, though their color is not as bright as it was.

The bees continue buzzing around flowers trying to harvest more nectar before winter arrives. Some animals also begin to grow more hair on their bodies for warmth in the cold weather that will surely come. I remember when we had a Shetland pony how it looked much larger as it got its winter coat.

Recently my daughter asked me about the old saying that the woolly bear caterpillar predicted the severity of the coming winter. She had seen one that had no dark color on it. Some years ago I had looked up information about that tale and included it in one of my columns. Since it was long ago, I thought some of you younger folk might enjoy knowing how that prediction worked.

Wooly bear caterpillars have 13 distinct segments of reddish-brown and black on their back. Dr Curran proposed a scientific study on them by collecting as many caterpillars as he could in a day. He continued the experience for eight years, trying to prove scientifically a weather rule of thumb was as old as the hills around Bear Mountain. The publicity made that caterpillar the most famous and recognizable in North America.

The woolly bears really don't feel much like wool. Their bristles of hair are short and stiff.

Doug Ferguson, an entomologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., says people often call different caterpillars woolly bears. Some say those that are all black, all brown, yellow or gray, are actual woolly bears.

Typically, wooly bear has black bands at its ends, with the middle band colored brown or orange, making it look striped. According to legend, the wider the middle brown section, the milder the coming winter will be. A narrow brown band section is said to predict a harsh winter.

Other men have checked wooly bears since that first experiment by Ferguson. Mike Peters, an entomologist at the University of Massachusetts, doesn't disagree with him, but he said there could be a link between winter severity and the brown band of the wooly bear. The number of brown hairs has to do with the caterpillar's age, how late it got going in the spring. Though the band says something about a heavy winter or early spring, it tells you about the previous year. Thus you'll have to wait until it is over to predict its severity. By then one will know what kind of winter they had.

Nevertheless, it might be fun to check that folklore out, but you'd have to do it for a number of years and even then it probably wouldn't be scientific proof.



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