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Amateur's Guide: Woolly bears: Do they predict the winter's harshness?

The fuzzy woolly bear caterpillar. It has bristle-like "fuzzies" on it. They like warm pavement in the fall and early winter. (Submitted photo)

Stan from Becida photographed this caterpillar last month and since then, many have been spotted.

"I have always heard that woolly worms predict the severity of the winter," he wrote.

That may be an urban myth, theorizing that the wider the middle band is on the woolly bears, as they are called, the milder the winter. They're also referred to as "black-ended bears."

According to scientists, mature woolly bears search for over-wintering sites under foliage, bark or inside cavities of rocks or logs. That's why, like Stan, who found his crossing CSAH 9 in northern Hubbard County, they're often spotted crossing roads and sidewalks in the fall.

But his was crossing on Jan. 10 on a spring-like day.

Like every caterpillar, woolly bears spin fuzzy cocoons. Inside is a bright gold Isabella Tiger Moth waiting to emerge.

Scientists say the rust-colored stripe in the middle of the caterpillar is more indicative of the food it ate the previous season and the way the caterpillar grows.

Like most of us who overeat, our waistbands expand. So, too with the woolly bears.

A long skinny caterpillar's middle stripe appears elongated, like an anorexic model wearing vertical stripes.

But folk tales aside, it appears from scientific literature that fuzzy caterpillars can't predict the cold. Sorry, Stan.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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