The Appalachian legend of the woolly worm

The colorful rings of the iconic caterpillar may predict the severity of the upcoming winter.

A close look at the colors of a woolly worm.

Woolly worms caterpillars are the immature stage of the native Isabella moth.

Photo via @greatsmokynps

Woolly worms are out and about. These iconic caterpillars, also known as woolly bears, are a common autumnal sight and have historically been used in Appalachia to forecast winter weather before modern means. The critters are so beloved they’ve even had their own annual festival in Banner Elk (~75 miles northeast of Asheville) for the last 45 years.

It’s not just mountain folks that appreciate them. Experts from meteorologists to entomologists see some value in their prediction abilities. Each worm has 13 segments to its body, which corresponds to the 13 weeks of winter. Woolly Worm Festival organizers say the caterpillars are more right than wrong87% accurate, in fact.

Wondering how to “read” a woolly worm? Legend has it, the longer its black bands are the longer and more severe the winter will be. Additionally, the wider its middle brown band, the milder the upcoming winter. The position of the caterpillar’s longest dark bands indicates which part of winter will be coldest or hardest. If the caterpillar’s head is dark, the beginning of winter will be severe. If its tail end is dark, the end of winter will be cold.

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