Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Can the wooly bear caterpillar predict the weather?

A brown and black caterpillar with long hairs.
They look like they're ready for a cold winter, with their long, lush hairs. But wooly bear caterpillars can't tell you what winter weather lies ahead.

The tiger moth caterpillar, with its black- and rust-colored bands, has long been thought to be a predictor of upcoming winter weather. More likely, the coloring on these caterpillars shows what the previous months' weather and conditions were like.

It's mostly fiction and folklore that led New England and Midwestern folks to believe a particular caterpillar could predict the coming winter weather.

Entrenched in the region since colonial times and then spurred on again by a 1950s newspaper article, the woolly bear, also called the woolly worm, has been touted as a snow-level soothsayer.

In reality, the wooly bear is just the larval stage of the Isabella tiger moth with no prediction powers, except perhaps the ability to show more about past conditions than future ones. It's coloring and size can indicate what food was available as it grew, which can reveal what weather conditions were, too.

The folklore says that the size of the middle band of rust coloring on the caterpillar's back can show if a mild or cold winter lay ahead. Some even believe if the band is oriented more towards the head, that means that the beginning of the winter is going to be mild. If it's oriented more towards the tail, that means the end of the winter is going to be mild.

In reality, the tiger moth lays its eggs in spring and the first crop of wooly bear caterpillars appears in spring and summer. Then, the next lifecycle produces a second crop of caterpillars in September and October. (Those are the ones purpoted to be furry crystal balls, with the power to predict the severity of the winter).

Q: True or false: I've always heard and read that coffee grounds were great as instant compost. - Diane, in Rutland

A: Coffee grounds are good as a compost or compost amendment, but they're not a solo rock star in the garden.

By putting them down on the soil, you're not going to get a lot of nitrogen or pH-altering by just the coffee grounds alone.

Instead, add the grounds to compost along with other kitchen waste, and then use that compost around blueberries bushes or around your roses.

Q: Pokeweed is very toxic. It is edible if it's cooked properly, and it is a traditional food for some, but anyone who eats raw pokeweed in a salad will get very sick. - Rebecca, via email

A: Raw pokeweed leaves and roots are indeed toxic to eat raw. For those who consume it, to make the greens edible, they need to be boiled three times, dumping out the boiled water and then re-boiling in new water to get the toxins out.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, our audience! Send us your toughest conundrums and join the fun. Submit your written question via email, or better yet, leave a voicemail with your gardening question so we can use your voice on the air! Call Vermont Public at 1-800-639-2192.

Listen to All Things Gardening Sunday mornings at 9:35 a.m., and subscribe to the podcast to listen any time."

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.