Fact or Fiction? The Woolybear Caterpillar and Other Weather Folklore Explored

Local News

Horses, pigs, and caterpillars: They all have something in common. They are all animals that have a place in weather forecasting folklore.

Long before satellites and computer models our ancestors used anecdotes to look ahead to what the weather would be like in the future. Many of those anecdotes are not only fun, but they are also rather catchy!

Many of those anecdotes involve creatures in the animal kingdom. One good example has to do with pigs.

“When pigs carry sticks, clouds will play tricks. When pigs lie in the mud, no fear of flood.”

Horses are another example of a frequently used member of the animal kingdom that has historically been looked to for guidance in making both short and long range weather predictions. 

“A horse with its tail to the west makes weather the best. A horse with its tail to the east makes weather the least.”

So are these animal proverbs about future weather true or are they just “tales”? 

We sought out some help from the experts. Greg Hartt raises pigs, and poultry organically at Stonecrop Farm in Rush. And his pigs are pretty friendly!

They might also know a thing or two about approaching weather. But does a pig carrying a stick mean anything at all meteorologically?

Greg Hartt explained that it’s possible. He says, “When a sow, a female pig, is about to give birth, they have a really strong nesting instinct, so they’ll carry sticks and grass.They get more anxious, and a bit more excitable and can sense a change in the air when the weather is changing and something is coming”. 

So perhaps pigs do have some meteorological sense, but really, there’s nothing to go “too hog wild about” here.

And then there are horses, whose very coat and how thick that coat is has for generations been looked to for a winter forecast. 

Sometimes, however, a horse’s coat is just that: just a coat.

Clarissa Ellsworth of Providence Farms is a horse caretaker. She says “Often times the amount of sunshine during the Summer governs how much hair will grow on a horse’s coat.”

On a short term basis, sometimes a horse’s “back-side” may actually hold more meteorological meaning.

“They will face their butt toward the wind so the wind will blow over them instead of into their face. This way they can face away from approaching weather”. 

The most talked about furry forecaster though is the wooly-bear caterpillar. The color of this caterpillar’s fur has, since the Middle Ages, long been considered a tell tale sign of what’s in store for the winter ahead.

Tim Clark, a weather folklore expert for the Old Farmer’s Almanac explains. 

“The notion is that the more black, the colder the winter. And the orange saddle indicates a warm spell in the middle of the winter”.

So is there any science behind this? Outside of a very small independent study conducted by a researcher in the late 1940’s, the answer here is no. 

This, however, doesn’t mean that this and other weather folklore like it have little value now.

“What they lack in scientific truth there is poetic truth,” he says. “And if you believe that Mother Nature is taking care of her creatures, then perhaps she is taking care of us as well”. 

I guess you could call that a little perspective mixed with a little bit of fun about the winter that’s yet to come. 

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