Whitesburg KY

Wooly worms nailed the forecast perfectly

In the process of looking for something else, I just ran across a little spiral notebook containing the field notes I had accumulated in preparation for last fall’s National Association of Wooly Worm Winter Weather Watchers’ (NAWWWWW)) annual forecast.

This prompted me to find that actual column from last October and gloat a bit. NAWWWWW proclaimed that this winter would be “warmer and wetter than normal” and I doubt that anybody is going to argue that they didn’t nail it. On the other hand, as my friend and mentor the late Wayne Stewart in Mount Vernon used to say, “Even a blind hog can find an acorn every once in awhile.”

But what my notes say that I did not include in the column forecast is that we’d get a big snow sometime between the middle of March and the middle of April. I have no idea why I left that out other than the fact that I had been so long winded on other irrelevant matter in the column that I was running out of the amount of space your newspaper allows for Points East.

In any event, in the spirit of full disclosure, I feel obligated to mention the likelihood of a big snow sometime in the next six weeks even though I am hoping that it doesn’t happen.

In the meantime, during that spate of several consecutive 70-degree days we experienced in February, I saw at least three tiger moths on our front porch. I’ve never seen them “hatch” before the middle of April and I make a point of watching for them.

Points East

We don’t have room here to run the pictures, but a tiger moth is what a wooly worm turns into after it pupates at the end of extremely cold weather. In fact, from what little I’ve read on the subject, wooly worms have to go through a hard, deep freeze before their genetic disposal to form themselves into pupae will kick in.

All I can figure is that the scant few nights of single digit temperatures we had last December and January must have been enough to do the trick, and the late April weather we had in February must have lasted long enough to trick a few of them into entering the cruel world months before they would find anything green on which to feed and propagate the species.

As you may know, wooly worms run in coloration from jet black to orange brown and dozens of shades in between. Most of them will have coats that contain various shades of both primary colors. The trick to making a wooly worm weather forecast is to look a dozens, if you can’t find hundreds, make note of the most common coloration, and base your forecast on the most popular theme.

I have no real idea why the variation in color schemes occurs. It may have something to do with diet, they mostly eat violets, lamb’s quarter or grass, but obviously not enough to do any serious damage to any of them. The moths lay the eggs that become wooly worms on the undersides of weeds or wild flowers. I’ve actually seen what turned out to be wooly worms emerge from eggs on the underside of a morning glory leaf.

It may also be because they are actually different species or breeds in much the same way that chickens, for instance, come in a host of different colors. I am not an entomologist. All I can tell you for sure is that I have watched three different woolly worms — one solid black, one multi-banded and one mostly brown — go through the pupae stage and all three emerged as mostly white and black spotted moths that eventually had deep black-white spotted forewings with the rear wings vivid orange, white and black stripped.

I actually thought for many years that they were a type of butterfly until somebody who knows way more about insects explained the error of my ways. I’m also sure that I will hear from numerous bugologists after this column hits the paper.

In the meantime, if you are messing around in your garage and find, under a box or bushel basket, what may appear to be a large, brown, silky bird’s egg about the size of the last joint of your pinky finger, chances are you are looking at what will eventually be a parent of some of the members of the 2017 NAWWWWW. Let’s also hope the 2016 crew is wrong about what’s coming.

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