Follow the Trail of the Woolly Bear Tale

Sena and I went for a walk on the Clear Creek Trail today. It’s been about a year and a half since we last saw the place. A few things have changed, but one thing has not. You can nearly always find a woolly bear caterpillar somewhere along the trail, especially in the fall. I know I mentioned the insect not that long ago in a post after we thought we might have seen one on the Terry Trueblood Trail.

But we’re talking banded woolly bear, the genuine article. They have a brown band in the middle bounded by black bands at the head and tail ends. They’re fat and always busy looking for cover. There is a folk tale about it foretelling how hard the winter is going to get. The longer the black bands, the worse the winter will be.

However, the folk tale has long been debunked, according to my alma mater, Iowa State University (ISU). The bands are just indicators of the age of the insect, which is the larval stage of the Isabella moth.

But don’t try to tell that to the people of Vermilion, Ohio where they have the annual Woolly bear Festival. Dang, we just missed it in early October. They have a parade, woolly bear races, and an “official” examination of the woolly bears to nail down the winter forecast. I guess that’s sort of like hauling out the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania each Groundhog Day on February 2 to predict how much longer winter will last.

That reminds me (too late!) that we also missed this year’s ISU Department of Entomology Insect Zoo Film Festival, in Ames, Iowa, which was in late October. It’s an outreach program which travels all over Iowa to educate the public about insects.

I gather this evolved from another annual ISU Department of Entomology project called the Insect Horror Film Festival. It began in the early 1990s and gradually settled down into the Insect Zoo Film Festival in the mid-2000s.

That reminds me of one of my favorite movies, the 1997 film Men in Black, in which a bad-tempered giant cockroach alien crash lands its space ship on earth, eats a guy to use his skin as a disguise, tries to steal the Arquillian (tiny alien) galaxy, the best source of sub-atomic energy in the universe, and gets enraged every time it sees humans so much as swat a fly.

The other movie this makes me think of is the 1988 film Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice was sort of the star of the show, played by Michael Keaton. Beetlejuice was a dead guy who ate bugs and hired himself out to the newly dead, claiming to help ghosts get rid of a different species of pest—the living.

Finally, that makes me think of how long it’s going to take to get our Zombie Cribbage game delivered, given the recent slowdown of the Post Office. The snow may fly before it arrives.

But if the woolly bear analysis is right, at least there won’t be a lot of snow to slow down the mail truck.

Author: James Amos

I'm a retired consult-liaison psychiatrist. I navigated the path in a phased retirement program through the hospital where I was employed. I was fully retired as of June 30, 2020. This blog chronicles my journey.

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