Woolly Worm Festival Scheduled for October 21-23rd, 2016
Article by Bob Smith:
Winter, of course was the most dangerous time of all for early man. Bone crushing temperatures, deep snow and ice and food shortages could prove disastrous for Early Man and his family. His livelihood consisted primarily of hunting and gathering, so it benefitted primitive man to know when the fruits and nuts ripened and which ones could be kept throughout the winter. Man soon learned to watch the wild geese and other waterfowl migration habits. It was important to know when the elk would come down from the ridges, when the bear hibernated and when the migrating herds of grass eaters such as the bison and the mammoth would likely be passing through.
When the leaves began changing colors, the coming of winter took on greater urgency. If the Ancients didn’t already have a cave or rockshelter to call “home,” it was time to find one. A good supply of readily available firewood was a necessity. Shorter days and cooling winds said it was time for the hunters to get serious about bringing in the meat for drying and making jerky. Fresh game could get scarce when the ice and snow came.
By then the Ancients would be looking around for natural signs that might give him a clue what the approaching winter might be. The thickness of the hides of the game he took might tip him off to the severity of the weather. The timing of the migrations, the thickness of the walnut hulls and the height of the hornet and yellowjacket’s nests were believed to be winter weather signs. One of the earliest winter weather prognosticators was the lowly woolly worm. The fuzzy brown and black caterpillar stage of the Isabella moth begins appearing in late September and early October, crawling briskly for some unknown destination. In reality it was looking for a hollow log or some other cozy, dry place to hole up for the winter. It would spin a cocoon from its own fur where it would remain until spring to emerge as a moth. Mountain folk from Appalachia noticed long ago that the Woolly Bear caterpillar had 13 body segments and official winter has 13 weeks. Folklore grew around the woolly worm. Mountain men equated the caterpillar’s brown body segments with mild weather and the black rings with severe weather. For instance, a woolly worm with three black rings, starting with the head and followed by five brown rings, and another five black rings mean the Woolly Bear is predicting three bad weeks to start the winter, followed by five mild weeks and another five severe weeks.
To learn more about these fascinating caterpillars and other winter weather signs come to Beattyville, KY on October 21, 22, and 23rd for the 2016 Lee County Woolly Worm Festival, one of the state’s top tourism events and three fulfilled days of woolly worm races, great food and crafts, flea market items and almost non stop music. Don’t miss the grand parade Saturday at 1 p.m. and the last big car show of the season on Sunday.