Woolly Bear Caterpillar Predicts End of the World

The end of days, Ragnarök, Armageddon, the apocalypse… we’ve all heard the predictions of a catastrophic end-of-the-world scenario, or at least the end of the world as we know it. The biblical Book of Revelation predicted it. The Mayan Calendar predicted it. And last weekend, the woolly bear caterpillar predicted it.

Norse mythology gives us a look at the end of our world in an event called Ragnarök, which begins with a giant named Eggther who wakes up the gods of the Nine Worlds to prepare for a final battle to end all battles. Earth is one of the Nine Worlds, which suggests interplanetary or galactic warfare.

As with the biblical apocalypse, things get really ugly before the forces of good and evil start duking it out, with humans caught in the middle as pawns. Earth is plunged into three years of winter where it snows and snows with no sign of summer, and this is where the woolly bear prediction comes in.

Woolly bear caterpillars, scientifically named Pyrrharctia isabella for the Isabella tiger moth, have been predicting the harshness of the upcoming winter as far back as the Colonial days. Their spiny black bodies have a band of orange or reddish-brown in the middle, and it is this band of orange that determines what kind of winter it will be.

The old wives’ tale alleges that the smaller the orange band is, the harsher the winter. By this indicator, the winter of 2015 into 2016 is going to be a doozy, because the woolly bear that I found last weekend was solid black. There wasn’t a spot of orange on him — not a single spike.

Woolly bears hibernate as caterpillars all winter long, freezing solid if temperatures warrant, and then they thaw out in the spring to continue their life’s journey. In the arctic, a single caterpillar can live up to 14 years, freezing solid every winter and thawing out again to resume eating, until it has finally eaten enough to pupate. A single food season just isn’t long enough for him to fill his belly with enough energy to spin himself into a moth.

In 1914, entomologist Frank Lutz experimented with woolly bears at the Carnegie Station for Experimental Evolution, and determined that as the caterpillars were growing, the level of humidity did indeed influence their color bands. The amount of rainfall influences the color bands as well, so there is a correlation between the orange band and weather patterns.

This year, the meteorologists must have been watching for woolly bears, too, because they are predicting a “colder than average winter” for the Southern U.S. stretching from the East Coast halfway through Arizona. Of course the weather men cannot credit the woolly bear so instead they pin it on El Niño, and like any good politician, they’ve included an out, just in case El Niño swings the other way. If we do get blasted, however, it won’t be until later in the winter.

But the woolly bear, called a woolly worm by some, has no such qualms. He cares nothing for politics or protecting his reputation. When his band of orange says that we’re going to get blasted with a wicked, frigid winter, you’d better be stocking up on firewood and ear muffs.

Nobody tells us what a solid black woolly bear represents, but a never-ending winter such as the Ragnarök end-of-days where it snows and snows for three straight years might qualify.

The Norse Armageddon continues after the three-year winter with ominous portents in the cosmos. The sun turns black, and the moon and stars seemingly disappear, which suggests that something will darken the sky such as volcanic ash. Earth shakes so violently that the very mountains topple over. Oceans rise up and become disastrous floods. Everywhere you look, flames and steam shoot right up into the heavens until Earth become toxic.

Puny humans will run for their lives, but there’s no place safe to go. People will turn against one another other, and no man will have mercy for his neighbor.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, the sky splits in two and out come the Fire Giants with their shiny battle troops, here to wage war on everyone and everything in sight. Other extraterrestrials join in the battle, such as the Aesir gods whom we know by their all-father god Odin and his son Thor, fighting on our behalf. That’s the Norse version of doomsday.

The Mayan calendar ended in 2012 and because the world did not fold in on itself all at once, the prophecy was discarded. But think about it… scientists are weighing in with ominous predictions about everything from a mass extinction event to a global food and water crisis.

We’re running out of fresh water. Bees (that pollinate all of our food) are dying off at an alarming rate, and so are butterflies. Earth has lost half its wildlife in the past 40 years. The big cats such as lions and tigers are facing extinction, and so are many other big game animals. Glaciers are melting. We’re finding masses of dead animals such as 134,000 antelope who mysteriously died all of a sudden, and dead whales washing up on shore at alarming rates. The population in Africa will double in the next 35 years, triggering a massive food and water shortage and the demise of the big game animals. These don’t even begin to cover what scientists and think tanks are warning us of.

Doomsday doesn’t happen all at once in a big bang, not according to the various Armageddon scenarios. First it tortures us for a good long while, creeping up from every direction to take potshots at the puny humans.

Native American tradition such as the Navajo and Aztecs believe that Earth has already been through several cycles of destruction and rebirth. We were destroyed by a rain of fire during the Rain Sun, and by hurricanes during the Wind Sun, and by a worldwide flood during the Water Sun, and the next ending will come by earthquakes, because we are living in the Earthquake Sun.

According to my woolly bear caterpillar, all of the doom and gloom starts this winter, so mark your calendar because the all-black woolly bear made an appearance on December 6, 2015, in the state of Georgia, USA.

The Ragnarök doomsday prophecy signals the end of Earth as we know it, after which there will be a new Heaven, a new Earth, and humans get divided up between several after-worlds. If there is a “new Earth” and we get divided up to live on “after-worlds,” does that mean we are physically relocated to other planets? Or is this purely spiritual? We will not know the answer until that day arrives.

Of course all of this hinges on whether you believe in the woolly bear predictions. Entomologists have pretty much pooh-poohed all possibility of accurate weather predictions. The reasoning is as follows: There are nearly 260 species of tiger moth and each caterpillar has a different color variation. Woolly bears literally shed their skins like a snake six times before reaching adulthood, and each time their color pattern changes, with the older caterpillars having more black and less orange.

From 1947-1956, entomologist Charles Howard Curran of the American Museum of Natural History followed the legend of the woolly bear predictions and concluded that they were accurate about 50% of the time. His experiments took him to Bear Mountain State Park in New York, where he and his friends launched The Original Society of the Friends of the Woolly Bear.

The November 6, 1950 edition of Life Magazine reported on the study in an article entitled, “Woolly Prophet.” In Curran’s first year at Bear Mountain in 1947, only four of the caterpillar’s eleven bands were brown, meaning that it was a very narrow band. That winter, New York state had its worst recorded snow storm in 76 years. Curious to see if there really might be truth to the legend, Curran went back to Bear Mountain the following year. The woolly bears had bigger bands and sure enough, it was a milder winter. The subsequent study made news all across the New York state newspapers.

The February 3, 1949 issue of The Long-Islander newspaper called it “caterpillar meteorology” when a group of entomologists surveyed the woolly bears of Bear Mountain to test the superstition that the caterpillars could forecast the weather.

The April 5, 1951 issue of The North Countryman quoted Dr. Curran as saying, “After all, the fact that the woolly bears have been right three times in a row does not constitute scientific proof.” The following year however, the woolly bear was wrong, and the March 31, 1955 issue of The Long-Islander gave the poor caterpillar a break. They noted that after all, the accuracy of the woolly bear had a “far better average than the Weather Man.”

The October 14, 1954 issue of The Long-Islander accused the caterpillar of failure to report. The newspaper staff couldn’t find a single woolly bear caterpillar, and they’d searched high and low, checking out all of the usual places where he’d been found in years gone by. They promised publicly, in the hopes that the missing weather forecaster might hear it through the grapevine, that “a royal welcome is being prepared for him in the Editor’s office.”

One day later, on October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel slammed into a cold front in New York, which transformed the hurricane into a ferocious and deadly storm — the perfect storm. The weather office in Raleigh, North Carolina stated that “all traces of civilization on the immediate waterfront between the state line and Cape Fear were practically annihilated.” Canada called it the “storm of the century.”

Official weather predictions expected the hurricane to stay offshore, but it took an unexpected turn and blasted the East Coast. Weather men predicted that it would dissipate in the Allegheny Mountains, but it didn’t, it continued on up into Canada and stalled out over Toronto. Perhaps old woolly was smarter than the average bear, choosing to hide out during this momentous week.

The October 20, 1956 issue of Ogdensburg Journal accused the caterpillars of “pulling the woolly” over everyone’s eyes, after which Dr. Curran announced that this would be the last year of the woolly bear study. Nine years’ worth of statistics proved that the woolly bear couldn’t be trusted to forecast the weather. Curran had been collecting data on Bear Mountain since his first trek in 1947, with the last hike being on October 19, 1956 according to the article. They didn’t count 1947 as a study year.

While Curran did not prove the ability of the woolly bear to predict the weather, he ensured that the woolly bear legacy would live on in popularity. From Kentucky to Ohio, and Illinois to Pennsylvania, you can find fall woolly bear festivals. North Carolina even hosts an annual woolly bear race where the winner predicts the winter weather to come. This year Twinkle Toes won, and his prediction was the exact opposite of my woolly bear — an early blast of snow followed by a mild winter.

So what do you think? Do you trust the woolly bear? Is it going to be another Blizzard of Oz or Snowpocalypse like we experienced in 2011, when 13,000 flights were canceled across 30 states in the USA? Or perhaps we’ll revisit the Blizzard of 1966 where the snow was literally over my head. Is it the three-year winter of Ragnarök? Or are all these predictions just blowing in the wind? And if it turns out that we’re the End Times Generation, will there be an extraterrestrial evacuation of humans?

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