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Extension > Youth Development > Minnesota 4-H > Projects > Environmental & Earth Science > Entomology > Bug Camp > Folktales

Yellow Medicine County Bug Camp Folktales

It is an age old folktale in the USA that local winter weather may be predicted by observing the width of the color band on some caterpillars. These caterpillars are black at both ends, with a reddish-brown band in the middle. In 1608 Edward Topsell, a naturalist, called them "Palmer" worms - so named after the "palmer", or wandering monk - because of their roving habits and ruggedness (they are seen so late in fall). He also mentioned, they were known as "bear worms." They have further been compared to bears in that they hibernate and have a similar walking gate. They have a dark hairy appearance, and curl up into a ball when touched. Today they are commonly referred to as "woolly bears" are caterpillars of moths and there are over 2,000 species of them.

As cold weather approaches the "woolly bears" hibernate, they are one of the few species of caterpillars known to do this. In spring they emerge very hungry! They feed for a short time and then build a cocoon made from hairs of their shed larval skins mixed with silk which they make from glands in their own bodies. After pupating they emerge from their cocoons as adult moths.

The common species picked for "weather forecasting" is the tiger moth, Isia isabella. The theory is that the narrower the reddish-brown band, the colder and longer will be the winter; the wider the band the milder the winter. The width of the band supposedly forecasts the "average" temperature for the entire winter, and has nothing to do with a cold spell or with an occasional storm such as the blizzard of 1888, which happened during a year the wooly bear predicted a mild winter. However, in spite of the occurrence of the greatest blizzard on record, for that century, the "average" temperature for that winter was indeed mild.

Although, the "woolly bears" are the most frequently recognized meteorologist in the insect kingdom there are many other folklore about Minibeasts and weather. Take a look at the following sayings and see how many of these predictions you have hears. Maybe you even know of more.

In Kentucky, USA, it's said that: "When the gnats swarm, rain and warmer weather are believed to be coming".

Zuni Indian Sayings:

"When the white butterfly comes, comes also the summer."
"When the white butterfly flies from the southwest, expect rain."

In western Pennsylvania, when the chrysalides are found suspended from the underside of rails and heavy branches, as if to seek a covering from rain, then extremely wet weather is predicted; if they are found on slender branches, then a spell of fair weather is predicted.

Any butterfly flying in one's face is a sign of immediate cold weather to some; others specify that a yellow butterfly flying in one's face indicates sufficient frost within ten days to turn the leaves the color of the butterfly.

"Seeing caterpillars late in the fall predicts a mild winter."

"When bees to distance wing their flight,
Days are warm and skies are bright.
But when the flight ends near their home,
Stormy weather is sure to come."

"Wasps building nest in exposed places indicate a dry season." American saying: "When hornets build nests near the ground a harsh winter is expected."

"Stepping on an ant brings rain."

"When spider web in air do fly, the spell will soon be very dry." "When tarantulas crawl by day, rain will surly come."


Young Entomologist's Society, Inc., Minibeast Folktales by Dianna K. Dunn, Executive Director

The Honey Hunt...

A story from Kenya long ago

"Crrah!" "Crrah!" A shrill cry chattered through the forest. Njeru held Grandfather's hand tightly.

Grandfather smiled. "It's only a monkey, Njeru," he said.

Njeru stared up at the leafy roof overhead. He caught sight of a sleek, black Colobus money, long white plumes of hair fluffing out behind him, as he skimmed gracefully through the tree tops. Njeru was proud that Grandfather had brought him to the forest. He did not cry when a briar scratched his bare feet. He did not say that he was very hungry.

Grandfather knew. "You shall have your first taste of travelers' food," he said. He took some dried goat meat from a pouch. He gave Njeru some millet1 paste to drink from a gourd2 slung around his waist. "After the tradition of our ancestors," he said. Njeru gulped them down. They tasted strange, but he felt better after he had eaten and rested.

"Now we will gather honey," said Grandfather, Njeru followed him until they came to a huge tree. "Bzzzzz! He heard. Grandfather pointed to a hole in the tree trunk. Njeru could see bees busily going in and out. "Here, fan this flame with leaves," said Grandfather. All the way, Grandfather had been carrying a few live coals in a clay pot. Now they would use them to smoke out the bees.

Soon a long dry stick was smoking thickly. Carefully, the old man began climbing the tree, stick in one hand, a leather bag and knife in the other. He thrust the burning stick into the hole, then pulled it out quickly. Out rushed the bees. Njeru jumped behind a bush. But still he saw Grandfather knock the honeycomb into his bag with a twist of his knife.

"Let's go," said Grandfather, scrambling down the tree. "The bees will be back" Njeru hurried after him, gasping with excitement. The smell of honey filled his nose and he thought happily, "And I never even got stung!"

1 Millet: a grass-like grain grown for food
2 Gourd: a hard-rinded fruit which, when dried out, makes a good container, especially for liquids.


Hunger Curriculum for Children - Heifer Project International.

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