Thursday, September 22, 2016

Wooly bear says: #phenology

In anticipation of the first day of Autumn (both kinds: meteorological and astronomical), I've been on the watch for wooly bear caterpillars. So far this month, only one has presented itself. That one appeared on the porch screens a couple of days ago.

first wooly bear, Autumn 2016
first wooly bear, Autumn 2016
Photo by J. Harrington

One of the tales about wooly bears relates to their direction of travel. Headed North means tough Winter down South, and vice versa. This particular one was headed up the screen when observed, so we'll have to continue to look for more indicators to get a handle on the North/South, East/West breakout.

The most wide-spread tale about wooly bears has to do with the width of the red bands in the middle. There are a total of thirteen bands. In the picture I count four red, five black bands on the head and four on the tail, or reverse the head and tail count. Or, maybe five red bands and four black on both the head and tail. All in all, this specimen looks to me like it has pretty even distribution (YMMV). So, that makes it perfectly clear to me that this Winter will be absolutely average for Minnesota. The problem is that Minnesota's averages are almost always comprised of widely spread  extremes, and that was before global warming came to call. (How many record rainfalls did we get last night? At least it wasn't snow yet.) That may or may not mean the the long range weather forecast from NOAA/NWS, which claims Minnesota has an equal chance of above, average or below normal temperatures and precipitation, is or is not good news. As our friends the economists tell us "it all depends," which is the executive summary for "on the one hand..., on the other hand..."

Finally, in case you're wondering, yes, a wooly bear is the same as what Southerners call a wooly worm and similar to, but not quite the same as, what fly fishers call a wooly bugger. Unless we discern a notable difference in the bands of any future wolly bears sighted this year, we don't plan on returning to this topic until same time next year.

Lightness in Autumn


By Robert Fitzgerald


The rake is like a wand or fan,   
With bamboo springing in a span   
To catch the leaves that I amass   
In bushels on the evening grass.

I reckon how the wind behaves   
And rake them lightly into waves   
And rake the waves upon a pile,   
Then stop my raking for a while.

The sun is down, the air is blue,   
And soon the fingers will be, too,   
But there are children to appease   
With ducking in those leafy seas.

So loudly rummaging their bed
On the dry billows of the dead,
They are not warned at four and three   
Of natural mortality.

Before their supper they require   
A dragon field of yellow fire
To light and toast them in the gloom.   
So much for old earth’s ashen doom.


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