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Weather may bring a deluge of woolly bears

October 01, 2000

Weather may bring a deluge of woolly bears



By JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer


Instead of it raining cats and dogs Frank Leiter would love to have a downpour of woolly bears.

Ever since the bumper crop of more than 1,000 woolly bears was submitted in 1996 for the Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack's annual woolly bear contest, there has been a scarcity of the brown and black striped caterpillars.

Leiter, the contest's judge since its inception 18 years ago, believes the lack of lovable larvae during the last three years was attributable to the warm, dry weather.

With all the rain the area has gotten recently Leiter is optimistic about this year's contest to find the biggest and woolliest woolly bear and the cutest and cuddliest woolly bear.

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The contest, which is open to people of all ages, runs through Oct. 31.

The two winners will each get $100 and the two runners-up will each receive six copies of the 2001 Almanack.

Participants can drop their woolly bears off at Woolly Bear Headquarters at 1120 Professional Court on the second floor between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

"I'm certainly hoping for more than we had last year," said Leiter, 80, of Oak Ridge.

Approximately 150 woolly bears were submitted last year, even though the deadline was extended to Nov. 15.

Three hundred woolly bears were entered into the contest in 1998 and only 120 in 1997, when the deadline was pushed back to Nov. 18.

It's hard to predict what this year's woolly bear population will be, but the weather may help, said Sandy Scott, horticulture consultant for the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.

The wet weather means more foliage, providing a greater food supply for the caterpillars, Scott said.

Still, Scott said, the woolly bear population, like most insects, goes in cycles. Years can pass with low populations and then suddenly there is a boom.

As a group, the woolly bears will be observed for their winter weather predictions. The width of the caterpillar's stripes is analyzed to determine how severe winter will be.

The brown and black striped caterpillars are the ones used to predict the weather.

Often children bring in all black caterpillars for the biggest and woolliest contest. Although those are not actually woolly bears, the Almanack has come to accept them, Leiter said.

The all-black caterpillars are great leopards, which are in the same moth family as the woolly bear, Scott said.

Woolly bears are Isia Isabella caterpillars, Leiter said.

Woolly bears generally aren't found in open spaces, but under leaves or congregating around woodpiles and trees, Leiter said.

The caterpillars are well cared for when dropped off at Woolly Bear Headquarters. Leiter picks them up every two days and gives them fresh grass and sticks. He judges them every few days, releasing the ones that aren't in the running into the woods.

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