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Caterpillars forecasting harsh start to winter in southeast Idaho

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

MORELAND – One of the highlights of the year for Moreland Elementary School students is the annual visit by the local “Caterpillar Lady.”

Natalie Bergevin uses woolly bear caterpillars and their alleged ability to forecast the upcoming winter to get the students excited about nature.

Bergevin is famous around the Moreland area for bringing the caterpillars into the school each fall and teaching students about their legend of forecasting the coming winter.

The annual visits by Bergevin, with woolly bears in tow, are one of the most anticipated events of the students’ year, said Becky Remsburg, who teaches kindergarten at Moreland Elementary School.

“It’s so fascinating and the kids are just absolutely enthralled to see them and listen to her talk about them,” she said. “I think it’s a great way to get our kids excited about nature….”

Kindergarten teacher Lisa Warren said the school never knows for sure when Bergevin will visit. That depends on when the woolly bears are ready with their forecast.

“She just comes to our door and we stop whatever we’re doing and we gather around her and she talks about them,” she said. “The kids are just so excited and they’re all focused and listening. They just love it.”

People in southeast Idaho could be in for a harsh, snowy start to winter if this year’s “forecast” by woolly bear caterpillars is correct.

The caterpillars are predicting a very cold start to winter with plenty of snow, according to Bergevin, who collects them each year in Moreland, which is in Bingham County.

The caterpillars, which are a mix of black and rusty brown, have a reputation for being able to predict the severity of the upcoming winter.

The caterpillars are black on both ends and a rusty brown in the middle.

The caterpillars, which are the larva of the Isabella tiger moth, have distinct segments of either black or rusty brown.

The more black they have, the harsher the winter snowfall will be, according to legend. The wider the brown sections, the more moderate the winter will be.

Bergevin, who has been collecting the caterpillars for 15 years, says this year they have more black near the head and less near their end. According to their reputation, this means the winter will begin harsh, with lots of snow, then become milder before finishing up harsh.

“This year there’s a lot of black in the front; every one of them show the most black on the front end this year,” she told Idaho Farm Bureau Federation Nov. 1.

Bergevin says the caterpillars will have spines that stick up above them if the winter is going to be really cold but she did not see that this fall.

This year’s colors mean the insects are forecasting more snowfall at the beginning and end of this winter, with normal temperatures, Bergevin says.

The caterpillars last fall were almost completely black and snowpack in southeast Idaho reached record levels in some areas.

According to several internet sites dealing with the woolly bear caterpillar legend, there is no scientific proof supporting the claim the caterpillars can predict the upcoming winter. But there is also no scientific evidence disproving the legend.

“I think they’re pretty accurate, actually,” Bergevin said. “People all over watch them.”

She said she enjoys using the caterpillars to teach kids a little about nature and get them excited about it. She goes back in the spring to talk to the students about how the caterpillar’s fall forecast worked out.

“It’s a fun way to make children think about nature,” she said. “The woolly bears have turned into a really fun way to make the kids look at things and see stuff.”

Brenda Patten, who teaches kindergarten at Moreland Elementary, said a student who missed Bergevin’s visit one year was left in tears.

“She knew the caterpillars were here but she missed it and she just started bawling,” Patten said. “She wanted to see it so bad.”

Bergevin heard about the incident and made a follow-up visit to the school so the student could be included in that year’s woolly bear lesson.