Friday, November 19, 2010

From our Wildlife Specialist, Joe Lehman

Can some animals predict our future weather patterns?
For centuries people have looked at animal behavior to forecast the weather. Sailors watched the movements of dolphins and sea birds, if they were heading toward a bay then a storm was approaching. Native Americans would check spider webs for spiders, if no spiders were found this would tell them ran was coming. Then again, it may be that animals do this all the time and people only took note or remembered this when bad weather came. But even today I hear of local residents who are convinced that many animals can forecast the weather. Some animals in southeastern Ohio come to mind.
One popularly believed predictor of the winter has turned out to be fiction rather than fact. Until recently, it was thought that the caterpillar known as the woolybear would be different colors in reaction to the coming winter; being darker in color the colder the winter would be. This has proven false. Instead, the different color bands are due to the developmental stage the caterpillar is in, and the black woolybears are actually a different species of caterpillar.
Squirrels are one. Squirrels spend a period of time from August to December hunting and hiding nuts for the coming winter. The level of activity is said to predict its severity. If they are always busy gather and storing then it is said we will have a harsh winter. Squirrels are also said to build their nests higher in the treetops if they expect a lot of snow.
Another animal is the Asian beetle, which is a recent immigrant to this country. This beetle is sometimes confused with our native “Lady Bug”, but is orange rather than red, and has fewer spots. Over summer the Asian beetle spends its time foraging, but in October and November, it begins looking for a place to hibernate for the winter. In mild winters, a crevice in tree bark or crack in an outbuilding will suffice. But for extremely cold winters the beetles need a warmer place to call home. The beetle seems to know if needs to find a hiding spot in homes and other heated buildings.
Hornets also come to mind. They seem to be able to predict severe weather patterns up to 6 months in advance. With that knowledge, they build their nests at different heights. If they sense a mild winter, the nest will be closer to the ground, but in cold, snowy winters, the nest will be built higher up in the trees.
Although not yet common in Ohio, the bear can also be observed to predict the coming winter. It is said that in milder winters they will sleep closer to the entrance of their den and their fur is not as thick, as apposed to a in severe winter they hibernate deep in their den and wear a thick coat.
Keep your eye on the activities of different species this fall and winter. They may be able to give us a “heads up” on the coming winter weather. And even if not, you’ll learn some interesting things about these animals and learn to enjoy and appreciate them more.

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