Animals have evolved to cope with changing weather conditions and in some cases, have learned to sense when these changes are imminent. These 7 amazing weather-predicting animals offer us more insight into weather’s whimsy than Phil Connors on a good day. Now for today’s fur-cast…
“Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today.” How do we know? Because every February 2nd, Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog weatherman, crawls out into the chill Pennsylvania air. If it’s sunny out and Phil sees his shadow, we’re in for 6 more weeks of winter.
(image via: Vondrook!)
Some people have a problem with this, most notably the character played by Bill Murray in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day. Says Phil (the weatherman, not the groundhog): “There is no way that this winter is *ever* going to end as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. I don’t see any other way out. He’s got to be stopped. And I have to stop him.”
“Winter, slumbering in the open air, wears on its smiling face a dream of spring.” Indeed, spring always follows winter regardless of the prognostications of any number of representative rodents, but the tradition has ancient origins in European (especially Germanic) folklore. It should be noted that the National Climatic Data Center has measured the overall prediction accuracy rate of the featured groundhogs to be only 39%. Don’t blame the groundhogs, though, we just might be reading their predictions backwards.
Ladybugs (or Ladybird beetles) are commonly found throughout out Eurasia and North America where they are susceptible to seasonal weather. Being cold-blooded creatures, ladybugs tend to swarm when temperatures reach approximately 12-13°C (55°F). A number of old proverbs concern the ladybug’s usefulness as a weather forecaster, one being “When ladybugs swarm, expect a day that’s warm.”
(image via: Sabrina School)
The advent of heated housing has allowed ladybugs to show another side of their weather forecasting ability. As autumn edges towards winter, ladybugs search for a warm and sheltered place to hibernate – such as your home. As the days lengthen and warm spring weather arrives, the ladybugs become active and begin to fly about, looking for an exit to the outdoors.
Farmers are extremely cognizant about the need to be weather-wise – in the old days, the weather was literally a matter of life and death. Combine this need with close observation of domestic animals over thousands of years and you end up with the unlikely premise of weather-forecasting cows.
Cattle in pasture or on the range are social creatures but the extant of their gregariousness seems to be related to atmospheric conditions. Most obviously, a herd of cows sensing an oncoming storm tend to cluster together for warmth and security.
(image via: WN.com)
Cows exhibit other weather-related habits such as restlessness; a state of anxiety perhaps brought on by sudden changes in air pressure and/or a buildup of static electricity in the air. Cows have also been known to lie on the grass when rain is imminent: possibly they’re shading a dry spot that would be more comfortable during a rainy spell. Then again, these things may just reflect the prevailing bovine moood.
Years ago in Germany, kids would catch a certain type of temperate zone tree frog called a Laubfrosch which had a habit of climbing up branches when the weather became warmer. Placing the frog in a glass jar with a tiny wooden ladder inside, the children would watch the frog climb or descend in conjunction with the changing weather. A ribbeting barometer, to be sure!
(image via: Mach Publishing)
Old & busted: Punxsutawney Phil. New hotness: Snohomish Slew! Yes indeed, Snohomish, WA’s resident “GroundFrog” has got the jump on the meteorological marmot in more ways than one, making his annual animal weather prediction every year for the past 6 years on the last Friday of January.
Anyone who’s seen the 1998 movie A Bug’s Life knows that what for us is a gentle rain shower is, for ants, a catastrophe of biblical proportions. The fact that ants construct their nests underground with the entrance/exit opening at ground level would seem to be a recipe for disaster, yet ants are among the most abundant creatures on the planet.
(image via: Telegraph UK)
Ants have worked out a number of defenses against rainwater ingress but they all depend on one thing: foreknowledge of when rain is going to fall. Y’see, it takes time to build the anthill extra high and, in some cases, put a trapdoor or blocking pebble in place. Sort of like walking down the street when the sky opens up: by the time you buy yourself an umbrella, you’re soaked to the skin.
Sheep are one of the earliest domesticated animals and shepherding one of the world’s oldest professions – and a family-friendly one at that. Over thousands of years of watching over their sheep, shepherds have noticed a thing or two about how the woolly wonders react to environmental stimuli like oncoming storms. This was (and is) important – one never wants to be accused of crying wolf, especially one wearing cheap clothing.
(image via: Corbis)
Like cows, sheep can sense minute differences in their environment and sudden changes in temperature, humidity and air pressure seem to invoke anxiety. Clustering together before a storm strikes helps keep sheep warm and prevents stragglers from drifting away. Hey, they don’t call it the Herd Instinct for nothing!
Woolly Bear Caterpillars
Woolly Bear caterpillars are the larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth, found in the northeastern United States and parts of eastern Canada. These shaggy caterpillars are black on either end with a reddish-brown band in the middle. According to folklore, a wider brown band indicates a warm winter is on the way, while Woolly Bears that are predominantly black are harbingers of a colder, harsher winter.
Not to be outdone by groundhogs and green frogs, the annual Woollybear Festival in downtown Vermilion, Ohio, has been held every autumn since 1973. By all accounts, the Woollybear Festival is a huge success and has grown is size and scope since local TV personality and WJW-TV weatherman Dick Goddard first floated the concept. Over 20 marching bands, 2,000 marchers, hundreds of animals and over 100,000 spectators participated in the 2006 parade, which has outgrown its original location in Birmingham and is now the largest one-day festival in the state.
(image via: A Simple Life)
Are much-maligned TV weathermen about to be replaced by, say, weather-sheep or weather-frogs? Not likely, though groundhogs would probably work for peanuts. That doesn’t mean we should shrug off behavioral manifestations that creatures have evolved over thousands, even millions of years. Besides, if you want a prediction about the weather on any day BUT February 2nd, you’re asking the wrong Phil. Now it’s time to go, gotta beat the weather. Chance of departure today: 100 percent!