11 Animals That Can Purportedly Predict the Weather
By Kerry Wolfe
Every February 2, Punxsutawney Phil appears at Gobbler's Knob, a tourist attraction in Pennsylvania. With the help of his “Inner Circle,” (which he speaks to in the language of Groundhogese, of course) he announces whether he has seen his shadow, thus predicting when winter will end.
It’s a bit of a silly tradition, but Punxsutawney Phil isn’t the only critter people turn to for meteorological forecasts. Here are 11 more purportedly prescient animals that, according to various folklore, can predict the weather. For the most accurate forecasts, though, we still recommend keeping tabs with your local human-run weather service.
Groundhog Day as North Americans know it originated from Candlemas, a Christian holiday that falls on February 2. (Pre-Christian pagan celebrations, such as Imbolc, also occurred around that time, as early February falls halfway between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox). Germans eventually began incorporating their own twist on the holiday, which became a day to forecast the start of spring: If a badger saw its shadow on a sunny day, that meant winter wouldn’t end just yet. When they came to America, they swapped out badgers for the more readily available groundhogs.
Badgers weren’t the only animals Europeans used to predict the coming of spring. Bears, too, were thought to emerge on February 2. If a bear saw its shadow, it would head back into its den and hibernate again, as this meant winter would last for at least another month. When Europeans settling in Canada brought the tradition of prognosticating wildlife with them, they initially opted to use bears rather than groundhogs as harbingers of the weather to come.
3. Woolly Bear Caterpillars
Next time you come across a woolly bear caterpillar (also known as a woolly worm in the Southern United States) creeping around your yard in the fall, take a good look at its colors. According to lore, if you spot an insect with long black bands, that means you’re in for a long stretch of snow and cold. A more rust-colored caterpillar, on the other hand, suggests a milder winter. In reality, the woolly bear’s markings indicate its age: Less black suggests an older insect.
Get out your measuring stick and head to the nearest mole hole. According to a legend in The Farmers’ Almanac, “If the mole digs its hole 2.5 feet deep, expect severe weather; if 2 feet deep, not so severe; if 1 foot deep, a mild winter.”
Folklore says that if squirrels are building their nests high in a tree, that means colder months will be particularly harsh. Take a good look at their tails, too: The bushier they are, the worse the winter will supposedly be.
Pay close attention to your cat. If they wash behind their ears, sneeze, sit with their tail facing the fire, or snore, expect rain—that is, according to a 19th-century book on weather proverbs. Confusingly, other folklore says a cat washing themself is a sign of fair weather.
According to this bit of lore, frogs show off their pipes to announce that rain is on the way. They'll begin croaking louder and longer as the storm gets closer. (In reality, a loud chorus of frogs is more likely a sign that mating season has arrived.)
According to one 19th-century book of weather proverbs, if a fox barks at night, that means a storm is coming. But if you do wake up to a fox’s brash scream, there’s no need to rush out of bed and batten down the hatches. They tend to bark during mating season or when they’re protecting their territory from an intruder.
If you see a bunch of cows lying down in a field, make sure you have an umbrella or raincoat handy. According to this myth, cows hunker atop an area of grass to keep it dry before it rains. However, it’s most likely the cows are simply taking it easy or chewing their cud—they do, after all, spend around 50 percent of their time resting [PDF].
A lonely crow is said to be a sign of poor conditions. “If crows fly in pairs, expect fine weather; a crow flying alone is a sign of foul weather,” claims an old legend in The Farmers’ Almanac.
Sheep are yet another creature said to predict sloppy weather. A herd of sheep huddled together spells a storm, though they’re most likely getting cozy as an instinctual way to protect themselves from predators.