HOPKINSVILLE — They're fuzzy.
And they may hold the secret to how harsh this winter will be. For years, local residents have trusted the colors of wooly worms to predict the severity of the winter season ahead, and this year, the crawlers are giving mixed signals. Two local worms, known as Scratchy and Spike, have relatively similar markings, but the accuracy of their predictions is unknown.
Wooly worms have 13 bands, and each could have a different color. According to legend, the darker the band, the more severe the weather will be, and the lighter the band the more mild the forecast.
Spike, who was found creeping across the highway in Crofton, has a pattern of red, black, red black, which could mean a mix of different winter weather. Scratchy, who was discovered right here in Hopkinsville, has a dark spot, a long red spot and then another dark spot, which could mean the winter will start and end harshly, but have a long, mild midsection.
Blake Newton, extension specialist for the University of Kentucky's Department of Entomology, said he's heard about the legend of the fuzzy forecasters, but said there hasn't been much scientific research to back up the theories.
"I know there are a lot of people who do their own tests with the worms, but there has been no formal scientific research to back them up," he said. "You would have to have thousands of worms and do the same tests for years in a row."
Newton said the difference in colors doesn't indicate how cold winter will be, but rather how warm summer was.
"Their color really has to do with how warm or cold it is when they're growing, which is during the summer," he said. "The warmer the weather, the lighter the bands."
Newton said wooly worms will be out and about for only the next two weeks. They're on a mission to find a nice, comfortable place to spin their cocoons and transform into Isabella Moths during spring.
When asked recently in downtown Hopkinsville which worm she believes is the most accurate forecaster, Christine White, 33, said she's pulling for Spike.
"Well he's got less black on him, so that would be my vote," she said. "Go Spike!"
Twelve-year-old Mike Boroughs chose his worm in a different way.
"I'm rooting for Scratchy because I like his name, but also because I have a 50 percent chance of being right," he said jokingly.
Christine Tognetti can be reached by telephone at 887-3239, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.