The woolly bear caterpillar legend is one of the most often
quoted. The banded woolly bear is black at both ends and has
orange and black stripes in the middle. The legend says the more
stripes that are black in the middle, or the longer the black
bands, the more severe the winter. Science says more stripes are
dark depending on moisture conditions in the area and the age of
the caterpillar, so it is really the growing conditions until
the time you see the caterpillar. There are also nine U.S.
species. The banded woolly bear is the larvae of the Isabella
moth. Other moth larvae in the group have different colored
Of course, the first frost can be predicted by
the singing of cicadas. "Six weeks from the first song of the
dog day cicada comes the first frost." Boy, I hope not. That
would mean the end of August is going to be quite chilly. A
yellow butterfly flying in your face also means a frost.
There are some more meaningful signs. The buckeye trees have
lost most of their leaves, corn has been dented for three weeks,
and ragweed season is here.
If you're one who usually suffers from the
fall allergy season, you know the symptoms all too well. Many
people blame goldenrod as the culprit, when it is mostly ragweed
In our area, we have two types of ragweed.
The most noticeable is giant ragweed. Giant ragweed, also called
horseweed, can grow well over 10 feet tall. It is very
noticeable as one of the few weeds that grow taller than our
Illinois corn. The other type of ragweed is common ragweed. It
is generally less than 6 feet tall and not nearly as noticeable.
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Ragweeds tend to bloom in late summer. The period can range from
mid-August to mid-September. They put out a lot of pollen when they
bloom. The amount of pollen is one problem, but the shape of the
pollen is the other. Ragweed pollen is more jagged and sharp along
the edges, making it more of an irritant than other types.
Add in the usual ragweed problems, alternating wet and dry
conditions, and early leaf drop, and we have the recipe for an
allergy sufferer's nightmare. There are also several leaf molds that
are at work, and that compounds the allergy problem.
What can you do? One, try to eliminate ragweed in your particular
area. Two, avoid the mid- to late morning period in the great
outdoors. This is when more pollen is released. Three, you can stay
indoors (or office or car) with air conditioning. And, if your
problems are particularly troublesome, talk to your doctor. There
are prescriptions and over-the-counter medications that can help
alleviate at least some of the symptoms.
This has probably been one of the worst years in history for
these problems. This is almost a month earlier than normal. So take
some comfort in the fact that next year will probably be better, and
be reminded that fall is on the way. That first frost will make many
allergy problems disappear.
University of Illinois Extension, Logan County]