By Harley Nefe
With the 44th annual Woolly Worm Festival taking place this upcoming weekend on Oct. 16-17 in Banner Elk, it means the search is on for locating woolly worms.
The Avery County Chamber of Commerce, which co-sponsors the event along with the Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk, is currently collecting as many woolly worms as possible in preparation for the event, and they are paying $1 per critter.
“As long as they are alive and wiggly, we’ll take them,” said Anne Winkelman, Executive Director of the Avery County Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve already been seeing a few.”
Woolly worms emerge in the early fall, and moths can lay up to 400 eggs, so there should be plenty of the critters crawling about. Typically, more than 1,000 woolly worms are sought out each year for the event.
To collect the bounty, worms can be brought to the Avery County Chamber of Commerce office located at 4501 Tynecastle Highway Unit 2 in Banner Elk.
For folks who are interested in finding woolly worms, they can be easily identified by their fuzzy bodies with black and brown bands. They are typically found on the ground under logs, rocks, boards and other dark places.
Woolly worms have 13 brown and black segments, which is believed to correspond to the 13 weeks of winter and the severity of the upcoming weather. The lighter brown a segment is, the milder that week of winter will be. The darker black a segment is, the colder and snowier the corresponding week will be.
To determine which woolly worm will have the honor of predicting the winter forecast, attendees bring worms to the Woolly Worm Festival to race up a three-foot long string.
After the festival, people are encouraged to donate their woolly worms back to the Avery County Chamber of Commerce.
“We are asking people to take the little worms and drop them off in the specified box before leaving if they would like, so we can work with the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at Lees-McRae and put them back out into the wild,” Winkelman said.
For more information about the upcoming Woolly Worm Festival, visit http://www.woollyworm.com/ or call the Avery County Chamber of Commerce at 828-898-5605.