By Rachael Funk
In the United States, only the most responsible of groundhogs are entrusted with the honor of predicting the weather. Since the earliest mention of Groundhog Day in 1840, the observance has spread to the rest of the United States and Canada. Though Groundhog Day is specific to North America, other countries have used animals to make predictions, too. Here are some of our favorites.
Celebrated on February 2, like Groundhog Day in the United States, Sretenje tradition says a bear will awaken from its winter hibernation to announce the forecast. If the bear sees his shadow and is frightened back into hibernation, winter will be extended. Romania and Hungary also watch for bear shadows on February 2.
Back in 2009, the governor of Alaska signed legislation declaring February 2 to be Marmot Day. The tradition is essentially the same as Groundhog Day, but with a small change of cast. The decision caused some backlash as Alaska does indeed have groundhogs and the legislation was thought to spread some misinformation about the animal.
Though not a custom widely practiced anymore, a German folklore said that you could predict the weather with a frog, a climbable twig, and a jar. The idea is that you would put the frog in the jar with a sturdy twig, and the higher the frog climbed, the better the weather would be. In bad weather, people may remark that “Wetterfrosch” must be sleeping for such disagreeable conditions.
Woolly Bear Caterpillars
Colonial American folklore says you can determine the severity of an upcoming winter by looking at a Woolly Bear Caterpillar. Many believe the amount of black on the caterpillar would be the telltale sign. The larger the black bands, the harsher the winter would be. Additionally, the caterpillar has 13 segments on its body, which are believed to correspond to the 13 weeks of winter.
An old belief held in Japan was that catfish were so attuned to the movement of the earth, they were able to predict earthquakes. In 1992, a 16-year study was completed that sought to confirm or deny this belief. While the Japanese catfish did seem to perk up before earthquakes, not enough information could be gathered for a definite answer.
A German tradition known as Candlemas is an event where a hedgehog leaves its den, surveys the weather, then determines if winter will last another 6 weeks. Sound familiar? Probably because it's the reason Americans celebrate Groundhog Day today. The tradition arrived with the German communities of Pennsylvania and caught on. The only difference is that the mascot for Groundhog Day is a little easier to pet.