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May 5, 2016
Trump? Clinton? Sanders? Cruz? Who’s going to win the election this November? If we knew, we’d already be on the way to Las Vegas to place our bets. Though we may be in the dark about the election outcome, ecologists from the University of California, Davis think that they’ve got the election all figured out, thanks to a little help from some insect friends.
For 30 years, the March population of wooly bear caterpillars—the immature form of the Ranchman’s Tiger Moth— in Bodega Bay, CA has correctly predicted whether the Democratic candidate or the Republican candidate will win the presidential election. When the population is up in March of an election year, a Democrat wins, and when the population is down, a Republican wins.The wooly bear caterpillar population is very erratic, so predicting their numbers is never easy. Some years there are a ton of wooly bears, and other years there are very few. Wooly bear expert and UC Davis professor, Rick Karban, along with his graduate students, studies the wooly bear caterpillars population very closely and has found that varying levels of precipitation and predators—mainly ants—can help explain the population booms and deficits.
In a year of wacky election news, it should come as no shock that the wooly bears “seem hesitant and befuddled” according to Karban and his students. Their numbers aren’t terribly high this year, which would normally suggest a Republican victory, but their population is already 36% higher than it was during the highest Republican year. However, it is only 36% of the lowest Democrat year.
The wooly bears haven’t been wrong once in the last 30 years. We’ll have to wait and see how their prediction pans out this November.Check out the graphs, and read more here.