Not all woolly bears are created equal. There are a few fuzzy forecasters that shouldn’t be trusted when it comes to predicting the weather.

Many of us know the lore of the woolly bear caterpillar and how to read its orange and black bands, which some believe foretell the severity of the coming winter. Those that follow the superstition of its three-sectioned black/rust/black color scheme know what the color and arrangement of each portend.

A wide, rust-colored middle band signals a mild winter, while elongated black end sections suggest a severe season.

Additionally, believers look to the thickness of its coat and the direction of the caterpillar’s travel for further confirmation of the coming season. A very thick and woolly coat predicts a colder winter — even though it won’t be using this coat since these caterpillars overwinter in a protective cocoon.

Noting the direction of the caterpillars’ movements could also be prophetic. South-crawling cats are believed to be hightailing it away from the colder northern conditions, while a northward crawler means father (or mother) winter will be giving us a break.

It has been debated whether or not to trust the woolly bear’s prophecy. However, a particular species — also known as the isabella tiger moth caterpillar or pyrrharctia isabella — is the one to watch for weather. Even with some doubt, they are likely more reliable than other woolly bears. There are two other similar-looking woolly bear-like caterpillars that might confuse the novice weather worm witnesses.

The yellow woolly bear caterpillar’s all-buttery appearance might lead one astray, thinking that we are in for a warm and snow-less winter.  With no black sections, summer lovers might be wrongly rejoicing. This species, also called the yellow bear caterpillar, is in the same scientific family as the Isabella tiger moth caterpillar, erebidae, but is its own distinct genus and species, spilosoma virginica.

Or consider the all-black and similarly spiny giant leopard moth caterpillar. This almost all-black lookalike, sometimes called a giant woolly bear, might have a red body under those hairs. With its lack of any ruddy fuzz, it could convince you that snowmaggeden or the ice age might befall us. No worries, though, as this species, hypercompe scribonia, isn’t trusted for its weather forecasting, even if it is also in the same family as the others.

All three are present in our area, though by now they are all settled in for the winter, whether it is going to be harsh or not. Using their hairs as material, all three varieties will create cocoons. The first two varieties overwinter in these cozy caverns. The giant leopard caterpillar will remain in that form, hiding under bark to wait out the winter.

These three species have in common the ability of their bristles to cause skin irritation in sensitive folks. So, look but don’t touch when studying them.

Now we know that all woolly bears aren’t weather wonders with the ability to see the future. They are, however, moths that matter for biodiversity, pollination and as predator and prey species. And while I couldn’t find a definitive woolly bear forecast for this coming winter, know, as they do, that the season is transitory and spring weather always returns — as predictably as the re-emergence of the woolly bears.

Suzan Bellincampi is Islands director for Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown and the Nantucket Wildlife Sanctuaries. She is also the author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.