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Wolf, worm, beaver: Name that full moon

Hundreds of years ago, Native American tribes kept track of the seasons by giving unique names to each recurring full moon.
The moon rises over the hills above Sun Valley, Idaho. Native American tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon.
The moon rises over the hills above Sun Valley, Idaho. Native American tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon.Elaine Thompson / AP file
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The names of the year's full moons date back to Native Americans, of what is now the northern and eastern United States.  Those tribes of a few hundred years ago kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon.  Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred. 

There were some variations in the moon names, but in general the same ones were current throughout the Algonquin tribes from New England on west to Lake Superior.  European settlers followed their own customs and created some of their own names.  Since the lunar (“synodic”) month is roughly 29.5 days in length on average, the dates of the full moon shift from year to year. 

Here is a listing of all the full moon names, as well as the dates and times for 2007.  Unless otherwise noted, all times are Eastern. (Some of the times actually occur during daylight hours, because they reflect the astronomical moment when the moon is as full as it can get during its cycle.)

Jan. 3, 8:57 a.m. ET — The Full Wolf Moon.  Amid the zero cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages.  It was also known as the Old Moon or the “Moon After Yule.”  In some tribes this was the Full Snow Moon; most applied that name to the next Moon.

Feb. 2, 12:45 a.m. ET — The Full Snow Moon.  Usually the heaviest snows fall in this month.  Hunting becomes very difficult, and hence to some tribes this was the Full Hunger Moon.

March 3, 6:17 p.m. ET — The Full Worm Moon.  In this month the ground softens and the earthworm casts reappear, inviting the return of the robins.  The more northern tribes knew this as the Full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signals the end of winter, or the Full Crust Moon because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night.  The Full Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is another variation. A total lunar eclipse will take place on this night; the Moon will appear to rise will totally immersed (or nearly so) in the Earth’s shadow over the eastern United States.  The rising Moon will be emerging from the shadow over the central United States, while over the Western U.S. the eclipse will be all but over by the time the Moon rises.

April 2, 1:15 p.m. ET — The Full Pink Moon.  The grass pink or wild ground phlox is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring.  Other names were the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and among coastal tribes the Full Fish Moon, when the shad came upstream to spawn. This is also the Paschal Full Moon; the first full Moon of the spring season.  The first Sunday following the Paschal Moon is Easter Sunday, which indeed will be observed six days later on Sunday, April 8.

May 2, 6:09 a.m. ET — The Full Flower Moon.  Flowers are abundant everywhere.  It was also known as the Full Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon.

May 31, 9:04 p.m. ET — The Blue Moon.  The second full Moon occurring within a calendar month is usually bestowed this title. Although the name suggests that to have two Full Moons in a single month is a rather rare occurrence (happening "just once in a . . ."), it actually occurs once about every three years on average.

June 30, 9:49 a.m. ET — The Full Strawberry Moon.  Known to every Algonquin tribe.  Europeans called it the Rose Moon.

July 29, 8:48 p.m. ET — The Full Buck Moon. This is when the new antlers of buck deer push out from their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur. It was also often called the Full Thunder Moon, thunderstorms being now most frequent. Sometimes also called the Full Hay Moon.

Aug. 28, 6:35 a.m. ET — The Full Sturgeon Moon. This is when this large fish of the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water like Lake Champlain is most readily caught. A few tribes knew it as the Full Red Moon because the moon rises looking reddish through sultry haze, or the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon. A total lunar eclipse will coincide with moonset for the eastern United States. The Central and Mountain Time Zones will see the Moon’s emergence coincide with moonset, while the western United States will see the entire eclipse.

Sept. 26, 3:45 p.m. ET — The Full Harvest Moon.  Always the full Moon occurring nearest to the Autumnal Equinox. Corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, and wild rice — the chief Indian staples—are now ready for gathering.

Oct. 26, 12:52 a.m. ET — The Full Hunter’s Moon.  With the leaves falling and the deer fattened, it is time to hunt.  Since the fields have been reaped, hunters can ride over the stubble, and can more easily see the fox, also other animals that have come out to glean and can be caught for a thanksgiving banquet after the harvest. The Moon will also be at perigee later this day, at 7:00 a.m., at a distance of 221,676 miles from Earth.  Very high tides can be expected from the coincidence of perigee with full Moon.

Nov. 24, 9:30 a.m. ET — The Full Beaver Moon.  Time to set beaver traps before the swamps freeze to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Beaver Full Moon comes from the fact that the beavers are now active in their preparation for winter.  Also called the Frosty Moon.

Dec. 23, 2:51 a.m. ET — The Full Cold Moon. Among some tribes, it was called the Full Long Nights Moon. In this month the winter cold fastens its grip, and the nights are at their longest and darkest. Also sometimes called the “Moon before Yule” (Yule is Christmas, and this time the Moon is only just before it).  The term Long Night Moon is a doubly appropriate name because the midwinter night is indeed long and the Moon is above the horizon a long time.  The midwinter full moon takes a high trajectory across the sky because it is opposite to the low sun.