English translations of full moon names date back a few hundred years to Native Americans living in what is now the northern and eastern United States. Those tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon.
There were some variations in moon names between groups, but, in general, the same ones were used throughout the Algonquin tribes from New England 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 some commonly used full moon names, as well as the dates and times for 2021, according to The Old Farmer's Almanac. Unless otherwise noted, all times are for the Eastern Time Zone.
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January 28: Full Wolf Moon
2:16 p.m. EST (1916 GMT)
Amid the zero cold and deep snows of midwinter, wolf packs howled hungrily outside 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.
January full moon 2021: The 'Wolf Moon' rises with winter constellations
February 27: Full Snow Moon
3:17 a.m. EST (0817 GMT)
Usually the heaviest snows fall in this month. Hunting became very difficult, and hence to some tribes this was the Full Hunger Moon.
March 28: Full Worm Moon
2:48 p.m. EDT (1817 GMT)
In this month the ground softens and earthworm casts reappear, inviting the return of robins. Some 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.
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 will be observed one week later on Sunday, April 4.
April 26: Full Pink Moon
11:32 p.m. EDT (0332 April 27 GMT)
The grass pink or wild ground phlox is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring. Other names for this month were the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and — among some tribes on the east coast — the Full Fish Moon, when shad came upstream to spawn.
May 26: Full Flower Moon
7:14 a.m. EDT (1114 GMT)
Flowers are abundant everywhere by this time of year. It was also known as the Full Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon. The moon will also be at perigee, the closest point to Earth in its orbit, about nine hours earlier, at 10 p.m. EDT on May 25, at a distance of 222,023 miles (357,311 kilometers) from Earth. It will be the closest "supermoon" of 2021. Very high ocean tides can be expected from the coincidence of perigee with full moon.
And lastly, the moon will undergo a total lunar eclipse, which will favor the western half of the United States and Canada. Totality will be unusually short, only lasting about 15 minutes. It will be the only total lunar eclipse of the year, with only a partial lunar eclipse to follow in November.
June 24: Full Strawberry Moon
2:40 p.m. EDT (1940 GMT)
Known to every Algonquin tribe. Europeans called it the Rose Moon.
July 23: Full Buck Moon
10:37 p.m. EDT (0237 July 24 GMT)
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 this is also called the Full Hay Moon.
August 22: Full Sturgeon Moon
8:02 a.m. EDT (1202 GMT)
This time of year, 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. Other variations include the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon.
August's full moon in 2021 will also be a "Blue Moon," as recognized under the original arcane rules of the now-defunct Maine Farmer's Almanac. Normally, each season contains three full moons. Sometimes, however, four full moons can be squeezed into one season. When that happens, the third full moon was branded a "Blue Moon." During the summer season of 2021, there are four full moons: June 24, July 23, Aug. 22 and Sept. 20. This is the third full moon of the summer season. (The more common and widely accepted definition of a "Blue Moon" is a second full moon in a single calendar month.)
September 20: Full Harvest Moon
7:55 p.m. EDT (2355 GMT)
Traditionally, this designation goes to the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal (fall) equinox — which is most often in September. On average, October Harvest Moons come at three-year intervals, although the time frame can be quite variable, and there can be situations where as many as eight years can elapse (the next such example will come between 2020 and 2028).
At the peak of the harvest, farmers can work into the night by the light of this moon. Usually, the full Moon rises an average of 50 minutes later each night, but for the few nights around the Harvest Moon, the moon seems to rise at nearly the same time each night: just 25 to 30 minutes later across the U.S., and only 10 to 20 minutes later for much of Canada and Europe. Corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, and wild rice — indigenous staples in North America — are ready for gathering.
October 20: Full Hunter's Moon
10:57 a.m. EDT (1457 GMT)
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 and other animals, which have come out to glean and can be caught for a thanksgiving banquet after the harvest.
November 19: Full Beaver Moon
3:58 a.m. EST (0858 GMT)
Now it is time to set beaver traps before the swamps freeze to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Beaver Moon comes from the fact that the beavers are now active in their preparation for winter. This is also called the Frosty Moon.
The year's second lunar eclipse occurs early this morning; a nearly-total eclipse with 97.4% of the moon's diameter becoming immersed in the Earth's dark umbra at 4:04 a.m. EST (0904 GMT).
December 18: Full Cold Moon
11:37 p.m. EST (0437 Dec. 19 GMT)
December is usually considered the month that the winter cold begins to fasten its grip in the Northern Hemisphere. This month's full moon is also called the Long Night Moon, since nights are at their longest and darkest. It's also known as the Moon before Yule. 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. This is also the smallest full moon of 2021 (a "micromoon," or minimoon), since the Earth will arrive at apogee, its farthest distance from Earth, on Dec. 17 at a distance of 252,476 miles (406,320 km). The moon will appear some 14% smaller compared to the full moon of May 26.
Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers' Almanac and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.