How Insects Survive the Winter

During the summer, there are many insects in our yards, gardens and forest areas. They carry on their insect lives without difficulty, finding plenty of food and many hiding places for their nests. When winter descends, however, life gets tougher for everyone. Insects must find places to live where the snow and ice do not destroy their nests and where freezing temperatures still allow a food supply. Insects have developed a number of survival methods to cope with these harsh environmental conditions.

Insects That Find Shelter in Human Habitations

Many insects have learned over time that humans provide a warm and comfortable environment against the winter weather. They will find entry cracks around doors and windows and find undisturbed places to nest in the warm, indoor heat. Spider, ants and roaches are species that often seek out crannies in homes to overwinter until the temperatures get warmer outdoors.

Insects That Migrate

Some insects choose to avoid the cold temperatures altogether, migrating to warmer climates that can more easily sustain them. Butterflies and moths can fly great distances to find a more conducive climate for survival. Termites and Japanese beetles migrate deeper down into the soil layers to avoid the cold surface temperatures.

Insects That Overwinter in Immature Forms

Insects also survive the cold by remaining in more immature forms and then emerging when the temperatures rise. Praying mantis and corn rootworms overwinter in the egg form, then hatch when the temperatures warm in spring. Nymphs of dragonflies, mayflies and stoneflies live in ponds and streams in the winter, sometimes even living beneath the ice that forms on the surface. Insects like the woolly bear caterpillar remain in a larval stage and survive in piles of leaf litter. Some moth species, such as those in the silkworm family, stay in a pupal stage and attach themselves to plants which they use as food throughout the winter.

Insects That Hibernate As Adults

Some insects go dormant in the winter. Their bodies may protect natural anti-freeze compounds called “cryoprotectants.” These fluids allow the insects to withstand freezing temperatures without freezing their body fluids. Large wasps often hibernate in the nest in the eaves of homes. Ladybugs also hibernate for the winter. Honeybees hibernate in their hives or in the holes in trees throughout the winter months.

Insects must “adapt or die” when winter falls, and these methods demonstrate how they have adapted to use available environments to survive until more favorable temperatures arrive.