How do Insects Survive the Winter?
In the summer, bugs are swarming everywhere reminding us they are alive. As winter rolls around, each species has different strategies to survive. Bears pack themselves full of food and fall into a deep sleep in warm caves. Humans turn up the heat in their homes, wrap themselves in blankets, and take a nap by the fire. Pests have their own strategies for how to survive the cold months. Contrary to popular belief most insects don’t actually die when it gets cold, but their bodies have unique ways to stay alive. Below are some of the most popular strategies insects use to survive the dreaded winter months.
Similar to birds, many insets survive through migrating to warmer climates. However, not all of these climates are south. Many insects survive by burrowing down deep into warmer soil. Some survive deep in ponds where the water is warm enough to survive Some find warmth in the safety of your home. To understand how insects survive in these habitats, it important to understand something called quiescence. Many insects enter into the state of quiescence to survive the cold. Quiescence is defined as inactivity or tranquilly at rest. In the state of quiescence all activities, including respiration, is put to bar minimum for energy conservation. Below are some examples of insects that migrate to survive:
Butterflies: Many butterflies and dragonflies actually do fly south during the winter. Specifically, the North American Monarch Butterfly leaves its home in America and flies down to central Mexico for a winter long vacation.
Ants: In the fall, ants gear up for the winter by eating lots of food. Their goal is to put on fat to survive for weeks on end without eating. Once winter arrives, they slow down. Their body temp and productivity decreases and they start to hunker down in deep soil or under rocks trying to keep warm until spring arrives. They are able to do this by entering into the state of quiescence. When it warms up they spring to life full of energy and ready to eat their next meal.
Mosquitos: In the summer, it is nearly impossible to avoid these creatures. Nearly every time you go outside, you are left with red itchy bumps that come from mosquitos sucking your blood. Once it starts getting cold it’s as if these creatures die off, in reality the insects are hiding from the cold in sheltered places in the state of quiescence. Examples of popular places for these guys to hide include inside hollowed logs, inside the envelope of a house, and under a bridge.
Diapause is a dormant, semi-frozen state that some insects enter into when the weather becomes too cold to survive. When the temperature warms up they spring to life as if nothing ever happened. In this state of suspended animation, they don’t do anything, they don’t develop, they just sit in a semi-frozen state, existing. Diapause is an insect’s version of hibernation, as fall approaches and the air starts to cool, their bodies start to prepare them for this state until it is warm enough for them to reemerge. Below are some examples of insects that enter the state of Diapause to survive:
Flies: There are over 7000 types of flies, and not all of them survive winter the same. However, most survive winter as adults in different cracks and crannies. Flies survive by entering a state of diapause, which slows down their development and appetite, until temperatures rise and they become active again.
Cockroaches: Cockroaches have been around for 300 million years evolving into one of the most adaptable creatures. In the winter, when temperature drops to a certain degree, many cockroaches enter into diapause. In this inactive state, their metabolic rate slows and growth stops. However, not all cockroaches enter into diapause. Cockroaches can survive cold temperatures if they have access to a warm, moist environment. The German cockroach prefers moist indoor places near its next meal, AKA. kitchens and bathrooms. They can be found here year-round, but especially in the winter.
DIE OFF AND SURVIVE AS EGGS, LARVAE, OR PUPAE
Some insects actually do die. As the months get colder, these pests prepare for survival by laying eggs. When winter comes, it kills of the adults, and nothing is left besides the eggs. When spring does come around, it is an entirely new generation that wakes up. An example of an insect that survives through its young are crickets.
Crickets: Crickets are active all spring, summer, and fall and you can hear them singing long into the night. The crickets that you hear in the fall are all going to die in the winter. They lay eggs in the soil, and those eggs hatch in the spring ready to eat and mate.
Scientists can detail many of the different ways insects make it through the winter, but there’s a lot we still don’t understand. However, one thing we know for sure is that year after year when spring comes around and it does start to warm up, they always come back.