Five (Surprising?) Ways Insects Survive Winter

Our Texas insect expert answers common questions about bugs.

By Laura RiceDecember 8, 2020 11:34 am,

“Where do insects go in winter?” Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program specialist Wizzie Brown says she gets asked that question a lot when it gets colder. In Texas, some insects can be active year-round (see: mosquitoes). For others, there are a handful of different tactics for survival.

Tactic 1: Migrate

Go someplace warmer during the cold months! (See: monarch butterflies.)

Tactic 2: Overwintering

Many insects hunker down in cracks and crevices – whether that’s in tree bark, leaf litter, or in your home.

“A good example of something like that you might be familiar with would be boxelder bugs. And a lot of times they will hide in the cracks and crevices under siding of homes. And then on warmer days, you’ll find a bunch of these insects that are red and black in color kind of hanging out on the side of your house. And a lot of people are just like, ‘what is going on?’ They’re coming out to warm themselves up. And then when it starts cooling off again, they’ll go hide in those cracks and crevices again.”

Tactic 3: Freeze Avoidance

Some insects are able to produce antifreeze in their bodies or blood to keep from freezing. Yep, just like a car. This change will keep ice crystals from growing or lower the temperature at which the insect’s blood will freeze.

“And then there are some insects that will empty their gut contents. A lot of the internal structure of an insect is the digestive tract. And so if they empty out that digestive tract of any liquid form of food, then it can help them from having ice form within their body.”

Tactic 4: Freeze Tolerance

“Their body can actually freeze solid and have those ice crystals. And then when it warms back up, they’ll just thaw out and go on their merry way.”

Tactic 5: Diapause

This is basically insect hibernation and, in the insect world, there are examples of it in every stage of development: from egg to adult. The insect will resume activity when it detects the days are longer and the temperatures are warmer.

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