Have you ever wondered what happens to those pesky insects when they seemingly vanish when the cold weather sets in? They reappear when the winter fades and spring returns. Did they ever actually leave?
The truth is that insects employ many different tricks to ensure that their species carry on despite freezing temperatures. They survive in any one of the stages of growth or even as fully developed adults. Overall, there are three tactics that bugs and other creepy-crawlies use to make it through cold, winter days until those dog days of summer return.
Get Out of Town
One of the strategies insects employ is to high-tail it out when weather gets chilly. Some, like butterflies, mimic bird behavior and migrate miles away to warmer weather. Rather than stick around and freeze, these insects head south in large groups.
Other bugs have only a very small journey ahead of them. Those that live in water will settle at the bottom of lakes or ponds where the freezing temperatures can’t reach them. Those that are land-dwelling dig deep into the dirt and find a comfortable resting place where the frost won’t penetrate.
The blood-sucking mosquitoes that whine all summer long find sheltered areas inside homes or under bridges that offer protection from the wind and cold. They stay in a state known as quiescence, and will not eat again until they re-emerge come spring.
Stick Around Like Normal
A small percentage of insects are tough enough to just keep living like they normally do rather than hide and wait it out. Underneath the blanket of snowflakes covering the ground in the dead of winter, some bugs keep ongoing. They’ll hunt for protected spots in the vegetation, though some are happy to stay on the surface.
If you look closely at the snow, you may see little black spots. It’s not dirt—they’re actually bugs like mites, springtails, and arachnids. They’re alive and thriving, so don’t make the mistake of thinking they’ve reached their end.
Much like science fiction suggests, some insects actually do freeze themselves to brace through the winter, which is really their version of hibernation called diapause. While in diapause, bugs are partially frozen. They stay that way until they unfreeze in warm temperatures. The emerald ash borer hibernates in diapause. It doesn’t grow or eat or do anything; it simply hides beneath tree bark. Inside their blood is glycerol that protects them from freezing completely.
Other insects, like caterpillars and flies, are completely free. Ice actually develops within them! Their body functions completely stop until the weather breaks and they can get back to business.
They Simply Die
Some species of bugs simply die off so that the next generation can take their place. Crickets, for example, deposit their eggs in the dirt. Those eggs hatch when it’s warm enough, introducing a whole new heap of noisemakers.
Unfortunately, it seems that our winters are getting warmer. This means that insects are dying off less frequently. They move further into human habitats than they used to.
Whether they leave the area, stick around, or die and get replaced, those insects you were wondering about are still around and will be back in the spring in greater numbers.