Well at least there aren’t any insects around in winter! That’s what a lot of people who like to be outdoors will say once the frosts hit in the fall. But could that really be true? If there are no insects around all winter, where do they come from in the spring? They must be somewhere. Let’s see what we can find out about insects in winter.
Some insects do migrate. Monarch butterflies are the most famous for migrating south in the fall. Visit our Migrating Insects page to learn a little more about this way of surviving winter weather.
Eggs Some insects die when freezing weather comes in the fall. They have already laid eggs which will make it certain that there will be more insects of that type come next growing season. You can look up what kind of insects survive as eggs for the next generation, but it is a little hard to find out through your own observations. You can look for insect eggs but it may be hard to identify the ones you find.
Gypsy moth eggs can be found on the trunks of trees. They look a little like a patch of tan fuzz with bumps in it. Another kind of insect egg that is not too hard to find is the egg case of a praying mantis. It can usually be found in an un-mowed field. It looks a bit like a piece of tan colored foam glued to a plant stem. Insect eggs wait until warm weather comes in the spring before they hatch. Hatching in midwinter would leave them without food to eat.
Young Some insects spend the winter as larvae or nymphs. They stop growing until the spring comes. The wooly bear caterpillar does this. If you turn over logs, large stones or boards that are lying on the ground, you might find a wooly bear all curled up, hibernating. The red, fuzzy berries on sumac trees or bushes are good places to look for both eggs and young insects spending the winter asleep. If you have some sumacs nearby, you could carefully look among the berries for signs of insects. Don’t disturb things too much. A lot of birds come to these berries to eat the insects they hide and to eat the berries too.
Young insects can also be found in plant galls. A good place to start is to look at goldenrod plants in a field. Can you find a round lump on the stem of one? This is a goldenrod ball gall. Chances are good that if you split it open, you will find the larva of a fly inside, unless some predator or parasite has gotten there first!
Pupae Some insects spend the winter as pupae. The easiest ones to find are the cocoons of moths. Look for trees and bushes that have a single leaf kind of curled up and dead looking. That leaf may be a cocoon. Look it over carefully. Is it really just an empty leaf?
Adults Some insects spend the winter as adults. If you turn over a log in the woods, you might find a yellow jacket or bald-faced hornet queen curled up in a small cave that it chewed in the soft wood as mild weather ended in the fall. She will stay here until spring.
Some kinds of ladybug beetles rest together in large groups inside a log or a crack in the rocks. They will stay hidden there until spring comes.
Some adult insects are actually active in the winter. If you walk in the woods on a sunny winter day when the snow on the ground is melting some, you might see hundreds of tiny hopping creatures. These are snow fleas also called springtails for how far they can jump. They sometimes come up out of the soil when snow is melting to feed and to keep from drowning in the water from the melting snow.
If you walk near a flowing creek or river during the winter, you might see small, dark colored insects flying or coming to rest on trees or rocks near the water. These are stoneflies. They start life in water and some make their mating flights and lay their eggs in wintertime.
So there are lots of insects around in the winter, if you know where and how to look. They just aren’t going to bug you as much as they might next summer.
For some more help with insects in winter, get a copy of A Guide to Observing Insect Lives by Donald Stokes from a library or bookstore.