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As fall comes to a close and temperatures drop, many homeowners wonder, “Where do bugs go in the winter?” Some migrate to warmer locations, while others wait out winter or undergo diapause, a temporary state of dormancy. In this article, we’ll explore where bugs go in the winter and how they escape, outwait, or adapt to cold weather.
Do Cold Temperatures Kill Bugs?
Temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit kill most insects. However, some bugs that live in cold climates have adapted to survive low temperatures by naturally producing cryoprotectants, such as sugar or glycerol, to lower the freezing temperature of their body. Other insects hibernate in a state known as diapause or migrate to areas with warmer weather.
A sudden cold snap or harsh winter can kill individual insects that remain outdoors, but freezing temperatures won’t eliminate an entire insect population. Indoor pests can survive winter quite comfortably in heated buildings, and burrowing insects will dig below the frost line to avoid freezing. Some bugs like ants and honeybees cluster in their nests and huddle around their queen, using their body heat to protect the future of the colony.
With some species, such as praying mantises, the adult insects lay their eggs in a safe place and then die during winter. Similarly, most wasp species die during the first frost of the season, leaving only the queens behind to reemerge in the spring to build a new nest.
Where Insects Go in the Winter
Although the hum of insect life may seem to fall silent in winter, bugs don’t suddenly disappear when the weather turns cold. Most stick around in their habitat but become less active than they would be during warmer months. Some move deeper underground, seek out shelter, or migrate to a warmer climate.
Migration: The Journey to Warmer Places
Some insects migrate to a warmer climate before temperatures drop in their current habitat. Monarch butterflies are one of the most well-known migrating insects. Each year, these butterflies journey thousands of miles from the United States and Canada to Mexico, where they wait out the winter. Homeowners can help maintain the monarch population by planting local species of milkweed in their garden. Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed leaves, and mature monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on this plant.
Overwintering: The Dormant State of Survival
The vast majority of bugs live through the winter months in a semiactive or dormant state known as overwintering. Many species, such as lady beetles and stink bugs, overwinter as adults and emerge in the springtime to breed. Others, such as Japanese beetles and other scarab species, spend the cold months as larvae. Some species overwinter as pupae, nymphs, or eggs, though the latter is rare.
Cold tolerance varies by species, as do the strategies used to survive extreme temperatures. For instance, some insects produce sugar or glycerol, which acts as a natural antifreeze. Others expel food and water to prevent ice crystals from forming in their bodies.
Diapause: The Pause Button of Development
Diapause is a state of suspended growth triggered by certain environmental cues, such as shortened days, dropping temperatures, and dwindling food supplies. During diapause, insects become fully dormant. Their metabolism slows and their development nearly halts, allowing them to conserve energy and preserve themselves until spring. To evade predators and parasites in this state, insects will typically seek shelter before entering diapause.
Sheltering: The Cozy Nooks and Crannies of Winter
Regardless of whether insects go through diapause or use another overwintering strategy, most will look for cozy crevices to wait out the winter. Leaf litter, plant galls, mulch, logs, and tree holes provide the moisture, insulation, and camouflage that many species need to survive outdoors. Some insects, such as subterranean termites, will need more warmth and protection and burrow below the frost line.
If bugs make their way indoors, they’ll likely take up space in your eaves, attic, crawlspace, or basement to weather the cold temperatures. Cockroaches, fleas, and stink bugs are common winter bugs that can find shelter within your home during the colder months.
What Kind of Bugs Are Active in the Winter?
Some adult insects make their way inside to overwinter in a dormant state, but others remain active throughout the winter months.
Bugs that live in aquatic habitats tend to stay busy during colder months. Some species of dragonfly nymphs remain active under the ice in frozen ponds and streams, where they hunt other small invertebrates. Similarly, mayfly and stonefly nymphs actively feed and grow during winter.
Water midges or snow midges can also be seen in winter, and there’s a flightless midge that can survive in Antarctica. Some midges emerge in large numbers during this time, leaving homeowners concerned. However, these winter midges pose no threat to humans.
Cockroaches, while resilient, are not particularly cold-tolerant, and those left outside may enter diapause in an attempt to survive. However, cockroaches that remain indoors during winter have no reason to slow down. Carpenter ants and termites living in your home will also remain active during winter.
Bedbugs and fleas may seem more prevalent during warm weather, but indoor infestations of these pests can occur during any season. Your pet is less likely to catch fleas outside during winter, and bedbugs are less likely to enter your home from the outdoors. However, those already inside your home will continue growing and reproducing. It’s important to bug-proof your home for winter before bugs begin making their way inside for warmth.
Indoor pests are not the only bugs active during winter. Even if termites don’t nest inside a heated building, many colonies remain active outdoors. You may also spot adult scorpionflies, snow flies, and springtails during cold weather.
American dog ticks and lone star ticks typically go dormant in the fall, but other tick species stay active on winter days. Black-legged ticks, or deer ticks, remain active as long as temperatures are above freezing. Winter ticks, also known as moose ticks, hatch in late summer, find a host during the fall, and remain on that host throughout winter.
Insects exhibit remarkable strategies to endure winter, whether they migrate to warmer climates, find a place to shelter inside, or enter into a dormant state. A wide range of insects display surprising resilience to cold temperatures—and that’s actually a good thing. Though their presence is often misunderstood and underappreciated, bugs play a crucial role in our ecosystems. They keep other pests in check, pollinate our crops, and improve the soil.
If you find yourself facing a winter infestation, pest control companies can help. We recommend consulting Terminix, Orkin, and other top pest control companies to get rid of any bugs that try to overwinter inside or outside your home.
Where Do Bugs Go in the Winter FAQ
At what temperature do bugs go away?
The temperature at which bugs “go away” depends on the species. Many insects can’t survive when temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and will enter a state of dormancy to survive.
How do bugs not freeze in the winter?
Bugs may use cryoprotectants, such as sugar or glycerol, to prevent their body fluids from freezing. Alternatively, they may remove particles from their body fluids or reduce the amount of water in their bodies to prevent ice crystals from forming internally. Some bugs overwinter indoors, underground, beneath debris, or under tree bark, or they huddle in nests to stay warm.
What is the most likely place to find bugs in the winter?
The best place to find bugs in the winter is either indoors or under leaf litter, logs, mulch, or other debris. You can also find bugs nestled beneath snow or in soil, plant galls, or tree bark.
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