Cold winter weather brings fun outdoor activities – skiing, ice skating, sledding. Unlike the summer months, we can enjoy these without worrying about annoying pests like mosquitoes, flies or bees. Where do these critters go? A vacation in Mexico? Some do!
Insects have a variety of ways of handling the coolness of winter:
- Migration: Some insects head to warmer climates, or at least better conditions, when winter weather approaches. The greatest example is the Monarch butterfly who flies up to 2,000 miles to spend their winter in Mexico. Some insects migrate into northern areas from the southern states in the spring. For others, avoiding sub-zero temperatures means a journey of inches, not miles. Many aquatic insects wait out the winter at the bottoms of ponds, where they can remain relatively comfortable even when the surface freezes. Others do the same in the soil, burrowing deep below the frost.
- Diapause: A long-term state of suspension, diapause synchronizes the insect’s life cycle with seasonal changes in its environment, including winter conditions. Insect diapause is a lot like hibernation, but there are some differences. The main difference is that mammals remain active until winter is well-established and temperatures are frigid, but insects that enter diapause become dormant in the autumn, well before it gets too cold for them to function. Once an insect enters diapause it will remain dormant until spring, even though the weather might be suitable for normal growth and development.
- Stay Put & Huddle Up: In general, insects are able to survive cold temperatures easiest when the temperatures are stable, not fluctuating through alternate thaws and freezes. Many insects can gain shelter and nourishment through the winter in a variety of micro-habitats. Blankets of snow benefit insects by insulating the ground and keeping the temperature surprisingly constant. Honeybees have been studied during the winter and are found to remain semi-active in hollow trees through the generation of body heat. The consumption of up to 30 pounds of stored honey during the winter months makes this possible. Honey bees cluster together as the temperatures drop, and use their collective body heat to keep themselves and the brood warm. Ants and termites head below the frost line, where their large numbers and stored food keep them comfortable until spring arrives.
- Move Indoors: Much to the displeasure of homeowners, some insects seek shelter in the warmth of human dwellings when winter approaches. Each fall, people’s houses are invaded by box elder bugs, Asian multicolored lady beetles, brown marmorated stink bugs, and others. While these insects rarely cause damage indoors – they’re just looking for a cozy place to wait out the winter – they may release foul-smelling substances when threatened by a homeowner trying to evict them.
Winter pests bugging you? Don’t wait for the thaw; call a pest control expert to freeze them out!