aphidsNow that spring is here, we are beginning to see all sorts of insects. Some, like these aphids, don’t have wings and are pretty tiny. Their appearance year after year, seemingly out of nowhere, makes you wonder:  “where do bugs go in the winter?”

A new book, Bugs and Bugsicles: Insects in the Winter by Amy S. Hansen and Robert C. Kray (illustrator) gives us the answers for a number of common species of insects and a few uncommon ones, too (see review at Wrapped in Foil).

What happens when we get cold? We put on more clothes, and our bodies work extra hard to produce more heat. We may even shiver. Insects can’t do those things as easily, and are thus susceptible to cold and freezing. They do have some “cool” strategies to get through the winter, though.


1. Pick an insect and investigate its life cycle.

Each kind of insect has a unique life cycle. By investigating the stages an insect passes through, you can figure out which stage or stages the insect is in during the winter.

Insects may overwinter as eggs, which are small and resistant to drying out. Other insects overwinter as immatures, called “nymphs.” As you will see below, there are insects that go through the winter as larvae. Others, such as moths, may stay cozy in protective cocoons and overwinter as pupae. The remaining insects spend the winter as adults, often hidden in cracks and crevices, such as in the bark of trees.

A few insects and insect relatives seem to defy their cold-blooded roots and can be found active in the winter. One example are the snow fleas, a type of springtail or collembola. We once spotted the tiny black creatures hopping across the snow while we were cross-country skiing. Wow!

If you are interested in ants, check out Where do ants go in the winter? at Wild About Ants. One species is called the “winter ant.”

Monarch butterflies are interesting insects because they fly long distances, or migrate, to avoid the winter cold.

This is a video about overwintering monarch butterflies. It is a trailer for the Discovery Channel show Life. Note for parents of sensitive children: the video does show birds eating butterflies and a butterfly covered with frost (presumably dead).

Have monarch butterflies appeared where you live yet this year?

2. Activities with acorns

We recently went to a talk by entomologist Mark Moffett and he told us about insects that spend their lives in acorns. He said that if you put acorns in a container of water, the ones that float are likely to have critters inside. The most common insect found inside an acorn is the acorn weevil. Ants, moths, and flies sometimes use acorns for homes too.

Video from National Geographic showing the life cycle of the acorn weevil.

Note to parents of sensitive children: This video shows a predator eating an acorn weevil larva. The larvae spend their first winter in the acorn and theier second winter underground as pupae.

See more acorn activities at  Acorns for Rent

3. Examine the properties of water when it freezes.

Living cells are full of water. What happens to water when it freezes, such as during the winter?

Bugs and Bugsicles has two hands-on experiments in the back to help children explore the freezing process.

The author also discusses how one insect uses a special strategy to get through the super cold winters of the far north. Without giving away all the details, let’s just say it involves antifreeze. And bugsicles!

This book was provided by the author.

For more information:

Bug Info “Where do insects go in winter?” – Smithsonian Institution Encyclopedia

Winter Hideaways at the University of Kentucky

Where do bugs go in winter? at About.com