Curious how insects survive cold weather? Where do bugs go in the winter? In this post, you’ll learn the 4 cold-weather survival methods. Plus where 7 specific bugs (spiders, bees, wasps, butterflies, mosquitoes, and fleas) go in the winter.
Bugs have four options when winter comes: migrate to a warmer location, go into diapause (a dormant state that helps them survive cold temperatures), hibernate, or simply die and leave their eggs behind to start a new generation.
While we often learn about what larger animals do during the winter months, the behavior of insects in winter is less discussed. So when it comes to bugs, where do they go during the winter?
The things that bugs do during the winter months vary according to the habits of certain species. In this article, we will go through some common types of bugs and what they do during the wintertime.
How Do Bugs Survive Cold Winters? 4 Options
In order to survive, insects have four options when winter comes:
- Migrate to a warmer location: This might include going south or just coming into your home. This can include basements, eaves, garages, and garden sheds.
- Go into diapause: This is a dormant state for a predetermined period. Dropping temperatures indicate the start of diapause. And warming temperatures signal the end of this process. Overwintering as larvae, eggs, pupae, and nymphs is an effective survival method.
- Hibernate: Many adult insects hibernate. In order to survive, they reduce water and increase glycerol (a natural antifreeze) and overwinter in place.
- Lay eggs: Die and leave their eggs behind to start a new generation in the spring.
Where do spiders go in the winter? Adult spiders can sense when cold weather is coming. So they will start making preparations, such as finding a place for shelter or mating and laying eggs, starting in the late summer.
They will find hiding places under trees and rocks, in an attic, or even just by burrowing in the soil.
Species that live longer, like tarantulas, will probably hibernate. They produce a sort of antifreeze chemical in their bodies that slows down their bodies and helps them live.
But some only live one season, so they will die once winter arrives, and simply leave eggs behind.
Cold temperatures can destroy eggs so they find a safe, dark place for it. Some spider eggs will hatch in spring, and some in winter (the babies will live in the egg sac together if that’s the case until warmer weather comes).
Learn about the 5 types of banana spiders.
Where do bees go in the winter? Honeybees will stop flying as the weather gets colder. And they hunker down in their hive.
The bees in a hive will consume around 30 pounds of honey during winter to keep up their body heat, although they could even eat up to 60 pounds. The farther north they live, the more honey they will need.
Bees cluster together to create and preserve heat. The queen is their priority, and worker bees will sometimes surround her and rotate so they are constantly producing warmth. They can get the temperature up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit!
Honeybees are divided into 3 castes: workers, drones, and queens.
Male drones will die off in winter, leaving only the female castes of workers and queens.
And as the weather warms up, the remaining bees will leave the hive to fly for short periods, not going very far, mostly to get rid of body waste. This is because if their bodies get too cold they are not allowed back into the hive.
Where do wasps go in the winter? Most wasps don’t survive the winter. As it first starts to get cold, most of a wasp colony will die except for the female wasps that will become queen wasps.
These queen-designate, female wasps will hibernate during the winter. They will find a warm place, maybe burrow underground, and go into a semi-dormant state. If they come out of hibernation early, they could starve because of the lack of food.
Then in spring, they’ll re-emerge and go find a place to lay eggs. Some of the queens might die, but this is usually due to predators like spiders rather than cold.
Wasps like undisturbed locations where they can lay low during the winter, like in attics, basements, barns, or sheds.
Because of this, you could possibly see a stray wasp in your house during the winter, though they probably won’t be very active.
Where do butterflies go in the winter? If they live in cold climates, butterflies that are not fully formed yet will typically spend winter as either caterpillars or pupas. Examples of these include Tussock caterpillars and Skippers.
Others will spend winter as a cocoon or chrysalid, like swallowtail butterflies, cup moths, and flannel moths.
Adult butterflies spend it hibernating in places like holes in trees, or safe crevices in logs, or maybe in man-made structures.
Monarch butterflies in North America will migrate for the winter. They typically go to southern California and Mexico for their migration and cover distances of up to 3,000 miles. They will go up to 100 miles a day and it can take them up to 2 months to complete their migration.
Mosquitoes and Flies
Where do mosquitos and flies go in the winter? Mosquitoes have several strategies for surviving winter, so the specific species of mosquito will determine what they will most likely do.
Some species just die when it starts to get cold and leave their eggs behind to be hatched in the spring once it’s warm enough.
Just like bears do, they can hibernate during the winter or just find someplace to go dormant if needed. They can go into diapause as well, which they typically do if they are in a place where there is no water around.
Mosquitoes usually find places like trees, exposed plant roots, stream banks, or burrows to wait out the cold. Sometimes even gravitate to places like basements or sewers where there is no winter chill. Some have also been known to hide buried in mud pools during this time.
Because they go inactive during cold weather, they don’t need to eat during the winter. This means they are extra active in the fall to prepare for this cold season.
Mosquitos in the fall may switch food supplies, from blood to sugar-rich foods like nectar and rotting fruit to help them stock up on nutrients.
Some species withstand cold better than others so they don’t need to go into hibernation. They may also wake up early if the winter is mild. These ones are nicknamed “snow mosquitoes.”
By far the most unusual winter survival technique for mosquitoes comes from the pitcher plant mosquito. It doesn’t bite animals or humans, and spends winter frozen solid inside the ice held in the leaves of pitcher plants.
More Reading: Campers Guide to Essential Oil Bug Repellent
One nice thing about winter, is that you can (ice) fish without biting bugs. Here’s the best time of day to ice fish.
Where do fleas go in the winter? During the winter, the activity of fleas goes down but doesn’t stop completely. They are still capable of making pets and humans their hosts year-round, even if they do become more dormant in the winter.
They will find warmer places to hide like inside a home, in barns or sheds, or even in animals dens. Fleas don’t die off or hibernate in winter like other bug species do. While they can’t survive colder temperatures for long, they typically find a host to keep them warm.
Female fleas can lay eggs within a day of being in your home and can even lay up to 50 eggs per day for months. As for the eggs themselves, winter doesn’t kill them either – it simply slows down their growth cycle. Flea eggs can hatch during the winter too.
Here’s how to keep insects away with these homemade repellent recipes.
Where Do Ticks Go in the Winter?
Do ticks die in the winter? Yes, but not the majority. Studies indicate that roughly 20% of the population dies in cold climates. This is true in areas that reach 0°F (-18°C) for an extended period.
Check out our article with lots more detail: Do Ticks Die in Winter?
The lack of bugs makes winter camping even more attractive.
What insects and bugs have you seen during the winter? Curious about another type of insect? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to the list.
Bryan Haines is a co-founder and blogger on GudGear – and is working to make it the best resource for outside gear. He is a travel blogger at Storyteller.Travel and photographer at Click Like This. He is also co-founder of Storyteller Media, a company he started with his wife, Dena.