One of the best things about winter in Northeast Pennsylvania is there’s no need to worry about insect bites or stings.

These creatures seem to disappear during the colder months, then reemerge in the spring. So what happens to bugs in the winter? We have some answers to this thought-provoking question.

Different insects survive winter temperatures by utilizing several different methods.

How do bugs survive the winter?

There is no one clear-cut answer to how insects make it through the winter. Different insects survive winter temperatures by utilizing several different methods:

  • Migration: Like all living creatures, insects need food and shelter to survive. They will go to great lengths if necessary to eat and stay warm. In warmer climates, insects are fairly active year-round. When their food source becomes scarce or temperatures drop, some insects move. Following the lead of most birds, several insects pack up and migrate to warmer climates to avoid the cold temperatures. The Monarch butterfly is one of the most well-known migrating insects. It works in reverse, as well—some insects fly north from the southern states every spring.
  • Suspended animation: Think of winter as nature’s “reset”, when plants and animals lay low and re-emerge in the spring. Many insects practice something called diapause, essentially a state of suspended animation in which their development pauses, for the winter. Insects do this at various life stages, whether eggs, larvae, nymphs, or pupae. Woolly bear caterpillars, for instance, overwinter as immature larvae. They cover their bodies with a heavy layer of leaves to both stay warm and protect themselves from predators. Other insects, like grubs, burrow deep into the soil to stay warm.

Some insects, namely the praying mantis, lay eggs during the winter.

Bugs like dragonflies, mayflies, and stoneflies spend their winters in the nymph stage. They continue to live in ponds and streams below layers of ice, then resurface in the spring as adult insects when the weather gets warmer.

Insects like some species of moths spend their winter in the almost-grown pupae stage, then emerge as fully-formed adults in the spring.

  • Overwintering: Insects like stink bugs and Asian lady beetles look for shelter from the cold in a warm, cozy home. Attics, basements, and storage areas are popular hiding spots for these bugs.
  • Hibernating: Bears aren’t the only animals who snuggle in for a long winter’s nap. Several insects hibernate, too. Ladybird beetles are just one insect that does this. Honey bees huddle in their hives for the winter; mourning cloak butterflies are among the first insects to appear in the spring after their period of hibernation ends.

How do they not die?

Unlike warm-blooded mammals, insects are cold-blooded and highly sensitive to harsh weather. For this reason, they seek out warmth wherever they can. Many insects burrow in soil during the winter. Snow is a surprisingly effective source of insulation, as it keeps the ground’s temperature relatively stable.

Some insects survive the winter because of their physical makeup. A bed bug, for instance, can go for several weeks without eating. This insect will usually feed at night, penetrating a person’s skin, called blood meals.  An average bed bug can go 20 to 400 days before it feeds again. This insect can easily make it through a winter without feasting.

Some insects, namely the praying mantis, lay eggs during the winter.

Can bugs survive being frozen?

Scientists continue to study the behaviors and physical makeup of various insects to determine how they react to different environmental factors.

Because they are cold-blooded, insects cannot regulate their body temperature—their internal temperature is basically the same as the temperature outside. Insects don’t have the luxury of growing a layer of fat or sporting a thick fur coat the way mammals do. Most of their survival techniques are on the inside.

One common means of survival has to do with insects’ metabolism. Their metabolism drops significantly; in essence, it remains active enough to keep the creature alive. As freezing temperatures rise, the insect’s internal controls adjust accordingly and their body temperature resets.

Like mammals, insects carry a lot of water in their bodies. These creatures use it for surviving harsh winters. Their bodies will convert the water to glycerol, essentially creating a type of antifreeze that prevents them from freezing solid.

Insects have embedded survival mechanisms that will get them through the harshest winters, predators, and other threats. Although most insects find the necessary warmth and shelter outside, it is not uncommon for them to make their way inside. Some DIY removal methods are effective, but depending on the type of pest, stronger remediation may be needed.

If your home has a pest problem this winter, reach out to a qualified pest control professional who can assess the problem and determine the best remediation method. You and your family should enjoy the cozy warmth of your home all season long without worrying about pests in your attic, basement, or storage shed.


Pest Issues? Contact The Pest Rangers Today.