How Do Insects Survive Winter?

Nov 15, 2014

Hibernating ladybugs (Coccinellidae) (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Credit Flickr user, Jason

"An Insect's Guide To Surviving the Winter," written by Ashley King, read by Caroline Kurtz.

With the help of fur, hair, or clothing, warm-blooded mammals keep a consistent internal temperature, no matter the air temperature. That's not true for insects. How do they survive the cold of winter? 

Monarch butterflies migrate across the continent, while some flower-feeding beetles migrate to a lower, warmer elevation. Like bears, ladybugs hibernate. Some beetles spend the winter in an extended form of the pupal stage, with no need to eat. Other insects turn into living popsicles, allowing their bodies to freeze. Their trick: they produce chemicals that encourage the freezing of liquid between, but not inside, their cells. Meanwhile, snow fleas, which you can see hopping about in the shadows on sunny winter days, make their own antifreeze. It's a risky strategy, though, because at warm temperatures, those chemicals can cook the insect. Don't pick up snow fleas in winter; the heat from your hand could overheat them.

(Broadcast: "Fieldnotes," 11/16/14. Listen weekly on the radio, Sundays at 12:55 p.m., or via podcast.)