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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Where do insects spend the winter?

Discover overwintering, or how our six-legged friends stay safe in the cold.

Have you wondered why you don’t see as many bugs on Bascom during your winter walk to class? While Wisconsin is home to a diverse collection of insects, they seem to disappear when the weather turns cold. But never fear, science is here to explain this phenological phenomenon. 

Phenology is the study of nature’s cycles, which are intimately tied to the seasons. This helps scientists explain things from flowers budding to migration and more. 

According to the Lakeshore Nature Preserve website, the latter is common for certain Wisconsin insect species like the monarch butterfly and potato leafhopper. 

However, the rest participate in a practice called overwintering. Overwintering describes how insects survive the winter, which happens in a variety of ways. After all, each species has unique adaptations and life cycles. 

While the Smithsonian notes that not many insect eggs make it through the cold, a large number of larvae are successful. Although the insects are juvenile, they can seek shelter in soil and plant cover. 

If a bug happens to be in the pupal stage, transforming to its adult body in a protected pupa, it can stay anchored to another structure and survive. Once the creature is an adult, it has a plethora of places to stay warm, including inside trees, under rocks and more

While hibernating helps, certain insects also have metabolic processes to ease the freeze, including swapping the water in their bodies for glycerol and consuming large amounts of honey for heat. 

A local example, spiders, comes from Mike Draney, a University of Wisconsin-Green Bay biology professor who spoke about the subject with Wisconsin Public Radio last year. Draney said Wisconsin spiders don’t even eat in the winter, remaining relatively immobile until spring arrives. 

Additionally, Wisconsin is home to many dragonflies, which exist as growing nymphs immersed in water during winter. 

While it may be disappointing not to see as many insects crawling around campus, the Lakeshore Nature Preserve encourages people to look for evidence they were there. Whether it’s a mark in the snow, a pupa in a tree or the flourishing wings of a butterfly, insects are everywhere. 

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