Go for a walk outside in the summertime, and you will no doubt be surrounded by buzzing bees, fluttering butterflies and ants on the march. But where do all these tiny creatures go when the weather turns to ice and snow?
As it turns out, there are many answers to this question because there are many kinds of bugs.
“One of the most common ways that bugs deal with winter, especially in North America, is that they are seasonal,” says Kristie Reddick, a scientist and half of the insect-loving duo known as the Bug Chicks.
In other words, the adults die off when winter comes but not before burying the next generation of eggs underground or in another safe place — such as a rotting log. Praying mantises don’t bury their eggs, but they do protect them inside a foamy egg mass called an ootheca, which is secured to a twig or stem.
“It looks like hair mousse when they first lay the eggs, but then it hardens and becomes camouflaged,” Reddick says. “And if you think about foam insulation in a house, it really regulates the temperature, so the ootheca can withstand freezing temperatures and cold and wind until springtime. Then, when things heat up, the baby mantids hatch out of the egg case.”
Not all adult insects shrivel up and die, though. Honeybees huddle together in clusters inside their hive. The insects can even turn up the thermostat by vibrating their wings and raising the temperature inside the hive.
The giant wetas of New Zealand, which are crickets as big as your hand, survive plunging temperatures thanks to a secret superpower — they have a sort of antifreeze in their blood.
“So you can freeze them and then they will come back to life when you thaw them out,” says Reddick. “Which is like, c’mon!”
Other insects avoid winter altogether by migrating to warmer areas. Monarch butterflies are famous for this because their migration takes them from the northern United States and Canada to the mountains of Mexico and back.
But the longest migration of any insect belongs to the globe skimmer dragonfly, whose migration takes it from East Africa to India and back, a distance that can span more than 11,000 miles. That would be like than taking a round-trip flight from the top of Alaska to the bottom of the Florida Keys!
Believe it or not, there are even some bugs that like winter just fine. The snow scorpionfly — which is neither a scorpion nor a fly, but more closely related to the flea — eats moss and stays active even when the world is covered in snow.
In fact, the snow scorpionfly is so used to life in the cold, a little bit of warmth can be a bad thing.
“If you pick them up, the heat of your hands can actually kill them,” Reddick says.