Where do insects go in winter?

Explore with youth the science behind insects during winter by asking questions and discovering answers.

Forest tent caterpillars spend winter as eggs in a mass around a small branch. Photo: Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org.

Forest tent caterpillars spend winter as eggs in a mass around a small branch. Photo: Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org.

Where do insects go in winter? Do they stay in Michigan? If they do stay, what do they do and how do they survive?

You may have noticed many insects in Michigan are looking for a warm place to spend winter, and are moving into your attics, garages and sheds. But what about the rest of the insect world, how do they survive winter? The answer depends on the insect’s adaptations. Insects survive winter in different stages of their life cycle.

  • Forest tent caterpillars spend winter as eggs laid in a mass around a small branch of a preferred food tree. This keeps the eggs safe through winter, and in spring the newly hatched larva has plenty of food.
  • Some insects like the fruit fly spend winter as pupa inside galls, which are round bumps on the stem of plants.
  • Other insects like the Japanese beetle spend winter in its larval form, a grub, which burrows below the frost line to survive until spring.
  • Many adult insects die off, leaving their offspring to carry on their genetic legacy. Some migrate to warmer climates, like the monarch butterfly, and others clump together in protected spaces for warmth like bees.
  • Numerous insects remain active all winter under the ice of rivers and ponds. Aquatic insects like dragonflies, stoneflies, mayflies and damselflies live as nymphs under water and actively feed and grow year round.

You can help youth explore the world of insects in winter by taking a walk through the woods or your neighborhood looking for evidence of insects. To learn more ways to help youth explore insects, read the Michigan State University Extension articles “Science ideas for young children: looking at galls” and “Youth are talking about water quality in northeast Michigan.”

For more ways to share science with youth in your life, please explore the MSU Extension Science and Technology website. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office. To learn more about 4-H and Extension opportunities in Alcona County, stop by our Harrisville office at 320 S. US-23 or visit our Alcona County MSU Extension Facebook page.

MSU Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success. To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”

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