Where-do-flying-bugs-go-in-winter_

Where do Flying Bugs Go in the Winter?

So where do flying bugs go in the winter? Why do so many of them ride out the winter in your house? And what can you do to prepare for next summer? No matter where you live, it’s tough trying to escape from bugs during the summer.

When the temperature plummets outside, almost all of the bugs just “magically” disappear. We’ll answer those questions in this blog!

where-are-bugs-in-winter

Where do Flying Bugs Go in the Winter?

*Note: We’re only focusing on insect survival strategies in parts of the world where temperatures drop below freezing.

Migration

You’re probably aware that birds like Canadian geese migrate south to escape the winter each year. A lot of insects will also migrate long distances to warmer areas of the world during the winter. Monarch butterflies are some of the most stunning examples.

They fly hundreds of miles (up to 2,500 miles) from the U.S to Mexico, driven by earth’s magnetic pole and several other factors. How many creatures do you know that navigate using a magnetic compass? It’s amazing what monarchs are capable of.

The generation of monarchs that fly to Mexico will breed up to a few times during the journey. A new generation will make the trip back across the United States and Canada once summer roles around again. The next time you see monarch butterflies, they’ll be children and grandchildren of ones you saw the year before!

Other insects that migrate to escape the winter will also rely on wind currents to their advantage. Insects are much smaller than birds, so a little wind is enough to transport many bugs across the globe! Just in the United Kingdom alone, there’s an estimated 3 trillion insects that will migrate to warmer regions. Think about how many trillions more migrate in other parts of the world!

The biggest insight that scientists are beginning to appreciate is that they contribute heavily to the successful functioning of earth’s ecosystems. Besides butterflies, other insects that migrate include beetles, moths, and dragonflies.

And the most recent discovery, hoverflies (the flies that mimic bees in appearance). We still don’t fully know how many insect species migrate, but over 70 have been documented just in North America alone! So, where do all of those flying bugs go in the winter?

Physiology of winter “hibernation”

So, what about the creatures that don’t migrate? Have you ever pondered what exactly happens to insects and larger animals during the winter? Or where flying bugs go in the winter?

For those of us who experience freezing winters, we’re lucky to have modern indoor heating to keep ourselves nice and warm.

It’s incredible that every animal we see in the summertime has its own unique strategies for winter survival.

Surprisingly, only a few animals are “true hibernators,” like the arctic ground squirrel. It undergoes deep sleep for long periods of time. Big mammals like black bears go through a lighter form of hibernation called torpor. Contrary to popular belief they’re not actually true hibernators. This article explains hibernation in greater detail, and more examples of animals that fall into different categories.

In both true hibernation and torpor, hibernating mammals reduce their metabolism to conserve energy since they won’t be feeding again until warmer months. They typically store up a lot of fat before the winter since that becomes the main source of fuel that they burn off to survive. Mammals are called “warm-blooded” since they maintain their internal temperature regardless of the outdoor cold.

Insect “hibernation” however has some key differences compared to that of mammals. Since insects aren’t warm blooded, they primarily survive winter by undergoing diapause. In a nutshell, it is basically an insect’s way of doing hibernation.

Insects that go into diapause have their metabolism slowed down almost completely. For immature insects (all the stages of growth besides adults), they will completely halt their development until winter ends. In a way, most insects in winter go through a form of cryosleep, not moving at all until temperatures reach a high enough threshold.

More on diapause

Japanese Beetle

So what exactly allows an insect to be in diapause (remember, insect hibernation)?

Let’s take a look at a nice example, the Japanese beetle. You’ve probably seen a bunch of them since they’re not native to the U.S. They can cause a lot of damage to turf grass as larvae and eat up garden plants and fruit trees as adults.

Japanese beetles will lay their eggs in the ground, and the larvae (or grubs) will burrow underground a few inches, all the way to a foot deep! They survive the winter by remaining below the frost line.

During the winter of 2019, temperatures in some parts of Minnesota dipped to almost -60 degrees Fahrenheit! As an entomologist, I was curious what would happen to pests like the Japanese beetle since they hunker down underground. They survived this Antarctic-like weather just fine, because during the summer they completely devoured the apple tree in my backyard!

The secret to the Japanese beetle’s ability to survive crazy cold temperatures is a combination of burrowing underground, as well as creating their own antifreeze.

That’s right. Many other insects will survive winter by making antifreeze, made up of glycerol and other sugar-based compounds. The glycerol helps prevent ice crystals from forming inside a bug’s body. Some insects even make antifreeze proteins, which specifically prevent insects from freezing to death.

Sorry if you thought the winter would kill off the bugs that you wish wouldn’t come back. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has made them quite adapted to survive brutal winters year after year.

Dragonflies, Stoneflies and Mayflies

Many insects will be in diapause inside of tree bark, under rocks, inside of buildings, and even underwater. Dragonflies, stoneflies, and mayflies (all semi-aquatic) in their immature stage will stay underwater near the bottom of the ground until temperatures rise. Unlike most terrestrial insects, some aquatic insect species will continue developing and growing even during the winter.

Probably one of the coolest examples of winter survival is the snow scorpion fly. Scorpion flies got their name because the males have a tail similar to that of a scorpion. But, they belong to the insect order Mecoptera, while flies are a part of the order Diptera. They will literally hang out on the surface of the snow when it gets to around 30 degrees Fahrenheit. They will even mate on the surface. It’s not fully understood how they’re able to comfortably walk across the snow. But, we do know that they make a lot of glycerol and antifreeze proteins.

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Another arthropod that loves snow is a species of springtail called the snow flea. If you ever see a bunch of dark specks moving across the snow, it’s probably them. These little guys belong to the order Collembola. Even though they’re hexapods like insects, they’re not considered insects since they have internal mouthparts.

So besides all of these critters, what about the mosquitoes?

Where Do Flying Bugs Go in the Winter? Mosquitoes and Flies

small-flying-bugs

Mosquitoes are very intelligent creatures. You might think, “how could tiny insects be smart if all they do is come after my blood”?

If mosquitoes and other biting flies have evolved to survive winters, they must be doing something right. So how in the world do they survive?

Each species may have slightly different strategies. Many mosquitoes lay diapause eggs. These are eggs with slowed down metabolism and special compounds allowing them to survive freezing temperatures. Think of it as mosquitoes entering into a cryo-chamber. Then as temperatures rise, they awake from their sleep.

Mosquitoes will usually lay their eggs in the soil or in stagnant water. Most of the mosquitoes that ride out the winter underwater will already be in a larval stage.

If we’d have some empathy for mosquitoes, the sad part is that most male mosquitoes die when winter starts. While female adults will survive in diapause, bulked up with layers of fat. Remember, males never bite people (they exclusively feed on nectar and plant juices), while only the females will seek after human blood.

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Where Do Flying Bugs Go in the Winter?

Ants, Bees, and Wasps

Ants, bees, and wasps are three very closely related insects belonging to the same insect order, Hymenoptera. Yet, their winter survival strategies vary in detail. It’d take a great amount of pages to describe how each species survives cold winter weathers. There’s an estimated number of 150,000 – 300,000 unique species in Hymenoptera. And don’t forget that bees are not just honeybees. There are thousands of solitary bee species, bees that live by themselves without any nest mates.

In general, members of Hymenoptera undergo diapause, slowing down their metabolism and movement to conserve energy. They will also make use of glycerol and other antifreeze molecules to prevent their insides from freezing up.

Honeybees

If we’re talking about honeybees, the female workers surround the queen and huddle closely together for warmth. They live off of the honey they would’ve collected during the warmer months. Some of the workers will die during the winter. Honeybee queens typically won’t lay any eggs in the winter to maintain enough honey for the hive.

What about the wasps? Compared to honeybees, wasps tackle winter in a more “deathly” fashion. For social wasps, the entire colony usually dies during the winter except for the females that mated with males earlier. These females effectively become queens that “hibernate” during the winter months. Hibernating queen wasps will sometimes make shelter inside peoples’ homes. This article explains why. For solitary wasps, the larvae will survive in a diapause state, waiting for the summer to complete transformation.

For ants, here’s an awesome video explaining how they employ very similar strategies to that of bees and other insects. One interesting tactic unique to ants is that some species will coat the inside of their nests with glycerol.

Summing up, social bee and ant colonies survive the cold in large numbers (although a number of members will still die off during winter). Wasps take a more sacrificial approach, with most individuals dying except for the mated queens.

How Do Insects Get in My House in the Winter?

Cracks and Crevices

You’ve probably thought, “if it’s so cold outside, how did insects just magically appear inside my house?”

Many insects can take shelter in your home during the fall months as temperatures drop. They take advantage of the small cracks and crevices outside your house.

One example, the Asian Lady Beetle (a type of ladybug), was introduced in the U.S as a beneficial control of harmful pests. Unfortunately, this “good” bug can behave as a pest since they seek shelter inside warm buildings when it gets colder outside. Thankfully, other than the noxious yellow odor they secrete, they don’t cause harm to people, only act as a nuisance. Besides ladybugs, you may also deal with box elder bugs in your house during the winter. Like the ladybugs, they won’t cause any harm other than being a nuisance.

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The other major way that insects can get inside your house in the winter is if you bring firewood or houseplants inside. How so? If you don’t inspect the plant material, there could be tiny insects eggs laid, especially from aphids. Gnats, mealy bugs, and spider mites can also find their way in your house by hitching a ride on houseplants. With wood, you could unknowingly be carrying termites that live inside the wood. They could end up causing damage inside your house if the termites get loose.

The main lesson from bugs getting in your home is to be vigilant. Always inspect any houseplants and wood if you bring it in from outside. And make sure to check for any cracks and openings around your house if you’re prone to getting bugs.

Where do Flying Bugs Go in the Winter? Preparing for Next Summer 

bug zapper

By now, you’ve probably learned where flying bugs go in the winter. They’re actually waiting patiently for the cold to go away.

We’ve barely scratched the surface with the number of ways that insect species survive the winter. Both beneficial and pest insects will undergo diapause somewhere underground. Many will migrate, while others will camp out in the attic of your house.

So, what can you do to prepare for when the “bad,” pesky bugs come out in the warmer months?

  • Make sure to inspect and look over any houseplants or firewood that you have in your house. Check for insect eggs, larvae, or cocoons that may have hitchhiked with the plant material.
  • Spring-cleaning! Yes, doing spring-cleaning is definitely not in vane. As you spend time preparing for the warmer months, clean out any clutter, garbage, and repair any cracks. This will help prevent a bunch of insects from invading when summer roles around. If you have a garage and basement, it’s worthwhile to clean those areas out too. Many insects like to hide there.
  • Make sure that you don’t leave out any open containers outside, especially after it rains in the spring. Mosquitoes breed in open, stagnant water, you’ll prevent an onslaught of new mosquitoes in your backyard if you work on eliminating their breeding area before the start of summer.

You can also stock up on Trappify’s yellow sticky traps. They will trap fruit flies, gnats, and other small pesky flies that can invade your houseplants. Having these on hand before summer will help you be more prepared against pests.

It’ll be inevitable that some bugs will make it past the defenses of your home. But with a little preparation, you’ll have less bug problems. And more time enjoying the summer!

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