Where Do Bugs Go in Winter?

Winter can be a harsh season for many living creatures, including insects and other bugs. As cold weather approaches, bugs must find ways to survive the frigid temperatures. Where do bugs go in winter? Let’s explore some of the strategies and behaviors bugs use to get through the winter season.


Some bug species migrate to warmer climates in order to survive the winter. Monarch butterflies are a famous example, traveling enormous distances from the United States and Canada to overwintering sites in central Mexico where the climate is more hospitable. Other migratory bugs include dragonflies, painted lady butterflies, and some species of grasshoppers. Bugs that migrate must have strong flight capabilities and the energy reserves to travel vast distances. Their navigation abilities are impressive.


Many types of bugs hibernate during the winter, entering a dormant state. This helps them conserve energy when food is scarce and survive the cold temperatures. Bees, wasps, many insects, spiders, and even some types of butterflies and moths hibernate through varying strategies. Some build insulated winter nests or cocoons and virtually shut down their metabolism. Tree-dwelling insects may burrow into tree bark or holes. Underground hibernation is common, with bugs burrowing below the frost line. Ladybugs and boxelder bugs often overwinter in building crevices.

Adjusting Antifreeze Levels

Some insects prepare their bodies for sub-freezing temperatures by producing antifreeze chemicals that lower the freezing point of their blood and bodily fluids. The wooly bear caterpillar produces glycerol to serve this purpose. Freeze-avoidant proteins are created by goldenrod gall flies. Without these adaptations, internal freezing would be lethal. Adjusting chemistry enables bugs to endure frigid conditions.

Using Food Reserves

Prior to winter’s onset, many insect species build up food reserves to draw upon when resources are scarce. Bumblebees stockpile honey. Carpenter ants store fat reserves. Lady beetles and aphids carry surplus nutrients in their bodies. Having energy on hand helps bugs wait out the winter until fresh food reappears in spring.

Seeking Insulated Shelter

Cracks, crevices, holes, and sheltered spaces help protect hibernating bugs from exposure. Ladybugs gather under leaf litter or in rock piles. Wasps nest underground or in hollow logs. Bees cluster inside insulated hives. Mosquitoes and other aquatic bugs burrow into muddy pond bottoms. Taking shelter conserves warmth and shields bugs from harsh icy winds. Insulation limits temperature fluctuations.

Producing Antifreeze Chemicals

To prevent ice formation within their bodies during winter, some specialized bugs utilize chemical antifreezes. These glycerol-based compounds work like the antifreeze in your car’s radiator, lowering the freezing point so internal fluids stay liquid despite sub-zero temperatures. Gall flies and wooly bear caterpillars are two insects known for this strategy. Without antifreeze, their tissues could fatally crystallize.

Entering Diapause

Diapause is a form of suspended development some bugs undergo to pause their growth and conserve resources when environmental conditions are unfavorable. It’s similar to hibernation but distinct in that bugs in diapause can remain active on warm winter days. The monarch butterfly’s overwintering period is a diapause state. Bugs that enter diapause emerge ready to resume development when their ideal growing season returns.

Finding Protected Places to Overwinter

To safely spend the winter, many bugs seek out protected spaces that buffer them from the elements. Ladybugs gather under fallen leaves or in rock piles. Carpenter ants stay cozy deep underground. Wasps burrow into hollow logs or under tree bark. Mosquito larvae survive in pond mud. Finding the right microclimate lets bugs wait out winter’s worst in relative comfort and security.

Clumping Together in Aggregations

For social species like bees and wasps, aggregating into a tight winter cluster helps maintain a stable temperature and protect the colony. Huddling together enables bees to cooperatively vibrate their wing muscles to generate warmth. Larger groups retain heat better. Ladybugs also gather in tight aggregations, sheltering under logs or rocks. More bugs in a pile helps everyone stay warmer.

Pupating as Larvae or Eggs

Some bugs overwinter in an early life stage, waiting out the cold as eggs or larvae. Gypsy moth eggs survive on tree bark. Many mosquito species overwinter as larvae in water or mud. The pupal stage protects developing insects encased within cocoons and other structures, allowing them to emerge when conditions improve. Starting young provides a head start when winter ends.

Adjusting Body Chemistry

Part of winter survival involves adjusting the chemistry of bug bodies. Bees, wasps, and some other species concentrate the sugars in their blood, which acts like antifreeze to depress the freezing point and prevent ice from forming inside. Without these glycerol-based cryoprotectants, freezing would kill overwintering bugs. Metabolic changes allow supercooling.

Surviving as Adults or Nymphs

While some bugs overwinter in juvenile stages, others spend winter as adults or nymphs. Many adult beetles and flies find secluded spots to wait out the cold. Aphids hide as nymphs. Having a hardy adult or nymph form helps species conserve resources to endure the challenges ahead. Tougher external shells and bodies protect them.

Entering a State of Diapause

Some species enter a dormant state called diapause rather than full hibernation. Diapause pauses development but bugs remain active during warm winter spells. It conserves energy when resources are scarce. The monarch’s winter dormancy is a diapause state. It provides flexibility should conditions briefly improve. Outward activity ceases in true hibernation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where do most bugs go in winter?

Many bugs overwinter in protected spaces on or below the ground. Tree bark,Decaying logs, underground burrows, leaf litter, and rock piles offer insulation. Some overwinter as larvae underwater.

What happens to bugs that don’t hibernate?

Bugs that don’t hibernate often die when winter arrives if they fail to migrate or find proper shelter. Some produce antifreeze chemicals so they can endure the cold. Houseflies and some other bugs may find warmth indoors.

Do all bugs hibernate in winter?

No. Migration and producing antifreeze chemicals are other strategies. Some bugs die off and leave behind eggs that hatch when spring returns. Hibernation is common but not universal.

Why don’t bugs freeze solid in winter?

Chemical antifreezes and cryoprotectants prevent ice crystallization inside insect bodies. They depress the freezing point below the lowest winter temperatures. Hibernating bugs are also sheltered from extreme exposure.

Which bugs hibernate the longest?

Generally, bee species like honeybees and bumblebees hibernate for the longest periods, up to 8 months in northern climates. Other long hibernators include ladybugs, some butterflies and moths, and overwintering queen wasps. Mosquito larvae also hibernate through winter.

Where should I check for hibernating ladybugs?

Look for clumps of ladybugs on south-facing walls, in window wells or vents, under rocks or leaf litter, within bark crevices, and in other protected sites. Attics and basements are also favorite overwintering spots when they find access inside. Outdoors, piles or groups help them stay insulated.


Winter presents significant challenges for bugs, but a wide array of behavioral and physiological adaptations have evolved to help them survive. By migrating, hibernating, sheltering in microclimates, entering diapause, gathering in aggregations, and adjusting chemistries, insects endure the cold season. For all species, finding insulated, protected spaces is key. Once spring arrives, overwintered adult insects and newly hatched young resume the active business of feeding, growing, and reproducing.