Winter can be quite harsh on humans, animals and insects and their arthropod relatives and so far we are off to a very cold winter. If you think you had a bad winter, you might want to see the movie The March of the Penguins. I would even suggest you encourage your employees and their families to see this award winning movie. Morgan Freeman narrates this epic adventure and the move details the hardships that the Emperor penguins endure as they take their annual 100+ mile trip to find a mate. In the Antarctic, every March since the beginning of time, the quest begins so the penguins find the perfect mate and start a family. We know from experience that insects survive the winter and emerge in the warm spring months to complete their life cycles. Insects are not warm-blooded animals. Insects do not really hibernate although this term is used commonly to describe their behavior. Insects actually go into a resting phase caused diapause. Diapause is very complex so let’s break it down a little.
Diapause is usually done by insects. There are two kinds of diapause: Obligatory diapause–a word that just means that the animal or insect MUST do this at some stage in its development. It has no choice. Facultative diapause – another big word that means the animal goes to ‘sleep’ because something bad is going to happen. With facultative diapause, the creature goes to sleep BEFORE the drought or cold weather. Diapause is the way insects adapt to the world around them. Insects can be active in the rainy season and ‘sleep’ during drought conditions. Insects get warning signals a few times before they actually do anything about it. These warning signs might be days becoming shorter. They can sense this and send out the message for ‘sleep’. After a few warning-signal days, the female will lay ‘diapausing’ eggs. These eggs will have their cycle from egg to adult stopped somewhere but will continue when conditions get better for survival.
Most people make the mistake of assuming that super cold winters will kill off most of the insect and mite pests. In cold weather, insects and mites avoid being killed by producing a type of anti- freeze in their bodies or by locating over-wintering sites which do not actually freeze. Most insects and mites which over-winter as eggs, pupae or other resting forms on or near their host plant convert their body sugars into a type of antifreeze. These pests are rarely killed by the extremes of cold in their normal range. Let’s look at activity levels of some insects over the winter. At 50F, female mosquitoes are actively seeking warm-blooded hosts from which to take a blood meal. We’ve all seen cluster flies and lady bird beetles emerge in the coldest of winter months during a bright sunny day. How many times have you come back at night and seen insects flying around your outside porch light wondering how these insects are going to survive? Many species of ants are active during the winter. Outdoors, the most active ants in winter seem to be leaf cutter ants. They strip vegetation from plants ranging from evergreens, to trees, to ball moss– yes, ball moss!
As for those Emperor penguins we mentioned early on in this article they actually need a long harsh Antarctic winter in order to find a mate and raise a family. They travel over 100 miles to the exact place they were born to find their perfect mate and have their offspring. I could tell you why they do this but I would rather you see the movie and find out for yourself. I promise you’ll have a better respect for our mild winters where you live (compared to what you’ll see about the Antarctic) and you will absolutely be amazed by the life of the Emperor penguins.
(Emperor penguins starting their 100+ mile trip to find a mate and
raise a family. Picture credit: Warner Brothers Studios and National
Editor’s Note: William A. Kolbe, BCE is a Board Certified Entomologist for Viking Pest Control based out of Warren, NJ. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Entomology with a minor in Ecology from the University of Delaware. He is a member of The Denville NJ Community Gardens. He can be reached at 800-618-2847 or visit www.vikingpest.com