Do Moths Hibernate?

Do moths hibernate? Yes, moths have several strategies to survive the cold winter. Some species lay their eggs in late summer or fall, which don’t hatch until the following spring when food is plentiful. Many moths spend the winter as caterpillars hibernating through vegetation, although some don’t emerge to feed during mild periods. Other species, such as Peregrines, spend the winter as pupae, hidden in hot underground cocoons where they are protected from the cold.

Some species hibernate as adults if they can find warm shelter. Many of us were surprised by the sight of a small turtle shell moth or a red Almirante butterfly in your home or garage that has awakened from its winter sleep. The Herald moth is another species that often hibernate. This moth usually appears during the first warm-up period in spring.


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However, few realize that some moths are impervious to the cold and are active in their adult form throughout the winter months. One of them in particular, the December moth, named rather appropriately, spends its entire short adult life in the depths of winter, flying in November and December. This charming moth can be found mainly in deciduous forests. The December moth will often lay its eggs on trees such as oak, birch, and hawthorn. The eggs hatch in April, which is conveniently the perfect time for these larvae or caterpillars to feed on the new growth of the leaves.

Moths are quite similar in appearance and biology to the butterfly, and as such share the same order with them. Both belong to the Lepidoptera family. Although both species are different, they do have a lot in common. There are about 200,000 species of moths worldwide. Moths are classified into two types: macro moths (larger) and micro-moths (smaller).


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A moth has two pairs of wings with a frenulum. A frenulum is a ridge of tissue that basically supports and checks the motion of whatever it is attached to. In this instance the moth’s frenulum allows these two pairs of wings to function as a single wing while flying. Moths have two compound eyes and feather or hairy antennas. Unlike butterflies’ moth antennas do not have any clubs on the end of them. Moth antennas are larger than butterfly antennas. If lucky enough to have a mouth, moths come with the suction mouthpart or spiral proboscis (long tongue similar to a straw) which is used to suck fluids from fruits and flowers. Each moth has a different size of a proboscis (long or short). In particular, the butterfly is the species that has a tongue longer than its entire body.

The winter moth is another species that is appropriately named. These moths will fly from November to February. This fairly old moth can be found in forests, parks, and gardens of all kinds, where caterpillars feed on a wide variety of trees in the spring. Caterpillars can pull up leaves very quickly, and in some places, they are considered a pest, especially in orchards. In common with some other moth species, the male moths are the only ones able to fly. Flying females tend to have very small strained wings and they depend on them to find males for mating. Like all moths, females produce potent pheromones that can attract adult males from a distance and as such the females do not have to fly very long distances at all. The males can also fly on the coldest of nights as their bodies naturally contain a type of antifreeze.

Moth Life Cycle

A single female moth lays 50 to 400 eggs in a period of one to 18 days. They lay their eggs on or near food. According to a report published in the Journal of Stored Products Research, a pantry moth lays eggs in areas with a strong food odor and the presence of cooking-related oils. Food left in barrels, poorly constructed containers or broken packages are more likely to attract egg layers. Moth eggs will hatch within two and 14 days of being laid.


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Larva state

Larvae of pantry moths build silky white tunnels immediately after hatching. The larvae, which look like worms, live in tunnels until they mature, and they use them to get to the food. They cannot bite through wrappers really, although they can pass through any small opening, even if it is 1/4 mm in diameter. Young moths have a bit of difficulty perforating grains and other tightly packed foods that are more than one to two inches thick. The larval stage is the longest part of the insect’s life and lasts anywhere from two weeks to a full year depending on the species, environmental conditions and what time of the year it emerges from its pupal stage.


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The complete cycle of a pantry moth can last a total of 27 days to a little more than a year. Up to eight generations of moths can gather in a calendar year, although they cannot survive in cold climates. In most regions winter severely limits the potential of successive generations. Temperature affects the life span of moths. Those in regions with temperatures of 86° Fahrenheit (30° Celsius) and more generally complete the cycle in about half the time as those in regions with lower temperatures around 68° Fahrenheit (20° Celsius). At lower temperatures the moths become much more lethargic.

Out of the more than 180 species of Lepidoptera currently known in Western Europe, only six species of Lepidoptera hibernate in the colder region. These flake-wingers, as they are also called, are the only ones that spend the winter in their adult moth form.

As autumn begins, they seek a protected place to shelter from both predators and the cold. They tend to choose mainly caves, but they are found in some trees. They can often be found even in garden sheds or cracks under tiles, using these spaces as their temporary winter accommodation. Especially in more urban areas, where there are actually a lot less natural options available, where moths can spend the winter. More often than not the warm cellar beneath a house makes the most suitable environment for over wintering.


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Where do they go in winter?

The reality is that most insects live only one season and don’t survive from one year to the next, as they don’t tolerate low temperatures. This is not to say that they simply drop of the map and then suddenly resurface again. What they do is finish their adult life at the end of summer and make way for the next generation.

As some Biology professors explain, most hibernate as eggs – as is the case with moths, grasshoppers, butterflies, cockroaches or beetles – or in immature stages such as larvae, nymphs or chrysalises – as is the case with crickets, silkworms or field bugs. The places where they are found to protect themselves from the cold are very diverse ranging from; under the bark of trees, in cracks, between leaves, to even under stones. For example, grasshoppers inject their eggs into the stalks of some plants or else into the soil. There are very few species of insects that spend the winter sheltering as adults, such as the day butterfly. Another survival technique that is also used by some species of bird, is migration. This happens with monarch butterflies, which live in the Canadian Rocky Mountains while it is hot, but when the cold begins to lurk back they migrate to Mexico, causing absolutely breath taking scenes in the sky.

Winter Moth

Winter moths have the ability to survive and thrive as they are, even though they freeze below 32 degrees, because they emerge out of the leaf litter on the forest floor where temperatures seldom drop below 37 degrees.  But when the air temperature finally rises above freezing, the winter moths come out. They tremble for several minutes, this is the method employed to warm themselves up before taking flight on their search for food.  Maple sap is among their favorite foods. A stomach full of this high-energy food provides enough energy for one of these moths to go all winter long. When in full swing, they can increase their metabolism by over 8,000 times, using the same amount of energy that sustains them all winter in as little as 30 minutes.  Summer moths vent heat from the chest, while winter moths conserve their heat using a different exchange system.


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Like most insects, moths cannot naturally survive freezing temperatures. When it starts to get cold during the winter, moths have to seek shelter or else they will die. You will not likely see moths flying around when it’s snowing outside, well, at least not for long.

Moths get through the cold winter in a variety of different ways. This depends predominantly on the type of moth and its stage of development. Although more and more species in Western Europe often spend the winter in stagnation, the frequency is decreasing, and they are less and less visible coming in to the summer. It is even more important that they maintain or create habitat for winter quarters and that they help “summer birds” in any life cycle if necessary so that they can survive the winter season.


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