During the winter, bugs disappear, only to reappear when spring comes around. What prompts these bugs to go back to life as normal? It’s not like an ant colony can set an alarm clock for 3 months, then pop back up to the surface when the alarm clock starts beeping. The simple answer to why insects become active again is warmer, more tolerable temperatures and the reemergence of food sources. Let’s quickly cover how insects survive a cold winter.
- Migrate. Why bother with adapting to the cold when you can leave it far behind? This is limited to flying insects, such as butterflies and dragonflies, but this behavior isn’t exclusive to insects. Many species of birds, wildebeest, salmon, and snow birding retirees all undergo seasonal migrations.
- Hibernate/Overwinter. These two adaptations are largely identical, and these adaptations are used by the majority of insects. Insects will enter a state where their metabolism is greatly reduced, and their bodies enter a state of dormancy. Many burrowing insects will burrow below the freeze line in the soil, further reducing the caloric demands to stay warm. Non-burrowing insects are often able to produce a chemical in their blood that functions similarly to antifreeze. Not all insects hibernate as mature adults. Some species, largely those with short adult lifespans, overwinter as larvae or pupae.
- Take shelter! There’s no need to worry about the cold if it never gets cold. Common pests like cockroaches survive through the winter by invading your warm, climate-controlled home. Of course, cockroaches are more than happy to stay in your home throughout the rest of this year, but that’s a bit outside the scope of this article.
So, what time do insects wake up or return in your part of the USA? America does not have a uniform climate, and these disparities in weather affect the insects that live there. We’ll be referencing climate maps provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for our regional breakdown. To keep things simple, we’re assuming that insects begin to overwinter at temperatures between 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember, unless your home’s heating system is broken, your home should never reach the 50-degree mark, which means that bugs invading your home won’t feel compelled to winterize.
States: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
This is one of the most uniformly cold regions in the continental United States. The magic 50° mark is reached in April, with the northernmost state of Maine barely squeaking by. Still, bug populations will be active in full force come June. Insects will continue to be visible until October, where some species will begin to migrate or start preparations for hibernation. If insects aren’t prepared to overwinter by November, they’ll likely be killed by rapidly dropping temperatures. Cold temperatures remain through February before beginning a slow rise towards the 50-degree marker in March.
States: Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington D.C. West Virginia
The Mid-Atlantic is similar in climate to New England, though bugs come out a bit earlier and stay out a bit later in this region. Insects will begin emerging in late March and begin wintering in early November. Cold winds coming from the Atlantic coast can preemptively start this process in some insects, even if the actual temperature is still slightly above the 50-degree mark.
States: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee
We’ve mentioned climate-controlled houses several times already in this article to reinforce the point that if insects don’t sense the cold, they do not need to hibernate. This concept doesn’t cease to exist once you step away from a central heating system. In many parts of the American South, especially the deep South, bugs never really go away. Mosquitos can be a year-round phenomenon, and while they do get lazier during the traditional winter months, they’re always present.
States: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin
A fierce competitor with New England for the inglorious title of America’s coldest winters, the Midwest has the environmental gall to force its residents to endure much hotter summers than New England. The bug calendar is similar to New England, though pests tend to be more prevalent in the summer due to the hotter average temperature.
States: Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas
A similar climate to the South, though northern Arizona and New Mexico do have much colder winters. In this part of the USA, pests are more concerned about staying cool than overwintering, which means that they’re looking to invade your home for the air conditioning, not the heater.
States: Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming
The Rocky Mountains are no stranger to snow, and insects are rare in this area between October and April. However, insects can be found up and down the Rockies. Many species of insects are able to live comfortably at altitudes of 13,000 feet above sea level and higher. The highest peak in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Elbert, is only 14,439 feet above sea level.
States: California, Oregon, Washington
This geographic region crosses multiple lines of latitude, making it a diverse collection of climates. Southern California shares a climate with the Southwest, while Oregon and Washington are more temperate versions of the Rockies, which results in bugs staying active for longer.
The simplest way to view Alaska is to cut it in half. Using the city of Fairbanks as the median marker, the land to the north of Fairbanks is too cold to support much insect life. However, the rest of the state has insects, though populations are prone to wild fluctuations due to sudden cold spikes or wetter than normal springs.
As Hawaii is a tropical climate, insects are active year-round. Ants, centipedes, and beetles routinely pester homeowners and put a damper on the beautiful weather.
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