You will almost never see a butterfly in the winter and only very rarely can you encounter a moth during the colder months. So where do they go and do they survive the winter?
Butterflies survive the winter by hibernating or migrating. Each Species hibernates in another stage of its development. Some overwinter as eggs that are attached to twigs or leaves, others overwinter as caterpillars hidden away, some overwinter as Chrysalis, and some overwinter as adult butterflies.
Butterflies don´t produce their own body temperature so they are dependent on the surrounding temperature. If it gets too cold then they won´t be able to move properly or at all.
Some butterflies are able to tremble their wing muscles to produce some amount of heat to keep themselves warm but even that isn´t enough to keep them flying throughout the winter months.
So eventually they have to hibernate in order to survive the winter or they simply migrate to a warmer area during the winter.
Butterflies That Hibernate as Eggs
Butterfly species that hibernate as eggs are rare.
These butterflies lay their eggs in autumn on twigs or leaves where they are protected from potential predators.
The eggs of the butterfly stay dormant during the winter and will only start to develop and hatch in spring.
These butterflies will be seen in late summer because they take the whole spring and early summer to develop into butterflies.
Butterflies That Hibernate as Caterpillars
Butterflies that hibernate as caterpillars do that in different ways depending on the species.
Some caterpillars wrap themselves up in leaves and survive the winter that way while others wrap themselves up in a protective layer of their own webbing. Caterpillars that wrap themselves in their web often hide in tree bark.
Butterflies that overwinter as caterpillars will develop into adult butterflies in the spring and can often be seen flying around in late spring and early summer.
Butterflies That Hibernate as Chrysalis
Some butterflies hibernate as chrysalis to survive the cold.
These butterflies will develop into caterpillars and then eat enormous amounts of food (relatively speaking) until they are ready to develop into a butterfly.
They will wait and eat until the first cold days of autumn at which point they will pupate and stay at that stage until spring.
In spring they will develop into butterflies and you can usually see these butterfly species in early and late spring.
Butterflies That Hibernate as Adults
A lot of butterflies will simply hibernate as adult butterflies. These species will hide away in tree bark where they overwinter.
You can often see adult butterflies hiding under wood roofs or on the side of cabins during the winter.
They will slow down their metabolism to a point where they don´t need any food and they will stay that way until spring.
These butterflies can be seen flying around as soon as the first warm days in January or February.
Butterflies That Migrate
A few butterflies will even migrate during the colder months to a warmer area.
But unlike birds, butterflies aren´t able to fly to another continent so they will often only travel a few hundred miles south to an area that is slightly warmer where they can survive the winter.
These butterflies can be seen in late spring when they return home.
Lisa is one of the two founders of Animal-Knowledge. She has been very interested in animals and insects from a very young age and has owned different kinds of pets such as snails, ants, fish, turtles, mice, rats, hamsters, rabbits, a dog, … you get the idea 🙂