Friday, February 18, 2011

Where Do They Go in Winter?

We have had glorious weather this week, and it seems that the whole country has been blessed with a hint of Spring in the air. My husband spoke to a DirecTV customer service representative the other day who was in South Dakota, and he said they were enjoying temperatures in the 50s! I have been doing some "pre-Spring" clean-up and trimming, and have enjoyed just being OUTSIDE.

One thing I have noticed the past couple of evenings, is the sound of what my grandmother used to call "night music." It is the sound of insects chirping or "singing," and I love hearing their night song heralding the arrival of Spring.

But have you ever thought about, or wondered about, where insects go during the winter? It seems as if one day there is an abundance of crickets, moths, grasshoppers, bumblebees, and countless other insects ... buzzing and chirping and fluttering about ... then inevitably, there comes a night when the temperature drops below the freezing point and a layer of frost covers the grass and plants. On the following day, no insects are seen or heard. Where did they all go?

Well, if you are a regular visitor to Southern Lagniappe, you know if I don't know something, I do my best to find out about it ... so I turned once again to my favorite research tool, Google, and found the answers to that question in the form of a 1963 Nature Bulletin presented by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois, for the Newton, Ask a Scientist program. Newton is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science Educators. The following is an abridged version of the Nature Bulletin article entitled, "Where Do They Go?"

Walking through the meadows, fields, and prairies on a balmy autumn day we hear the chirps, trills, buzzing, and humming of innumerable insects. Butterflies dance in the air and flutter from flower to flower. Bees are
industriously gathering nectar and pollen.

Scads of startled grasshoppers and crickets leap and scatter ahead of us. The ground is alive with myriads of ants, bugs, beetles, caterpillars and smaller forms of insect life.

Then, inevitably, there comes a night when the temperature drops below the freezing point and the vegetation is thickly coated with frost. On the following day no insects are seen or heard. Where did they go?

The grasshoppers died. So did all but a few species of butterflies, moths, and the adults of many other kinds of insects whose young, however, pass through winter in the egg stage or hibernate as larvae, pupae, or nymphs.

The ants huddle in their burrows. The honeybees huddle in their hives. The
bumblebee queens and the queens of colonies of social wasps have crept into protected
places where they hibernate until spring, but the males and workers died.

All of the male mosquitoes died. Fertilized females of the common house mosquito and of the Anopheles mosquito which transmits malaria, congregated in cellars, catch basins, hollow trees, and other protected places where they hibernate. The woodland and floodwater mosquitoes winter over as eggs.

A few species of butterflies and moths migrated southward earlier in autumn: notably the Monarch butterfly — sometimes in vast flocks, sometimes as far as the West Indies — and some of them, tattered and torn, return in spring to lay eggs on young milkweeds. Other adult butterflies hibernate in outbuildings or hollow trees and become torpid but, on balmy winter days, may emerge and flutter aimlessly about.

Some kinds of adult insects can endure long periods of extreme cold while hibernating if those periods are continuous — not interrupted by warm thawing days — and some, believe it or not, survive being frozen.

The Viceroy, the fritillaries, and the little skippers are butterflies that hibernate as caterpillars. Swallowtails are some of those that hibernate as pupae — naked chrysalids, not protected by cocoons.

Some of the moths — especially the tent caterpillar, bagworm, and gypsy moth — pass through winter as masses of eggs. The caterpillars of many kinds of moths, however, spin silken cocoons around them and change into pupae before winter comes.

So if you are doing yard work in the next couple of weeks, and turn over a rotting log or compost and find a mouse's nest, a sleepy snake or salamander, or a caterpillar curled up tightly ... kindly put the log or leaves back as they were and let them finish their winter's nap. Mother Nature will be waking them up soon.

If you are being blessed with spring-like weather where you live, remember to listen for the "night music." It will warm your heart.

[Internet Photo]


Deb said...

so looking forward to spring...

Jenni said...

Wow! so interesting! my favorite part was about the mosquitoes dying.... may reread that part just to dream..... hehe.

I just wish the females died too! Aren't they the ones that bite? Ooooh they are so bad here on the Texas Gulf Coast in the late Spring and Summer.... makes me itch just thinkin' about it...

It was 76 degrees here today.... heard a cricket earlier... singing away.. and it really caught my attention.... it's been a while!

Hugs, Jenni

Sue said...

I have pondered this myself, Janie, thank you for this information. I am beginning to enjoy the night music too, and am looking forward to hearing the bullfrogs soon.
I saw a red wasps out yesterday, and asked her what she was doing out so early, she didn't answer just kept right on going. lol
As always thank you for such a delightful post.

racheld said...

Night Music. There's a lovely thought, and I know we'll soon be windows-open, listening to the orchestras on the lawn.

I've marveled ever of the little creatures whose wings must flutter more times than a lifetime of eyeblinks, considering their wee size and the unimaginable distances they travel for the warmth. And the Monarchs, who go to that one place of refuge year after year---how DO those delicate wings endure such a journey?

How on EARTH do they know? Those little homing-systems would be a marvel of engineering, if anything so tiny could be analyzed.

I DO love the little Butterfly Nightclub, with the Ladybug Band and the Firefly stage lighting. The Dragonfly ceiling fans are doing their breezy thing, and the dancers---what a party! You know I'm a sucker for little personifications, and these are just so sweet.

I woke thinking of this charming picture this morning, and had to take another look.

Be WARM soon!


Lori said...

One night when I was in high school, thousands of monarch butterflies landed on the trees in the grove of our farm in Iowa. This was part of the fall migration. Never saw it again. It was magical to see the orange butterflies in the pine trees. And good news -- this week I heard a report that the monarchs are doing better this past year than in the previous couple of years.

Anonymous said...

I am Spring Dreaming and even more so after seeing these images, Janie!