Science Café, Fall 2017
Department of Biology
Where do insects go in the winter?
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
I’m sorry to say it, but winter is coming! As the cold weather approaches we will get our coats and hats out of the storage bin and make sure our homes are well insulated. For us humans, staying alive in winter is a matter of staying warm by producing and retaining heat. Insects, however are ectotherms, meaning their body temperature follows the temperature of their surroundings, so staying warm simply isn’t an option. When the air is -30°C, the insect is -30°C! But how can they possibly survive that, and where are they spending those cold winter days?
Insects represent more than 75% of animal species on our planet, so we can’t expect them all to deal with winter in the same way. I will introduce you to the many ways that insects survive the cold. While some make like retirees and travel enormous distances to escape the cold, others can adjust their physiology to prepare for winter in a hibernation-like state called diapause. Some have even evolved fascinating ways of avoiding or surviving being frozen solid. Understanding the ways insects accomplish these incredible feats can lead to important advancements in a range of areas, such as predicting how climate change will affect insect pests, or even how to cryopreserve delicate human organs for transplant.