Hibernation, meet Insects.
The temperature drops, snow begins to fall, and ice forms across roads and water formations alike. We bundle up and turn on the heat, but what do insects do? Prepare your mind to be blown.
This means that when the temperature drops, insects can reduce their metabolic activity and go into a state of dormancy. AKA, they can survive with less than they usually need. Insects become dormant for many reasons, not just because of the cold. If there is a lack of food, water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, or a sudden change in their natural environment, they will slow their metabolism down to survive without those essentials. But this doesn’t happen often, usually, animals experience dormancy within a pattern. Winter comes annually, therefore they know to prepare for it. There are two types of dormancy:
- Quiescence: Short-term, brought on by unexpected change. This is easily reversible and is usually used when changes in environments are short-lived.
- Diapause: An extended period of metabolic activity. This is a triggered type of dormancy. When insects feel the weather getting colder they start to slowly prepare their bodies for “hibernation” through dormancy.
When insects go through diapause, they will seek shelter by burrowing underground. First, they will prepare their bodies for dormancy, and then find their protection from the cold.
Gross Fact: When you’re playing in the snow, there are likely thousands of dormant insects below your feet. Ew.
Our cells and bodies are composed of mostly water. When the weather gets frigidly cold, that water can freeze. This can happen inside insects as well. How do they fight it? They store large amounts of sugars in their bodies that lower the freezing temperatures of liquids. Some insects also store lipids or glycogen which are sources of energy. Although this method works for many different insects, once the temperature surpasses -30 F or -34.44C, the insect’s bodies can’t keep the cold out any longer.
Unless you’re the Antartic midge…
Better known as the Belgica Antarctica, this wingless insect can survive the freezing of its body fluids and live without oxygen for 2-4 week. This 2-7mm midge is the longest purely terrestrial animal that walks the frigid floors of Antartica. It spends two full winters surrounded by snow and ice in its larvae stage. During this time it can lose up to 70 percent of the water in its body. After that long, and cold, development, it only lives for about 10 days once it becomes an adult. It fills those 10 days doing two things: Eating and mating. Between insane temperature swings, high exposure to ultraviolet light, and all other conditions that come with living on the continent of Antartica, these small insects fascinate scientists to this day.