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Do Freezing Temps Kill Bugs?

By Paul James

In the past few weeks, I’ve repeatedly heard the claim that the recent snap of cold weather means the bugs won’t be bad this year. The idea of course is that bugs can’t survive prolonged cold temperatures and therefore their populations will be greatly reduced if not eliminated entirely. But does that claim have any basis in fact?

Sorry, no. While it’s true that a number of bugs can’t survive freezing temperatures, they’ve developed truly remarkable ways of protecting themselves and furthering their progeny.

The simplest way to beat the cold is to migrate to a warmer spot, just as Monarch butterflies do. Moving into your house is another common means of survival for numerous insects including crickets, ants, ladybugs, stink bugs, moths, and even wasps.

Insects that can’t survive cold temperatures at least know how to sustain their populations by laying eggs underground, in leaf litter or garden refuse, and in buildings.

And what about fleas and ticks and mosquitoes? Again, sorry.

Fleas are clever enough to find ways to stay warm, whether on wild or domesticated animals or in garages, under decks, and around foundations.

Ticks begin a process of acclimation long before winter arrives by moving water out of their cells before it freezes and crystallizes, thereby allowing them to survive freezing temperatures. They also escape the cold beneath leaf litter and other warm spots.

Mosquitoes actually hibernate both inside and out. They also lay eggs in the fall that can survive the cold – even in frozen water — and remain dormant until spring.

And there are some insects – the Emerald Ash Borer for example, as well as some mosquitoes – that produce a sort of antifreeze in their blood called glycerol, which enables them to survive freezing temperatures in a state of suspended animation. It’s insect cryogenics, basically.

Let’s face it. Insects have been around for millions of years, and rarely do we hear of them becoming extinct. They’ve survived predators, pesticides, an asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs, and yes, even nuclear explosions. Among living things, they are the ultimate survivors.

And you think something like a little cold weather is going to affect them?

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5 responses to “Do Freezing Temps Kill Bugs?”

  1. Pamela Vesley says:

    Thanks for the info Paul. How do I get rid of wasps that hatch out when the weather goes up to 50 degrees!!! I think they are sleeping in the walls of my vintage home. my email is….thanks pal it is so good to see you on TV again….I’ve been gone for 10 years but I was a big fan of your gardening show.
    PJ Vesley

    • Paul James says:

      PJ — I’m a PJ too! Thanks for being a fan. The wasps are likely hibernating in the walls of your home. But unless you’re deathly allergic, do you really want to get rid of them? They prey on all sorts of bugs that would otherwise prey on your plants, which makes them beneficial insects. And dig this — in my 40 years of gardening, I’ve never been stung by a wasp despite the fact that they fly all around me. Think about it. If you’re not convinced, then you’ll have to resort to spraying them, or use a tennis racket to knock them out of the air.

  2. Frank says:

    Great information. I was not aware that insects can hibernate. Definitely I will take better care of the surrounding areas around the house before the winter. Thank you Paul.

  3. Mark in Indiana says:

    Arrrrgh! Cabbage worms! I thought the salvation for my kale plants would be the cold weather. Nope. A good freeze…nope, again. I watched their little frost encrusted bodies held in suspended animation with the same curiosity as the astronaut first viewing the xenomorph facehuggers in alien; so oblivious to the danger. By the end of my battle, I had lapsed into uncontrollable fits of glee as I popped them like little green zits while chanting "I shall call him Squishy (POP) and he shall be mine (POP) and he shall be my Squishy (POP) Come on, Squishy (POP) Come on, little Squishy…"

    Cold weather my butt…if you’ll excuse me I’m experiencing chest pains.