When winter arrives and the conditions get chilly and bleak, different species devise their unique ways of survival. For instance, it’s rare to spot a butterfly roaming outside if you live in a region that gets hit hard by extreme weather during the colder months. The question is, where do they go? More specifically, do they hibernate or migrate? In reality, the place a butterfly spends its winter season depends on its species.
First off, what is hibernation?
Hibernation is a state very minimal mental and physical activities. During hibernation the level of metabolism drops to about 5% with levels of heart rate, breathing and body temperatures dropping drastically.
What Happens to Butterflies During Winter?
As mentioned above, you can hardly see a butterfly when it becomes cold outside. This is because some migrate to regions with warmer climates, while others hibernate. The specific destination they go to depends on the butterfly’s natural habitat. For instance, the Painted Lady moves to hotter locations.
Why Do Butterflies Migrate or Hibernate?
Yes, some butterfly species such as red admiral, peacock, small tortoiseshell and the brimstone hibernate in adult form. Other species overwinter as, pupae larvae or caterpillar form.
Other species such as the monarch butterflies migrate thousands of kilometers to warmer areas. The primary reason why butterflies migrate during winter is to find a place that offers conducive conditions for their survival. It’s worth noting that butterflies, like other insects, are cold-blooded organisms that can’t cope with chilly weather.
Additionally, they shift from one location to another to search for food. Most plants don’t flower during winter, meaning that the insects are at a higher risk of dying of hunger.
The third reason why butterflies migrate is to find new colonies. If these insects overstay in a particular region, caterpillars will consume all the food available, eventually causing starvation. Thus, migration ensures that butterflies have an adequate supply of food throughout their life cycle.
Which Butterfly Species Migrate?
The most popular butterfly migration involves the Monarch species. However, this routine is not limited to them. Others, including Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Question Mark, Mourning Cloak, Common Buckeye, Clouded Skipper, and Cloudless Sulfur also migrate.
Monarch butterflies can’t survive the cold conditions experienced in most parts of the US during winter. As such, they seek refuge in Southern California and Mexico where it’s warm throughout the year. The migration usually starts in mid-October, but it can vary depending on the onset of cold conditions in that year.
When they move to California, these insects find a habitat on eucalyptus trees. On the other hand, those that migrate to Mexico live on oyamel fir trees. Interestingly, these butterflies use the same trees year in year out, generation after generation.
In the first days of every autumn, Painted Ladies swarm together and fly off to the warmer south. They spend their winters in countries as close to the US as Mexico, or lands as far as the Middle East and Africa. While wintering, they lay eggs and eventually die. Once winter is over, their offspring have to fly back to their original homes in America, where the cycle continues perpetually. Simply put, no butterfly that migrates makes it back home.
Unlike the other two species mentioned above, the Red Admiral butterflies migrate alone. Perhaps this is the reason they have a soldier-like name, ‘Red Admiral.’ Scientists are yet to establish the reason behind this unique behavior, as most insects like traveling in groups.
Why Do Butterflies Hibernate?
Because of the chilly conditions and limited food supply during winter, species that don’t migrate often devise ways of generating more heat to keep them and optimizing metabolism so that they don’t starve. This is called hibernation.
Which Butterfly Species Hibernate?
As hard as it is to believe, there are some butterfly species that hibernate until the cold season passes. The trick to survive the adverse conditions lies in remaining in one stage of the life cycle until warm conditions resurface.
For instance, Purplish Copper butterflies lay eggs on leaves and twigs during winter, and they remain that state until conditions are favorable for morphing into the next life stage.
Most species, including the Baltimore Checker spots, survive winters as caterpillars. The caterpillars create burrows on the fallen leaves of their host plant and stay there until winter ends.
Swallowtail butterflies, on the other hand, go through winter as chrysalises, also known as pupae. Others, like Mourning Cloaks, withstand the adverse conditions as adults. They hide themselves in crevices on logs and dead trees, or inside loose barks on trees. On the onset of spring, these insects start flying again.
How Do Butterflies Survive During Hibernation?
Due to their cold-blooded nature, butterflies’ body temperatures always match that of their surroundings. However, they have a natural mechanism that starts secreting anti-freezing fluids in their body when it starts getting cold. These fluids prevent the formation of ice crystals on the insects, which can rupture body cells regardless of the stage in the life cycle.
The anti-freezing fluids contain glycerol molecules that work similar to the anti-freeze mechanism employed on automobile engines. Even if the body temperature goes below zero, no ice crystals will form.
What Is a Butterfly Hibernation Box?
A butterfly hibernation box is an artificial structure that provides pleasant conditions to butterflies during winter months. During summer, it provides shelter against rain and wind.
Ideally, the butterfly hibernation box should be wooden. This is because metal gains and loses heat at faster rates, making it hard to provide an optimum environment for the insects to thrive. Also, ensure that you provide adequate water and fruits for your butterflies to eat. Don’t forget to include straw to provide additional warmth during hibernation.
Moreover, a hibernation box works best when placed in flower farm that isn’t exposed to strong winds. Keep an eye on the amount of vegetation around it, though, as too much plant cover can prevent the penetration of sunlight. If you want to catch a glimpse of your beautiful insects, consider installing plexiglass or any transparent materials on one of the sides.
If you were wondering whether butterflies migrate or hibernate during winter, we are hopeful that you have a conclusive answer. As seen above, various species react differently to cold weather. That said, you can choose to invest in a hibernation box so that these beautiful creatures stay in your vicinity throughout the year, regardless of the prevailing conditions!