Surviving Arctic-like Winters

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The red-spotted purple butterfly overwinters as a 3rd instar caterpillar.

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Will the caterpillars survive the one Arctic blast after another that we’re having this winter?

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I went out this afternoon to check where I knew four red-spotted caterpillars were hibernating.  A predator had chewed into the side of each hibernaculum and gotten every  caterpillar.

Then I remembered the overwintering adult butterflies in our area —

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mourning cloak,

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eastern comma,

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and question mark,

  They spend the winter in places like under loose bark. One cold winter I watched a golden crowned kinglet flitting around in a cedar tree. It came out with a question mark butterfly. I remember hearing and watching it knocking the butterfly on a limb to break its wings off.

Butterflies and moths overwinter in different stages of their metamorphosis — egg, caterpillar, chrysalis/pupa and adult. It will be interesting to see population numbers next summer.

Anyway, I wonder if there is a limit to how cold they can tolerate?


4 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve heard that on warm winter days you can see butterflies, but I never have. I don’t know how they stand the cold unless they have something similar to antifreeze in their bodies.


    • I’ve usually seen them in the woods, where the trees are in the sun, and where sap possibly oozing from sapsucker holes. They are few and far between. It’s a matter of being right place at right time.


  2. I didn’t know that some butterflies overwinter as adults.


    • They call them “sap-flow” butterflies. They prefer things like rotting fruit and sap flows, and occasionally visit flowers. If you have the species where you live, they should be around in the winter.


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