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Where do butterflies go in the winter? Do they all freeze and die?
NO! Some enter diapause, freeze, and live through temperatures well below 32 degrees F.

Butterflies spend winter in different ways, depending upon the species. Many species convert glycogen to sorbitol and glycerol (nature's natural anti-freeze) as nights become longer and temperatures become cooler.

Each species that enters diapause will do so in a different life stage; egg, larva, pupa, or adult. These species spend the winter as caterpillars.


Above: Tawny Emperor Asterocampa clyton butterfly caterpillars sew hackberry tree leaves onto the tree stem. These caterpillars are social and tend to stay in groups, especially when young. They proceed to sew leaves together into a nest. As long as the leaves are green, the caterpillars tend to remain green. As they sit in the dark hibernacula, they turn brown. (First photo shows both brown and green caterpillars.) If they are exposed to light, they remain green for a longer period of time. The brown caterpillars' color matchs dead leaves, the green caterpillars match green leaves. When the leaves turn brown, all the caterpillars in the hibernaculum turn brown. Hackberry trees drop leaves in the winter. Hibernacula stay on the trees due to the fact that the caterpillars literally sewed the leaves to the tree. When spring arrives and fresh tender leaves grow on the trees, caterpillars leave diapause and their nests, eating and growing again.


Above: A Viceroy Limenitis archippus caterpillar will sew a willow tree leaves onto the tree stem. It eats most of the leaf, leaving about 1" of the base of the leaf. It lays a mat of silk (which contracts as it dries) that turns the leaf base into a tight tube. Willow trees drop leaves in the winter. Hibernacula stay on the trees due to the fact that the caterpillars literally sewed the leaves to the tree. When spring arrives and fresh tender leaves grow on the trees, caterpillars leave diapause and their nests, eating and growing again. At first the caterpillars will return to their hibernacula when they are not eating. As they grow too large for their hibernacula, they rest on stems during the times they are not eating.

Red-Banded Hairstreak,

Above: A Horace's Duskywing Erynnis horatius butterfly caterpillar turns beige in the late fall. After folding an oak leaf into a hibernaculum with silk or sewing two leaves together with silk, the caterpillar will stay in the leaf/leaves in the winter, emerging in the spring to continue eating and growing. The photo to the right is an adult Duskywing butterfly drinking nectar from Summer Farewell. There are several species of duskywing butterflies.


Other species of butterflies and moths spend their winter as a pupa.
Some swallowtails, whites, and hairstreaks receive the message that winter is approaching while they are still a caterpillar.
They pupate into a chrysalis and won't emerge until spring brings shorter nights and warmer temperatures. Some species that overwinter as pupae are Great Purple Hairstreak, Red-banded Hairstreak, and Checkered White.

Various species of butterflies spend the winter as adults; hiding in cracks in wood, in firewood stacks, and other similar areas.
Some species of butterflies which spend their winter tucked in these areas
are Mourning Cloaks ( Nymphalis antiopa) and Question Marks ( Polygonia interrogationis).

Species such as the Buckey and Cloudless Sulphur migrate south in the winter although a few are seen all year in areas a few hundred miles north of the freeze line.

question mark butterfly fruit
Question Mark
question mark butterfly fruit
Red Admiral

Cloudless Sulphur

Buckeye
Some species spend the winter as eggs. Eggs laid in the fall will hatch the following year.
A few such species are the Great Copper, Banded Hairstreak, Southern Hairstreak, and Striped Hairstreak.