What happens to insects in the winter?

09.02.2022 - By CrowdScience

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When CrowdScience listener Eric spotted a few gnats flying around on a milder day in mid-winter it really surprised him - Eric had assumed they just died out with the colder weather. It got him wondering where the insects had come from, how they had survived the previous cold snap and what the implications of climate change might be for insect over-wintering behaviour? So he asked CrowdScience to do some bug investigation.

CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton takes up the challenge and heads out into the British countryside – currently teeming with buzzes and eight legged tiny beasties - to learn about the quite amazing array of tactics these small creatures use to survive the arduous days of cold.

She hears how some insects change their chemical structure to enhance their frost resistance whist others hanker down in warmer microclimates or rely on their community and food stocks to keep them warm.

But cold isn’t the only climatic change insects have to endure, in the tropics the seasons tend to fluctuate more around wet and dry so what happens then? Marnie talks with a Kenyan aquatic insect expert who describes how mosquitoes utilise the rains and shares his worry climate change could have a big impact on insect populations.

Dr Erica McAlister – Entomologist and Senior Curator, Natural History Museum,
Dr Adam Hart – Entomologist and Professor of Science Communication - University of Gloucestershire
Fran Haidon – Beekeeper
Laban Njoroge – Entomologist, head of the Invertebrate Zoology – Museum of Kenya
Dr Natalia Li – Biochemist

Presenter: Marnie Chesterton
Producer: Melanie Brown

[Image: Butterfly in winter resting on snow covered branch. Credit: Getty Images]

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