Winter Insects

 In Blog, Education, Insects

Except for a few that migrate, all of the insects of spring, sum­mer, and fall are still here in Penn­syl­va­nia over the win­ter. On a nature walk, you are more like­ly to see the evi­dence of insects, such as their feed­ing places and built shel­ters, than the insects them­selves. Most are buried in the ground, mud, or leaf lit­ter. Search­ing for this evi­dence is like a trea­sure hunt each winter.

Promethea moth cocoons on a cher­ry tree, wait­ing for spring to emerge

Look among the bare branch­es of trees and shrubs for any bit of mate­r­i­al attached to them, per­haps a leaf or some­thing unrec­og­niz­able. Among the things you may find are sev­er­al types of cocoons. The larg­er ones will be those of silk moths, small­er ones wrapped inside a leaf will like­ly belong to tus­sock moths. Tiny groups of cocoons, each no more than a quar­ter inch long prob­a­bly belong to bra­conid wasps. Anoth­er cocoon like struc­ture hang­ing off of twigs will be the lar­va cas­es of bag­worm moths. They are about half of an inch to 2 inch­es long.

Moth cocoon on the for­est floor


If you find a tiny bit of curled up leaf attached to a wil­low or poplar, you may have found the win­ter home of a viceroy but­ter­fly. And if you find lit­tle holes lined along a twig, you may have dis­cov­ered the eggs of tree crick­ets. Anoth­er trea­sure on twigs is the egg case of a man­tis, a 1 inch sphere made of lay­ers of hard­ened tan foam.


Euro­pean man­tis egg on alder

If you go into the woods, look for dead or dying trees and check under their bark for the tun­nel pat­terns of bark bee­tles. Beneath the trees and on the sur­face of the snow, look for one of the few active win­ter insects, the snow flea. This insect is so small that groups of them look like pep­per sprin­kled in the snow.

Chi­nese man­tis egg mass on a dawn redwood

All the pho­tos in this post are just a few over­win­ter­ing insects found at Tree Pittsburgh’s cam­pus, wait­ing for spring to awak­en them.




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