What Do Caterpillars Eat in Winter?

Dring winter, it can be challenging to care for caterpillars as they require special attention to survive. Caterpillars are fascinating creatures that require special attention during the winter months. By understanding how caterpillars survive winters, what they eat, and how to keep them at home, you can provide a suitable environment for your caterpillar to thrive. Remember to research your caterpillar species' specific needs and provide a clean and comfortable home for them to live in.

Most caterpillars feed on leaves, flowers, and stems. However, during winter, when food is scarce, it can be challenging to find a suitable food source. Some caterpillars have adapted to eating evergreen leaves, which remain on trees throughout the winter. Other caterpillars feed on lichens, which grow on rocks, trees, and other surfaces. Additionally, some species of caterpillars store food during the warmer months, which they consume during the winter when food is scarce.

Caterpillars are known for their voracious appetite during summer and fall when there is an abundance of foliage. However, when winter comes, the availability of food becomes scarce, and caterpillars have to adapt to survive. They have various ways of surviving the winter, including hibernation, feeding on limited diets, and freezing solid. By being selective in their food choices and adapting to the harsh winter conditions, these caterpillars ensure their survival until spring arrives.

How do caterpillars survive winters?

Caterpillars have various ways of surviving winters, depending on the species. Some caterpillars overwinter as eggs, waiting for spring to hatch. Others, like the monarch butterfly caterpillar, undergo a process called diapause, which allows them to slow down their metabolism and survive the winter. During diapause, they stop eating and moving and enter a dormant state. This helps them conserve energy and avoid freezing to death.

Other Hibernating Caterpillars

Some caterpillars hibernate during winter to avoid the harsh weather conditions. These caterpillars find a sheltered spot, such as a tree trunk or under a rock, and enter a state of dormancy. During this period, their metabolism slows down, and they survive on stored energy reserves. Examples of caterpillars that hibernate include:

  • Woolly bear caterpillar: During its hibernation, the woolly bear caterpillar survives on stored fats from its summer feeding on plants such as dandelions, nettles, and clover.
  • Tent caterpillar: Tent caterpillars build a communal silk tent in fall and hibernate inside until spring. During this period, they survive on stored fats from their summer feeding on leaves of trees such as cherry, apple, and birch.

Feeding Caterpillars

Some caterpillars continue to feed during winter, albeit on a limited diet. They have to be selective in their food choices as most plants shed their leaves in fall. Examples of caterpillars that continue to feed include:

  • Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar: This caterpillar feeds on the leaves of evergreen trees such as pine, hemlock, and spruce, which retain their foliage throughout the winter.
  • Fall webworm: The fall webworm feeds on the leaves of deciduous trees such as oak, maple, and elm, but only on the new growth at the tips of the branches.

Frozen Caterpillars

Some caterpillars survive the winter by freezing solid, a process known as cryopreservation. During this period, their bodies produce a natural antifreeze that prevents ice crystals from forming in their cells, which would otherwise cause them to burst. Examples of caterpillars that freeze solid include:

  • Arctic woolly bear caterpillar: This caterpillar can survive temperatures as low as -90°F by freezing solid and producing antifreeze in its body. It feeds on low-growing Arctic plants such as lichens, mosses, and sedges.
  • Gypsy moth caterpillar: The gypsy moth caterpillar can survive temperatures as low as -20°F by freezing solid. It feeds on the leaves of trees such as oak, birch, and poplar.