Rest for six-legged friends

This is how insects overwinter in the garden

In a natural garden it buzzes and buzzes all summer. When autumn arrives, the hustle and bustle becomes quieter and calm returns. In order to survive the cold season, insects have developed various strategies. Some also go to warmer climes.


How butterflies spend the winter depends on the species. Some, such as the painted lady, move to Africa in autumn. However, most of them stay at home, for example in our gardens, and overwinter in different stages of development:

Hibernate as a moth

It’s amazing, but many of the delicate butterflies spend the cold winter with us. Lemon butterflies, big and small foxes, peacock butterfly, C-butterfly and mourning mantle endure the inhospitable weather and are always the first butterflies to delight us in spring. The brimstone butterfly is the toughest. It winters almost unprotected from frost and snow. It can only do this because it has some kind of antifreeze in its blood and can therefore survive damage-free at temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees Celsius. The moth hangs on ivy leaves, blackberries or holly in winter. Tall grass is also a good wintering place for him. All other hibernating moths need a reasonably frost-proof hiding place, such as a roof structure or a tool shed or cellar. If you find a butterfly here in winter, it is best to leave it in this cool place, the butterflies then wake up on their own in spring.

Hibernate as an insect pupa

Some moths overwinter as a pupa, as such they hang primarily on plants. The aurora butterfly, for example, hibernates directly at its caterpillar feeding place, the wire-haired rockcress, the white herb or the common barbarian herb. The swallowtail also pupates on shrubs and grasses during the winter.

Tip: Do not mow meadows in autumn and do not cut shrubs and grasses until spring. This is how you help the butterflies through the winter.

Winter as a caterpillar

The majority of butterflies overwinter as caterpillars in the ground or under the tree bark. Tree white, horseshoe-yellow, small clover and some other species are happy about trees with a rough bark or bushes. With these small relief measures we can also help the butterflies over the winter:

  • Leave leaves in the garden in autumn
  • Do not use poison in the garden
  • Leave the soil covered, for example with mulch or ground cover
  • Promote caterpillar forage plants such as horseshoe clover, willows and all kinds of wild herbs

Winter as an egg

Some moths overwinter as an egg. For example some rare specimens such as the Apollo butterfly or the very rare fiery mother-of-pearl butterfly. Before winter, it lays its eggs near violets, the caterpillars’ forage plant. The eggs are very well developed before winter, actually the caterpillar is already ready. If the caterpillar hatches in spring, it can immediately strengthen itself with the violet, its forage plant.

Caterpillar forage plants for butterflies are also important in winter. Therefore, the garden should contain a large number of native plants, including “weeds” such as nettle or ribwort. The faded stems of the plants are particularly targeted by the moths. Here they lay their eggs before winter. So you can be sure that your caterpillar offspring will find enough food for the next year.

The butterflies that overwinter as eggs include the blackberry mother-of-pearl butterfly, the meadowsweet mother-of-pearl butterfly, the ducat butterfly and some bluebells such as the bluebird pea or the broom bluebird.

Beetles, dragonflies and lacewings

Ladybugs also spend the winter asleep, preferably in well-protected places such as cavities, cracks in walls and rafters. In the garden they dig themselves deep into piles of leaves. These offer the crawlers good conditions when they wake up again in spring. Then they start their hunt for aphids and co.

Tip: Ladybugs often hibernate between the windows in the city. They only sleep, even when it looks like they’re dead. It’s best to just leave them there until spring.

Ground beetles, on the other hand, hibernate as larvae or beetles in the ground. A healthy, humus-rich soil with a lot of soil life is therefore a must for the beetle. In the spring, the beetle hatches and then eats snails, worms and caterpillars. Providing the beetles with winter quarters is therefore not only good for the beetles.

Dragonflies are also winter guests in our gardens. Most species overwinter as an egg or as a larva in a winter rigor. The winter dragonfly is an exception, it can also be found as an adult animal in winter, as the name suggests. In other species, the adults die in autumn. To lay the eggs, the dragonflies choose the right plant on the bank of a pond, depending on the species. The mosaic maiden lays her eggs in rotting plant material on the bank. The larvae hatch from this in spring. They in turn overwinter again afterwards and then appear as an adult in the third year. Other species can even survive in the larval stage for several years until they become adults. This is how the Vierfleck does it, for example. This dragonfly overwinters as a larva on the bottom of the water around sediment. At the end of the larval period, the larva uses plant stems to climb and hatch.

Natural ponds are an optimal wintering place for larvae and eggs. These are ideal if they are at least a meter deep and surrounded by lots of plants and have some sediment on the bottom. If you want to help the animals, you should opt for a near-natural pond with bank vegetation.

Lacewing, on the other hand, like to hibernate in our houses, in attics or in basements. However, if you find a pile of leaves or brushwood in the garden, you can also use it as a roost. Whoever finds them should leave them in place. They awaken to new life in spring and are then welcome helpers against aphids and co ..

Bees and bumblebees

Solitary bees, i.e. wild bees without a state, overwinter as bees or as bee pupae in the cocoon. You will find suitable quarters in the garden: plant stalks, hollow branches or an insect nesting aid offer good hibernation. Solitary bees can also overwinter in the ground. The animals hatch in early spring.

With these measures we can help the wild bees over the winter:

  • Set up an insect hotel
  • Allow open ground, create sandy areas
  • Leave old wood, plant stems and other above-ground cavities in the garden
  • Do not cut back shrubs and trees until May
  • Do not mow meadows until June
  • Dry stone walls, herb spirals or stone piles are also popular winter quarters
  • Stuck early bloomers

In the case of the bumblebees, a generation change takes place in autumn: the workers and the old queen die, and new queens emerge from the last generation of breeding. They mate in autumn and then hibernate rigidly and well hidden in cracks, dead wood, leaves or in the ground, for example in mouse nests. If you want to help the next generation of bumblebees, you should have the structures mentioned in your garden and put flower bulbs in your garden for spring, because bumblebees are sometimes the first guests in the garden and very hungry after the long winter break. Winterlings, crocuses, spring cups and other early bloomers are welcome sources of food.


Ants spend the winter months together as a state in a frozen state. Your winter nest is well protected a few meters underground. It is sealed off from the outside world, all exits are tightly closed. They stay there until spring. This little ant shelter protects the animals very effectively from winter. The visible part of an ant burrow serves as protection against frost during this time. The temperature in the ant burrow can still drop below zero degrees. But the animals survive that too. The animals do not eat and are not active during the entire winter period. They stay like that until next spring, when the “garden police” are busy again.

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