What Moths Do in Winter


When it comes to surviving the winter, butterflies and moths face unique challenges. Unlike mammals and birds, they cannot generate their own body heat and instead rely on external sources to warm up and stay active. However, when the temperatures drop significantly, most of these winged creatures are forced to remain inactive.

Strategies for Dealing with Winter

To overcome the unfavorable conditions of winter, butterflies and moths have developed various strategies. They enter a dormant phase, which can occur in different stages of their life cycle such as eggs, larvae, pupae, or adult insects. The majority of species choose to overwinter in the larval stage, while pupae are the next most common choice. Some species can even overwinter in multiple stages. For example, the Speckled Wood butterfly can survive as either a caterpillar or a pupa.

Another survival strategy is employed by Painted Lady butterflies and Silver Y moths, which migrate to warmer regions to completely avoid the harsh winter conditions.

Dormancy vs. Hibernation

It is important to note that while we often use the term “hibernation” to describe the winter behavior of butterflies and moths, it is not technically accurate. Insects do not hibernate in the true scientific sense. However, since people generally associate hibernation with “sleeping through the winter,” it has become a commonly used term for these creatures.

Winter Sightings

During midwinter, you are most likely to encounter butterflies and moths that are either active as adults or dormant as adults. The eggs, larvae, and pupae tend to be hidden away, although you might spot Large White pupae attached to the walls of your house. Some moths, such as the Winter Moth, December Moth, and Spring Usher, have their main period of adult activity during wintertime.

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The butterflies that overwinter as dormant adults include the Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, and Comma. Among moths, species like the Twenty-plume Moth, Red-green Carpet, Tissue, Sword-grass, Herald, and Bloxworth Snout also overwinter as dormant adults.

Helping Confused Butterflies and Moths

In some cases, butterflies like the Red Admiral may become active on suitable days during British winters. However, the butterflies that regularly overwinter inside houses are the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock. They seek shelter in houses during late summer/early autumn when the outside temperature is still warm. However, when the central heating is turned up for Christmas, these butterflies might awaken prematurely due to high indoor temperatures.

This presents a problem for both the butterfly and the concerned householder. The best solution is to gently rehouse the awakened butterfly into a suitable location. Carefully catch the butterfly and place it in a cool cardboard box or similar container for around thirty minutes to allow it to calm down.

Once the butterfly has calmed down, you can gently encourage it to move onto the wall or ceiling of an unheated room or building, such as a shed, porch, garage, or outhouse. Remember that it should have the opportunity to escape when it awakens in early spring.

If you have no suitable places for the butterfly to hibernate, the best option is to keep it as cool as possible to minimize activity. Once the weather improves, release it outside during a period of favorable conditions.


Butterflies and moths have developed ingenious strategies to cope with the challenges of winter. Whether they choose dormancy in different stages or migration to warmer regions, these delicate creatures manage to survive and thrive. So, the next time you encounter a dormant butterfly or moth, remember the remarkable adaptations that allow them to endure the cold months.

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