Living With Winter Insects

An icy winter blast has shut down many of the roads from Oklahoma to Michigan. That includes West Central Indiana where snow continues to fall. Very few insects are active outdoors during the winter months, but some, such as the winter stoneflies can be seen at this time of year. In clear, fast running streams, the water flows in spite of the cold and snow. The aquatic larvae of stoneflies remain active in the water which remains above freezing.

There are about 20 species of stoneflies that fly as adults between November and March in Indiana. Stoneflies are aquatic as larvae, feeding upon other invertebrates and detritus in clear streams with high oxygen levels. Stoneflies are often indicator species that reflect the health of the stream. Stoneflies will not live in polluted water with low oxygen levels. Absence of stoneflies from areas where they were previously abundant, indicates that the quality of the stream has deteriorated.

The association of stoneflies with stream quality is used by groups to promote concern about the environment and streams. For example, the Clinton River Watershed Council (North of Detroit, Michigan) hosts a Winter Stonefly Search in January. This is a great way to educate the public about insects and stream quality.

The best times to look for stoneflies are on warm sunny days in winter. Stoneflies can be seen basking on bridges that span highly oxygenated streams. For local readers, Little Pine Creek in Warren County, Indiana is a good location to observe these hardy insects.

Not all stoneflies fly during the winter. Some species fly in the summer and are attracted to lights like the one in the picture below. In some years, stoneflies are quite numerous and can congregate in large numbers on houses because they are attracted to outside lights. People should appreciate the stoneflies, because they are a sign of good environmental health.

Stonefly Attracted to My Porch Light in Summer

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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27 Responses to Living With Winter Insects

  1. Michelle says:

    I think this article was really interesting mainly because I never really thought about insects being around during the cold winter months. For some reason, I guess I just assumed they migrated or hibernated like most other species. I also found it interesting that stone flies live in creeks during the winter months, which seems to be even colder to me than just living in a tree, and the reason that shocks me is because it’s hard to imagine an insect as small as that can survive in such frigid temperatures.

  2. Eric Barnard says:

    I was surprised when reading this because I have never heard of a Stonefly before. I guess insects can live in all different environments, but when I think of insects, I think of spring and summer. So it’s neat to see these that live in the winter. I found it interesting that it said you can find them “basking” in the sun on sunny winter days. That’s a funny thought about an insect soaking up the sun. I am not sure if I have ever seen a stonefly, but if I have, it probably would’ve went by unnoticed. I also found it interesting that along with winter, some enjoy the summer also, so we could see them almost any time of the year. The last thing I found interesting is that stoneflies are a good sign of environmental health. So that means we should be wanting to see a lot of these!

  3. Sohaila says:

    An insect doesn’t have the benefit of body fat, like bears, to survive freezing temperatures and keep internal fluids from turning to ice. Since I was a little girl I had always wondered where do insects go when there are extreme temperatures. After reading this blog I was quite astonished. I never thought that any insect, in this case, the stoneflies, would be able to survive. I learned that just like humans, flies try to escape the bad weather and go hiding until there is a “less” cold day to go out. I always thought that since insects are so small they would either die or migrate to a warmer weather. Insects once again prove that disregarding their size, they are able to do quite impressive things.

  4. Adrian Kelly says:

    Like one of the readers above commented, I have never even heard of a stonefly before reading this article. I’m quite amazed that they are able to survive the freezing cold especially now when there’s a snow storm. I was very surprised when I read about their environmental importance to the bodies of water they occupy. Even more amazing is the fact that the larvae also survive the cold water in which they live. One would think that they would be more delicate since they are still developing and would be more likely to die.

  5. Spencer Moore says:

    I saw a couple of bugs in the creeks at my grandparents farm. I was amazed that bugs could even survive during this season, much less survive underwater. I wasn’t able to identify the bugs in the water at first, but I’m pretty sure they might’ve been stoneflies. I still think it’s ridiculous that insects can survive in water during the winter.

  6. Marc Silencieux says:

    As most of the comments on this post I am in awe of how stoneflies can survive that type of freezing temperature. Before reading this article I was ignorant enough to assume that flies are all the same. And are just pest that have no purpose in the this world except for hovering around waste. This specific fly is pretty amazing because its one of the few insects that can survive in the winter weather, and also help out environmentalist with studies on polluted streams. I think we need to study these flies more so we can make coats out of their material (fly coat). I’m learning something new every day about insects, bugs are pretty cool.

  7. Harrison Olinger says:

    I found this interesting because i had always assumed that most insects hibernated during the winter because i never noticed any outside. I guess i need to pay more attention and try to spot insects during the winter. What’s even more amazing to me is that stoneflies survive under water during the winter.

  8. Kelsey says:

    This is an interesting article. I did not realize that there were any insects that could survive Indiana winters. It is also very interesting that they can show that the environment is healthy and that they do not like degrading environmental areas. This article showed me that insects are alive and can live in some colder temperatures as well.

  9. Molly says:

    People don’t usually think about insects during the winter very often, we normally just think about them in the summer when the majority of the population is alive. It is interesting to think that an insect so small can survive outside when it is this cold out and it lives in the water. I wonder what other kinds of bugs can sustain outside during the harsh winters.

  10. Nick says:

    The first thing about this article was how surprised I was to read about a group of about 20 different species of Stoneflys that thrive during winter. Insects are a rare occurrence during the winter season, which is similar to just about any living beings (animals, plants, humans), so to read about insects that are only really around during the coldest months of the year is amazing. The second thing i noticed was how beneficial these are to the society they are found in. The fact that you can simply conclude that a water is oxygenated and unpolluted simply by the presence of these insects is absolutely amazing.

  11. Mikaela Melendez says:

    This article is really interesting. I have never thought about insects in the Winter, and this article started to make me think. The article gave really great information, like the fact that the best time to look for stoneflies are on warm, sunny, winter days. What caught me by surprise was that there are twenty species of stoneflies. The picture of the stonefly was a great way to end the article, because I got to see what one looks like very close up.

  12. Mitch Stamper says:

    I can remember seeing swarms of insects around our creek during the winter, so it wasn’t really a suprise to hear about an insect that is active in the winter. What I did find interesting was that their presence can be used to evaluate stream health, for both pollution and oxygen levels. I never thought that something so simple could provide important information about our environment, and alert us to potential problems.

  13. Hae-il says:

    This article was interesting, because I’ve never heard of an insect called “stonefly”, and I could not imagine any insects who could survive through cold winters especially winter in Midwest. It was surprising that the larvae of stoneflies could remain active in water above freezing. I thought all insects would hibernate or disappear in winter due to harsh weather conditions, but after reading this article, I am intrigued to find out which special body functions make them to survive through cold winters. Stoneflies seem to be helpful to us because they could be used to determine the stream quality.

  14. Hannah Mergl says:

    I think this article is very shocking and interesting. I did not think that insects could survive in the harsh temperatures that occur in winter, as well as develop from larvae in such cold water. I barely want to be outside for a few minutes in the winter so it is baffling to me that insects can handle all the different temperatures that occur year round. I think that these flies are helpful to researches because they can help show if a river is polluted or have low oxygen levels with their absence. Overall ,I think these Stonflies are remarkable, beneficial insects.

  15. Fei says:

    I never know what insects stoneflies are before reading this blog, but also as indicator species, stoneflies remind me of bryophytes. Stoneflies cannot live in polluted water will bryophytes die of polluted air. What is more, both stoneflies and bryophytes survive in freezing cold weather– Indiana winters and tundra climate. I think no entomologists will hate those stoneflies for their convenient indicating usage. Plus, they are not those annoying true flies: P

  16. Dong Min Won says:

    This article was very fascinating to me that eventhough I knew some of the beneficial insects such as pesteroids, this insect, stonefly took another level. When people usually talk about insect as a subject, first word that comes to their mind is probably “creepy”. However, when people get to know beneficial insect such as stonefly, they would consider insects as differently. The most interesting part of stonefly was their survival ability during the freezing winter season while they are still in the larvae form. Since, larvae of stoneflies feeding upon other invertebrates and detrutus in clear streams with high oxygen levels, I noticed that it will be hard to find stoneflies among the big cities which have increasing pollunation rates. Researcher and people must appreciate to stoneflies because stoneflies acknowledge them of which their habitat is a sign of a good environmental health.

  17. Andrew Martin says:

    I found this article very intriguing. I didn’t know much about the stoneflies, let alone insects being active during the winter months. It’s kind of a nice little fact to know that such creatures are still active during the colder days and even more fascinating that they are able to help us in detecting the cleanness of the water flowing through the state.

  18. Phillip Koonce says:

    I found this post very interesting, mainly because I’ve never heard of the stonefly before. I find it amazing that this insect can survive out in the cold, especially in a stream. I always thought that insects went underground during the winter or migrated like birds do in the winter, so it was fascinating to know that the stonefly just stays put even when the snow starts to fall. I also found it interesting that they are used as a kind of measurement of the cleanliness of a body of water. I’m sure there is some kind of fancy equipment to determine how clean a body of water is, so I find it funny that something like an insect, which costs no money, can tell us just by its presence or absence.

  19. jimmy lynch says:

    i foind this bug v er y interesting. i am amazed that it can live in such cold a severe wheather conditions in the winter, but then during the summer it can handle the hot sun. i thing its crazy how they can adapt to the tempature so well. im also shock because even though stoneflies are out durinfg the summer and winter, i dont recall ever seeing a stonefly.

  20. Josh says:

    It is interesting to think about insects during the wintertime. Usually, at this time of year I don’t really even give them a second thought, but this article has shed some light on the fact that in fact, they are still very much around. It is also interesting to think about how insects can be used to determine things such as cleanliness of a body of water. I would have never thought to look at insects and their preferences, and base scientific data off of it. I would be interested to hear about what other insects are still crawling around during these frigid months.

  21. Dustin Brown says:

    I think this article is good for a few reasons. First, I can honestly say I didn’t know insects of any form were active during the harsh winter months. Secondly, because it sheds light on a topic that many are concerned about, the health of the environment. It’s a way for us as normal people to step out and observe the world around us, and understand what we’re seeing. I am curious, however on how the stonefly larvae react when the top layers freeze. There is still water movement under the surface but I’d like to know what they lose by being under the surface.

  22. Kevin T. says:

    I have never heard the name “stonefly”, but I think I may have seen them before. They are very interesting insects, in that; they are resiliant through winter, and the fact that we can use them to determine the health and quality of an environment. The range of temperatures that they live in throughout the year is also something to think about. I think there is a lot more that we can learn from studying soneflies and many similar insects.

  23. Alan McDonnel says:

    I never thought about bugs being active in the winter. Which in reality that just goes to show that I don’t think about bugs very often. It does my heart good to know that somewhere in the freezing dead of winter there are other frightened life forms fighting to survive just like we far superior humans.

  24. Jen says:

    This was kinda neat to read about how these stoneflies are great key indicators for the quality of the stream as far as pollution, health, and oxygen levels. It’s definitely something I will look for if I’m near a stream in the winter months. I’ve never heard about stoneflies but they’re tough little things to withstand the cold of arctic waters in winter.

  25. Steven Curry says:

    Wow. I didn’t know there were insects that were active during the winter. Back in my home town in Hendricks County, I used to spend a lot of time playing in the creek when I was a kid. I remember I would find all sorts of insects I wouldn’t normally find outside of the creek. These stone flies looks very familiar, and I remember finding a few when I was younger. I’ll be sure to look for these the next time I explore the creek.

  26. Carter Lundy says:

    What an interesting article. Like some of the others have posted on here, I have never even heard of a Stonefly before reading these couple of paragraphs. I love how these insects can, number one, tell a ton about the quality of a given stream, and number two live through the winter months. I never think about insects until they become pests in the summer months (primarily mosquitoes and gnats). I really think it’s cool how these insects can tell us a lot about stream quality. I am not the type to go around looking for polluted streams and ponds, but am still very intrigued to learn about what these Stoneflies can teach us.

  27. Alexa says:

    I, as many of the others who have posted on this blog have never heard of the stonefly before. I am amazed how it can live in the cold winter and also during the arid summer. I don’t ever recall seeing a stonefly, but because of this post I will now know when I see one it means the environment is in good health.

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