Have you ever wondered where the bugs, the worms, the turtles, or the snakes go when winter comes and freezes the ground they live in? As much as I’d like to think that all the nasty pests we deal with on the farm don’t survive the winter, that’s not the case. It’s important to know which pests remain in the soil or in remaining plant debris to understand what kind of pressure we might see on our crops the following season.
Below are a few definitions that are used to describe different states of dormancy animals may undergo during winter months:
Brumation: a state or condition of sluggishness, inactivity, or torpor exhibited by reptiles (such as snakes or lizards) during winter or extended periods of low temperature.
Hibernation: a state of minimal activity and metabolic depression undergone by some animal species. Hibernation is a seasonal heterothermy characterized by low body-temperature, slow breathing and heart-rate, and low metabolic rate.
Diapause: a period of suspended development in an insect, other invertebrate, or mammal embryo, especially during unfavorable environmental conditions.
- Earthworms – The earthworms that are common in our region lay dormant in the soil just below the layer of frozen ground, sometimes as far as six feet down. The worms hibernate until the ground warms and thaws and they are able to reach food closer to the surface. They encase themselves in a mucus or slime that keeps them from drying out.
- Ladybugs – Ladybugs undergo a type of hibernation called diapause until the air temperature warms up enough to signal that it’s time to wake up.
- Garter Snakes – In our region, garter snakes find places underground below the frost line in a state of brumation until March or April.
- Toads – They burrow 1-2 feet down below the frost line and remain dormant until April when the temperatures are consistently above 40 degrees.
- Groundhogs – These rodents hibernate in their dens beginning in November and emerge as early as February depending on the climate.
- Mice – Mice do not hibernate and are still very active in winter months.
- Cabbage Looper – The moths do not survive winters in Massachusetts. They migrate from the south and arrive in our region in July and August.
- Flea Beetles – Hibernate in the soil or plant debris until spring.
- Army Cutworm – Pupae remain in the soil until spring.
- Cabbage Moth – Their pupa or chrysalis remain in the soil or on plant matter for the winter and emerge in the spring.
As we wake up from our winter slumber to welcome a new season, keep an eye out for all the critters that are emerging from the soil beneath our feet.
Until next time,