Ever wondered where insects go in winter? Fascinatingly, many species have adapted to cope with the cold in unique ways - boasting strategies that reflect their own life cycles. However, while most insects emerge at a similar time in the year, there’s lots of evidence that this timing is influenced by climate change. This means you may spot species earlier than in previous years.

We ask volunteers from our amazing Nature’s Calendar project to record when they first see specific species so that we can keep track of how they are responding to a changing climate.

Nature’s Calendar tracks the effects of weather and climate change on UK wildlife. It takes just a few minutes to share your observations which are added to hundreds of years' worth of important data. You can record 69 different events, including when you first see some of our native insects. Why not give it a go yourself?

Where do bees go in winter?

The UK is home to more than 250 species of bee, including 24 different types of bumblebee. But they don’t all behave the same way in winter. Some species of solitary bee spend the winter as adults protecting themselves from the cold in a process called overwintering. They then emerge in spring to make the most of early blooms. Other species, like the mason bee, spend the winter as pupae and have an annual lifecycle that ends after they lay their eggs in autumn.   

Social bees, such as bumblebees and honeybees, have lives - and winter habits - that revolve around their hive and queen. In early summer they live in a nest made up of a queen bee and female worker bees. As summer progresses, the queen lays eggs which produce a new generation of queen bees and male bees.

The colony eventually leaves the nest and mates, with the young queens gorging on nectar and pollen to build up fat in their bodies. Eventually, the new queens hibernate alone underground, with their vital fat stores helping them survive through the winter.

The rest of the nest - including the old queen, the male bees and the female worker bees - falls away with the leaves, dying out through autumn.

Come the spring, the warmer temperatures wake the queens from their hibernation and they’ll seek nectar to feed on before finding a suitable nest site for the year. Having already mated before they hibernated, they will lay their first brood of eggs in early summer, which will produce female worker bees. The lifecycle is complete.

Because spring temperatures influence when hibernating bees wake up, it makes them a good species to observe for Nature’s Calendar.

Red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius)

Appearance: the red-tailed bumblebee has a black body and a red tail. Males look different from females because they have yellow on their faces and thorax - they are also larger than the female workers.

What to record: the date that you first see an active red-tailed bumblebee queen in the spring.

When to record: usually from March but varies depending on the weather, so look out for them earlier in warmer springs.

Where do other insects go in winter? And when to record them

Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris)

Similar to the red-tailed bumblebee, only queen wasps survive the winter. And like bumblebees, the new generation of queen wasps hibernate over winter before waking up in the spring when the temperature increases. The rest of the colony dies out during autumn.

Appearance: common wasps have yellow and black stripes and an anchor-shaped black mark on their face. Don’t confuse them with the German wasp, which has three black spots on its face.

What to record: the date that you first see an active queen common wasp in the spring.

When to record: usually seen from March - but so much depends on the weather. Do keep an eye out and let us know if you spot them earlier.

7-spot ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata)

Adult ladybirds spend the winter in a dormant state, often in groups. They hibernate in sheltered spots such as under tree bark.

They wake up in spring to find food and a mate. The females lay eggs in the summer which hatch into larvae, pupate and then emerge as adults in late summer.

Appearance: these red ladybirds have three spots on each wing case and the seventh spot in the middle, close to the head.

What to record: the date that you first see an active 7-spot ladybird in spring.

When to record: usually from February but weather-dependent. Watch out for active ladybirds and be sure to record any early sightings.

Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni)

The brimstone butterfly is one of only a few butterfly species to hibernate as an adult. Other butterflies overwinter as pupae (such as the orange-tip butterfly) or larvae (the speckled wood butterfly). Some, like the red admiral, even migrate.

Because brimstone butterflies are already adults when they wake in spring, they are active early in the year. There is only one new generation each year.

Appearance: these butterflies are yellow with an orange spot on each wing. They have a wingspan of around 6cm.

What to record: the date that you first see an active brimstone butterfly in spring.

When to record: early spring, before the end of May. After May you may be recording an adult from the new generation, rather than an adult waking from hibernation.

Get involved and become a wildlife recorder!

By taking a few minutes to share when you first spot these species, you'll be helping scientists in studies worldwide. The data recorded helps us to understand the effects of climate change and other patterns in the natural environment. Every record is crucial and valuable. 

blackthorn berry being picked close-up

Spot the signs of the seasons

Have you seen your first butterfly or swallow of spring? Or your first ripening berry or autumn leaf? Let us know what's happening near you and help track the effects of climate change on wildlife.

Explore Nature's Calendar

Discover more interesting insect facts