Do chinch bugs go away in winter?

Quick Answer

Chinch bugs do not completely go away in winter, but their activity and reproduction is greatly reduced. The bugs go into a state of diapause, becoming dormant to survive cold weather. However, some chinch bugs remain active deep in lawn thatch. With warming temperatures in spring, chinch bugs become active again and start feeding and reproducing.

Do chinch bugs die in winter?

Chinch bugs do not die off completely during winter. The majority of chinch bugs enter diapause, a dormant state that allows them to survive cold temperatures. Their metabolism and development slows down dramatically. However, some chinch bugs remain active deep in the thatch layer of lawns where temperatures stay warmer. The overwintering chinch bugs are mostly adults. Nymphs and eggs are more vulnerable to winter conditions. The specific winter survival ability of chinch bugs depends on the species and local climate. In northern regions with harsher winters, fewer chinch bugs make it through winter. In warmer southern climates, survival rates are higher.

Diapause and winter dormancy

In late summer and fall, decreasing day length and temperatures trigger chinch bugs to enter diapause. This dormant state allows insects to conserve energy and survive stressful environmental conditions. Chinch bug metabolism decreases to less than 5% of normal activity. Feeding, growth, and reproduction halt. Chinch bugs produce glycerol in their bodies which acts as antifreeze to prevent freezing.

Some chinch bugs seek shelter in lawn thatch, under plants and leaves, in clumps of grass, and below the frost line in the soil. Others migrate to protected habitats such as forests and buildings. The northern chinch bug is known to aggregate in bark crevices and under objects during winter. Southern chinch bugs often overwinter in protected places including leaf litter, under planted bushes, and in lawn thatch.

Partial winter activity

While most chinch bugs become dormant in winter, some remain partially active. This is particularly true of bugs that stay in lawns under thick thatch. Temperatures in the thatch layer tend to be warmer than air temperatures. Chinch bugs can continue feeding and moving around at reduced rates when temperatures allow.

Studies have found chinch bugs active at temperatures between 50-59°F. Brief warm spells in late fall or winter may briefly arouse active behavior. One research study in Kansas detected chinch bug movement when January air temperatures rose above 60°F for a few days.

So while winter greatly reduces chinch bug activity, it does not induce a complete hibernation or elimination of the population. The bugs remain poised to resume feeding and reproducing once warmer spring temperatures arrive.

Chinch bug development in winter

The chinch bug life cycle slows dramatically in winter but does not fully stop. Under optimal summer conditions, chinch bugs can complete a life cycle from egg to adult in as little as 40-60 days. In winter, development stretches out to 6 months or longer.

Here are some key facts about chinch bug development during winter:

  • Eggs laid in fall may not hatch until spring when temperatures warm.
  • Nymphs develop very slowly through their five instars over winter.
  • Adults experience reproductive diapause with no egg production.
  • No new generations are started.
  • Primarily adults survive the winter.

The delayed development means adults emerging in spring are mostly those that survived from the previous fall. These overwintered adults start reproducing again in spring to restart the chinch bug life cycle.

Egg survival

Any eggs laid in fall must withstand harsh winter conditions. Chinch bug eggs have a moderate level of cold tolerance. One study found 50% of egg mortality after exposure to temperatures of -4°F for one day.

Eggs insulated by soil and plant debris have higher survival rates. But overall, relatively few eggs laid in fall manage to hatch in spring. The delayed and drawn out egg hatch extends into late spring. So adults, not eggs or nymphs, are the primary overwintering stage.

Nymph survival

Nymphs in all five instars can overwinter but develop extremely slowly. Instead of maturing in a few weeks, nymphs may take 6-8 months to complete development. This slow growth maximizes survival but delays maturation to adulthood. Partial feeding allows nymphs to endure long winters. The late instars tend to have the highest survival rates over winter.

Adult survival

Adults that migrate into diapause in fall make up the largest group of overwintering chinch bugs. Their mature bodies and wings provide resilience against desiccation, cold exposure, and other stresses. Fat reserves help adults remain alive with minimal feeding.

Adults in reproductive diapause do not mate or lay eggs throughout winter. Their sole focus is on survival from one year to the next. If adults can’t find suitable protected sites, their energy reserves may only last 2-3 months before starving. Burrowing into thick turf provides insulation.

Spring resurgence

As temperatures warm in spring, chinch bug activity resumes earlier in southern regions. Further north, the bugs remain dormant until late spring or early summer. But once they emerge from diapause, reproduction and development accelerates rapidly. Survival through winter allows the bugs to unleash their plant-damaging potential in spring and summer.

Here’s a general timeline of chinch bug spring resurgence:

  • Overwintered adults become active as temperatures rise above 50°F and begin mating and laying eggs.
  • Eggs laid the prior fall begin hatching and the nymph population explodes.
  • Nymphs resume development and progress toward adulthood.
  • Multiple generations start overlapping by early summer.
  • Feeding damage appears as temperatures reach 70-80°F.

The surge in chinch bug numbers through spring allows their populations to reach high densities going into summer. All stages will be present and damaging turfgrass. A high percentage of overwintered females survive which contributes greatly to population growth.

Vigilance for early signs of chinch bug activity is important in spring. Their small size and hiding behavior makes detection difficult until lawn injury becomes visible. Regular monitoring under objects near susceptible lawns is advised. Pest control measures are most effective before populations spiral out of control.

Regional winter survival

The winter survival ability of chinch bugs varies across their geographic range. In general, harsher winter climates see lower overwintering success. For example, northern chinch bug survival is lower in the northern U.S. and Canada than in warmer southern states.

Here are some key regional factors:

  • In southern states, 20-80% of adults may overwinter in protected sites.
  • Northern states often see 50-90% mortality in exposed sites.
  • Snow cover enhances winter survival by insulating bugs under the frost line.
  • Thatch depth impacts lawn microclimates and survival rates.
  • Building foundations, woods and brush also provide winter refuge.

Local microclimates also come into play. Chinch bugs in colder climates tend to overwinter in aggregations in sheltered habitats. In warmer regions, they are more dispersed in lawns and grasslands all winter.

The greatest mortality happens during extreme cold snaps. Sustained sub-zero temperatures drastically reduce overwintering populations. But in most years, some portion of chinch bugs manage to endure winter even in harsh northern climates.

Northern chinch bug

The northern chinch bug has a wide distribution across northeastern North America. This species is one of the most cold-hardy and adaptable to winter. Northern chinch bugs produce high levels of glycerol antifreeze to prevent freezing.

Studies in Canada found around 80% winter mortality in exposed sites, but 50% survived under snow cover. Thatch depth in lawns provided insulation for overwintering bugs. Overall, 20-30% of northern chinch bugs survived winter in favorable microhabitats.

Southern chinch bug

This species has a more southern distribution and greater heat tolerance than other chinch bugs. Southern chinch bugs are active year-round in warm climates like Florida and southern Texas. Further north, this species is still relatively cold tolerant.

One Maryland study found 50% of southern chinch bugs survived winter in lawns. Cool season grasses provided insulation for overwintering. Bugs under silver maple leaf litter had 65% survival. Overall, this species overwinters successfully across the southern U.S.

Western chinch bug

This chinch bug inhabits warm climates west of the Rocky Mountains such as California and Arizona. It has lower cold tolerance than eastern species. Western chinch bugs struggle to survive below freezing, with just 13% surviving 12 hours at 23°F in one lab test.

Mild coastal and desert climates allow year-round activity in some regions. But where winter temperatures drop below 25°F for sustained periods, western chinch bug populations may experience over 90% mortality without snow cover or thick thatch for insulation. Harsher mountain climates limit their distribution.

Lawn precautions in fall and winter

Certain landscape management practices can indirectly reduce overwintering success of chinch bugs. These tips help minimize the risk of high pest populations in spring:

  • Reduce excessive thatch buildup, as it provides an insulating overwintering site.
  • Remove leaf litter and debris around foundations that offer shelter.
  • Keep turfgrass mowed shorter in fall so bugs can’t hide as easily.
  • Apply preventive insecticide sprays in early fall to reduce numbers.
  • Promote vigorous turfgrass growth before dormancy.
  • Time fall fertilization correctly so nitrogen isn’t excessive.

While chinch bugs can never be fully eliminated in winter, integrated pest management techniques help knock back populations. This protects lawns from excessive injury come spring. Monitor carefully for early signs of active bugs in problem areas.


Chinch bugs have evolved to survive cold winters in a dormant state. Even in climates with sub-zero temperatures, some individuals manage to persist from one year to the next. Thatch depth, snow cover, and sheltered microhabitats all contribute to overwintering success. The bugs remain poised hidden in lawns to resume activity and reproduction in spring. Diligent monitoring and preventive pest control measures target chinch bugs early before they reach damaging levels through summer. While winter weather reduces their numbers, chinch bugs continue posing year-round threats to turfgrass health.

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