Winter means big changes across Saskatchewan. The most obvious differences are trees without leaves and a blanket of snow on the ground. Plus, it’s cold. But a more subtle change involves the wildlife we’re used to seeing.
Some animals migrate south for the winter while others go into their versions of hibernation. And others hang around throughout the cold weather, staying warm and looking for food. When it comes to insects, the story can be a bit different.
Much like their avian brethren, some insects actually fly south for the winter, too. That being said, there are a significant portion who overwinter in the province and many of them are doing it right on your front lawn.
Over-wintering in Leaf Litter
Simply put, leaf litter is the debris left behind by trees as they prepare for colder weather. Many species of trees, specifically those classified as deciduous, lose their leaves before winter hits. This process helps them conserve energy and survive darker, colder winter months.
These leaves fall from trees, forming a key piece of the life cycle of a healthy environment. That includes providing shelter for a variety of overwintering insects throughout the colder seasons. While this happens in naturalized areas, it’s also happening in your yard.
A common fall activity for most home owners is raking the leaves left behind by trees on their lawns. While it might look nice to clean those leaves up, the practice is actually detrimental to a variety of insects. These leaves provide winter shelter for many of them and the loss of it is a huge issue.
Insects that benefit
One of the biggest beneficiaries of this cover are Lady Bird Beetles which are more commonly known as Ladybugs. They hibernate in large groups under leaf litter shelter. Ladybugs are extremely helpful insects as they keep populations of aphids and other perceived pests to a minimum.
Adorable Woolly Bear Caterpillars are another huge beneficiary. Using the shelter, they actually replace the water in their bodies with glycerol. It essentially acts as antifreeze. In the spring, Woolly Bear Caterpillars become stunning Isabella Tiger Moths. Talk about beauty sleep!
What can you do?
This is the best part. You don’t need to do anything. Let’s be honest, raking leaves is a lot of work and the only reason we do it relates to maintaining our yards. But it’s not what’s best for our tiniest friends.
All you need to do is skip raking the lawn and find something else to do with the time. Watch the game. Go shopping. Take a nap. If you’re feeling really bored, take two naps. Just leave the leaf litter alone and give various insect species the chance to stay warm this winter, too.