Freezing induces a loss of freeze tolerance in an overwintering insect

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Cold-hardy insects overwinter by one of two main strategies: freeze tolerance and freeze avoidance by supercooling. As a general model, many freeze-tolerant species overwinter in extreme climates, freeze above -10 degrees C via induction by ice-nucleating agents, and once frozen, can survive at temperatures of up to 40 degrees C or more below the initial freezing temperature or supercooling point (SCP). It has been assumed that the SCP of freeze-tolerant insects is unaffected by the freezing process and that the freeze-tolerant state is therefore retained in winter though successive freeze-thaw cycles of the body tissues and fluids. Studies on the freeze-tolerant larva of the hoverfly Syrphus ribesii reveal this assumption to be untrue. When a sample with a mean 'first freeze' SCP of -7.6 degrees C (range of -5 degrees C to -9.5 degrees C) were cooled, either to -10 degrees C or to their individual SCP, on five occasions, the mean SCP was significantly depressed, with some larvae subsequently freezing as low as -28 degrees C. Only larvae that froze at the same consistently high temperature above -10 degrees C were alive after being frozen five times. The wider occurrence of this phenomenon would require a fundamental reassessment of the dynamics and distinctions of the freeze-tolerant and freeze-avoiding strategies of insect overwintering.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1507-1511
Number of pages5
JournalRoyal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences
Issue number1547
Early online date7 Jun 2004
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2004


  • strategy, nucleator, freezing, freeze tolerance