• Chill injury;
  • cold hardiness;
  • freeze tolerance;
  • larval survival;
  • Lepidoptera;
  • range expansion;
  • supercooling point


1 Larvae of Thaumetopoea pityocampa (Lepidoptera: Notodontidae) develop throughout the winter, although their feeding activity and survival can be impaired by adverse climatic factors. The present study investigated the survival at low temperature of larvae originating from a population with range expansion in an alpine valley in Northern Italy.

2 The supercooling point of individually analysed larvae averaged at −7 °C. This value insufficiently described the cold hardiness of the larvae; 39% of the tested larvae were alive when returned to room temperature immediately after freezing. When larval colonies inside their nest were exposed to −17 °C for 1 h after gradual temperature decrease, survival was 70.4%.

3 Rearing of larvae in the laboratory at different day/night temperatures indicated an effect of cumulative chill injury on larvae. A logistic regression explained the relationship between negative thermal sum (h°C below 0 °C) received in the laboratory experiment and larval survival. A similar relationship was demonstrated between negative thermal sum and survival of larval colonies in the field.

4 In the laboratory experiment, some tested larvae were able to survive for up to 8 weeks without feeding depending on rearing temperature. As expected, feeding occurred only when larvae were reared at temperatures of 9 °C day/0 °C night.

5 We classify the larvae of T. pityocampa as being moderate freezing tolerant. The winter behaviour allows this species to track climate warming by a rapid expansion into those areas that become compatible with the insect’s development.