- 1We investigated how modifications in winter and spring temperature conditions may affect the survival of a spring-hatching Lepidoptera, the oak processionary moth Thaumetopoea processionea.
- 2Supercooling and chilling injury experiments indicate that eggs are especially cold hardy at the start of the winter period, although this ability is reduced later in the season. In the spring, young larvae are sufficiently cold hardy to ensure no direct mortality as a result of late frosts.
- 3A comparison of phenological models shows that neonate larvae may await the unfolding of new oak leaves for relatively long periods (e.g. 1–30 days). Under both low (4°C after 5 days at 16°C) and high temperature experimental scenarios (constant 16°C), the majority of neonate larvae can survive starvation for more than 2 weeks.
- 4Larvae may also suffer from food depletion once their development has been initiated (e.g. during cold springs) if the threshold temperature for feeding is not reached for several consecutive days, or in the case of late frosts affecting foliage availability. When temperature is reduced to 4°C, developing larvae become inactive and do not feed anymore; their starvation survival capability is reduced to approximately 2 weeks (cold spring hypothesis). At 16°C, developing larvae that are deprived of food can only survive for 10 days (late frost hypothesis).
- 5We conclude that, in the oak processionary moth, neonate larvae are relatively well adapted to early hatching relative to budburst, ensuring them the highest foliage quality for development. In some years, however, phenological asynchrony or cold spring conditions may affect the persistence of populations at the limits of the species' range.