Evolutionary change in the timing of dormancy enables animals and plants to adapt to changing seasonal environments and can result in ecological speciation. Despite its clear biological importance, the mechanisms underlying the evolution of dormancy timing in animals remain poorly understood because of a lack of anatomical landmarks to discern which phase of dormancy an individual is experiencing. Taking advantage of the nearly universal characteristic of metabolic suppression during insect dormancy (diapause), we use patterns of respiratory metabolism to document physiological landmarks of dormancy and test which of the distinct phases of the dormancy developmental pathway contribute to a month-long shift in diapause timing between a pair of incipient moth species. Here, we show that divergence in life cycle between the earlier-emerging E-strain and the later-emerging Z-strain of European corn borer (ECB) is clearly explained by a delay in the timing of the developmental transition from the diapause maintenance phase to the termination phase. Along with recent findings indicating that life-cycle differences between ECB strains stem from allelic variation at a single sex-linked locus, our results demonstrate how dramatic shifts in animal seasonality can result from simple developmental and genetic changes. Although characterizing the multiple phases of the diapause developmental programme in other locally adapted populations and species will undoubtedly yield surprises about the nature of animal dormancy, results in the ECB moth suggest that focusing on genetic variation in the timing of the dormancy termination phase may help explain how (or whether) organisms rapidly respond to global climate change, expand their ranges after accidental or managed introductions, undergo seasonal adaptation, or evolve into distinct species through allochronic isolation.