Modern climate change has precipitated widespread interest in the responses of organisms to the thermal environment. In insects, it is not only changes in mean environmental temperature and growing season length that are important, but also their responses to environmental extremes. Much is now known about the ways in which insects cope with the ice-water threshold, and with the low temperatures that precede it. Recent work has demonstrated a diversity of physiological responses to cooling and freezing in insects, with extremes of temperature, rates of temperature change, the numbers of freeze-thaw transitions, climatic unpredictability and the state of the surrounding microhabitat being important factors determining the cold tolerance strategy adopted by an insect. Insect low temperature biology now integrates techniques ranging from laboratory-based functional genomics to climatology, making it not only intrinsically fascinating, but also of considerable relevance to investigations of the biological implications of climate change.