This study compares the composition and biophysical properties of lipids in non-diapausing and diapausing fifth instar larvae of Ostrinia nubilalis Hubn. (Lepidoptera: Crambidae). The majority of fat body lipids in both of these physiological states were comprised of ~ 90% triacylglycerols (TAGs), whereas the haemolymph contained a more even distribution of all lipid classes. The fatty acid composition and biophysical properties of the fat body lipids differed markedly between non-diapausing and diapausing larvae. Diapause was associated with a dramatic increase in the proportions of palmitoleic acid (16:1n-7) and oleic acid (18:1n-9), with concurrent reductions in palmitic acid (16:0) and linoleic acid (18:2n-6). The increase in the level of unsaturation of the fat body lipids, which caused a marked shift in their phase transitions to lower temperatures, was triggered by diapause rather than low temperatures. Adjustments of fatty acid compositions are likely to be an important component of winter diapause mechanisms, possibly maintaining the fluidity of cell membranes and the functionality of the organism during lower winter temperatures.