n temperate insects, winters are typically endured by entering diapause, which comprises a deep resting stage. Correct timing of diapause termination is vital for synchronization of emergence with conspecifics and for mobilizing resources when conditions for growth and reproduction become favourable. Although critical to survival, the intrinsic and extrinsic drivers of diapause termination timing are poorly understood. In the present study, we investigate diapause development under a range of durations (10–24 weeks) spent at different temperatures (−2 to 10 °C) in the pupal diapausing butterfly Pieris napi Linnaeus (Lepidoptera:Pieridae). We determine: (i) the maximum cold temperature for diapause development; (ii) if pupae in diapause count cold days or cold sums; and (iii) whether diapause termination is distinct or gradual. The results indicate large and idiosyncratic effects of high and low nonlethal temperatures on diapause development in P. napi. Although all temperatures tested lead to diapause termination, a thermal optimum between 2 and 4 °C is observed. Lower temperatures lead to decreased eclosion propensity, whereas higher temperatures slow down development and increase emergence desynchronization. These data suggest that, rather than a simple cold‐summing process with a distinct diapause termination point, there are trade‐offs between time and temperature at the low and high end of the thermal range, resulting in a nonlinear thermal landscape showing a ridge of increasing eclosion propensity at moderate temperatures. The present study suggests that the effects of temperature on diapause development should be included in projections on post‐winter phenology models of insects, including pest species.