Insects can increase their resistance to cold stress when they are exposed to non-lethal conditions prior to the stress; these plastic responses are normally described only in terms of immediate effects on mortality. Here we examine in Drosophila melanogaster the short- and longer-term effects of different conditions on several measures of cold resistance, but particularly chill coma recovery. Short-term exposure to sublethal temperature (cold hardening) did not decrease chill coma recovery times even though it decreased mortality. Exposure to 12 degrees C for 2 days (acclimation) decreased chill coma recovery times for a range of stressful temperatures when flies were cultured at 25 degrees C, but did not usually affect recovery times when flies were cultured at 19 degrees C. In contrast, 2-day exposure to 12 degrees C decreased mortality regardless of rearing temperature. Rearing at 19 degrees C decreased mortality and chill coma recovery time relative to rearing at 25 degrees C. Acclimation increased the eclosion rate of eggs from stressed females, but did not affect development time or size of the offspring. These results indicate that plastic responses to cold in D. melanogaster are complex when resistance is scored in different ways, and that effects can extend across generations.