According to AntWeb.org, more than 15,000 ant species are known. A University of Michigan website says the number's between 8,800 and 20,000. Other sources put the number higher. In warm climates, these hard workers may stay busy year-round. But in colder climates, a winter break gives them an opportunity to slow down and regroup.
No Lazy Ants
Though you may not like seeing a trail of ants lining up on your kitchen counter, you have to appreciate ants' industriousness. If the weather's cooperating, these fellows are always busy, foraging for food, building or repairing the nest or caring for the colony's young. However, when temperatures drop, the ants' activity drops, too. The ants will gather as a colony to hibernate for the winter.
Hibernation, Not Starvation
As the air temperature drops, so do ants' body temperatures -- so much that they become sluggish. When the temperature drops to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, ants may take sanctuary in nests under the soil or beneath tree bark. You wouldn't find these spots particularly warm, but they're warm enough for ants, particularly when they're with their colony. They also prepare for their hibernation by eating more than usual during the autumn, fattening themselves up and storing food in their crops so they don't have to worry about eating during the winter. Some ant colonies keep food on hand to help sustain them through the winter months.
Warmth in Numbers
The ant in an underground nest stays quite warm. The underground temperature can be much warmer than the outside cold air, and ants often capitalize on this by going deeper underground in the winter. They're also smart enough to group together to share body heat. There's not a lot of activity in the colony during the winter, as the members conserve energy for the coming months. By doing what comes naturally to them, ants are able to survive underground even when the outside temperature dips below zero.
An ant colony springs to life in early spring when the weather warms up. The ants will emerge from their nest, on the lookout for food. If they find something valuable, they'll either return to the colony with it or, if it's too large, get assistance for carrying the prize home. By late spring, the colony is fully active, repairing and maintaining the nest, foraging for food, and getting ready to mate in early summer. As summer progresses, ants assume their different roles in the colony; some ants gather food, other ants maintain the nest, and others feed and clean larvae. As the weather begins to cool, work turns to securing the nest for the coming winter.
- AntWeb.org: Ant Blog: What Do Ants Do in the Winter?
- National Geographic: Ants
- BBC Radio: A Year in the Life of Ants
- Japanese Ant Image Database: How Do Ants Pass the Winter?
- Exeter City Council: Ants
- Tar Heel Ants: Hibernating Your Ants, Part 2
- AntWeb.org: AntWeb
- The Washington Post: Warm Weather: When the Ants Come Marching In