Ant Life in Winter
Inside the Outdoors, February 26,
2016

Face it, folks. When one speaks of the great outdoors, he isn’t referring to subject material pertaining to just hunting or fishing. Those two categories are just two of many from which to choose.

Unfortunately, as seems to be the habit of many outdoor writers, they’ve gotten into a bad habit of narrowing their subject material to a small amount of vast selections. It’s easy to do. However, today I’m going to deviate from my usual approach and talk about ants and how they thrive despite the frigid temperatures.

Back in the summer, I wrote a takeoff on the ant family and wrote a story on how a group of these creatures met for a family reunion at the Latrobe Farmers’ and Vendors’ Market. That was more of a ‘fun’ thing.

There are several questions that come to mind concerning these insects.

First, how many species are there? Where do ants go in the wintertime? Do they hibernate?

Maybe you care. Maybe you don’t. On the other hand, I think you’ll find the following information interesting, informative, and above all, educational.

According to the AntWeb.org website, there are more than 15,000 ant species known. A site from the University of Michigan states that there are possibly anywhere between 8,000 and 20,000. A matter of fact, a number of other sources have even stated there are more than those said amounts. That’s what makes it so interesting.

Around here where it gets colder in the wintertime, ants slow down and regroup. In warmer climates, they may stay busy all year.

With air temperatures dropping below freezing and even going into single digits, it can’t be easy on those little critters. They certainly don’t stock pile food like we humans do, disappear into houses, wrap themselves in blankets and sit by wood-burning fires. Their attack is a whole different strategy.

According to www.terro.com, “Ants are masters of overeating, or waiting out the winter season. When cold air arrives, ants’ body temperatures drop dramatically and their movements become sluggish.”

And where do they go? “Ants respond by seeking out warm places, such as deep soil, under rocks, or under the bark of trees.”

Remember when I stated that I wrote about an ant reunion in Legion Keener Park last summer? A reunion is getting together in groups. This is exactly what ants do in the wintertime.

The website states once again, “Ants over the winter on a community level hunker down in clusters to maintain body heat, as they huddle protectively around the queen, sheltering their population’s lifeline. During this time, the entrance to their nests close as air traffic slows down and ceases. When warm weather returns, the ants will become more active again, opening up the entrance to venture outside.”

Here’s an interesting fact. It has been calculated that around 50 degrees Fahrenheit ants will start acting by seeking underground cover. The colder it is, the deeper the ground they will descend to. It has been stated that some ant colonies will keep food on hand to help sustain them through the winter months.

It all starts in the fall. That’s the time ants will eat heartily, eating large amounts of food to put on fat. By doing so, this allows them to go without eating much of the winter. Their bodies then will feed off this fat, in addition to the carbohydrates and proteins they have stored up to this time period.

Similar to we human beings, the first few days of spring bring life back into the once dormant creatures. All come out of their various stages, returning to stronger creatures with a sense of being ‘reborn.’ Regaining their energy, the ants return to work.

“Worker ants leave the nest in search of food. After locating it, they eat and head directly back to the colony to alert others of the food find. Marking their return path, the worker ants lie down an odor trail leading from the food to the colony. The nesting ants then follow the odor back to the food.”

By late spring, the ants are back in full force, active as they were before the cold months took over. This is a time to repair their nests, maintain them, searching for more food and considering mating season, as well. All it takes is a number of cool days, and the tiny brains of the ants tell them it’s time to secure their nests for the coming winter.

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Congratulations go out to Donald Fryvolt of Derry, who trapped a bobcat near his home Dec. 19. His picture was published with the animal on the front cover of Pennsylvania Outdoor News, Feb. 12, 2016, edition.


- Paul J. Volkmann
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