Ants take shelter during the winter. As ectotherms, they rely on these shelters to stay warm and survive. These shelters include deeper underground or under heat collectors like logs and rocks.
In this article, we’ll learn more about these different shelters. We’ll also look into the following:
- What do ants do in the winter?
- How do ants prepare for winter?
- Do ants die during the wintertime?
- When do ants reemerge from their shelters?
Where Do Ants Go In the Winter?
Ants go to a variety of places in the winter. These places are those that provide them warmth and safety from harsh conditions. They include the following:
Soil-nesting ants create deeper underground nests during winter. These nests provide insulation and help maintain a stable temperature. They also keep out wind and prevent wind chill. Overall, they create a protected environment where they can survive the winter.
These underground nests can be several feet deep into the soil and below the frost line. They consist of intricate tunnels and chambers which help retain body heat. The entrances to these nests remain closed in the winter to prevent heat from coming out.
Similarly, some ants can take refuge in wood like tree barks or logs. Like soil, wood is an insulator. This means that it retains heat and prevents the cold from coming in. They also help protect ants from predators.
Ants you’ll likely see in wood during the winter include the carpenter ants.
Interestingly, some ants take shelter in acorns during the winter. These ants are called acorn ants. They live in small ready-to-dwell cavities in empty acorns. They stay in these acorns during the winter despite the low survival rate.
It won’t be surprising to see ants in houses during winter. After all, they are looking for somewhere warm, and where best than our cozy, heated houses. Our homes can provide them with all the food and moisture they need.
Generally, ant activity decreases during winter. So if you do see them in your house, they’re likely to have formed a nest inside. These nests may be hidden in your walls and floors.
What Do Ants Do In the Winter?
Aside from taking shelter, ants also use other strategies that help them survive the cold. These strategies include the following:
Clustering is a relatively simple survival strategy employed by ants. During winter, they cluster or huddle together in large groups to maintain warmth.
Diapause is a physiological state of dormancy or a period of suspended development. It’s a biological strategy that allows ants to survive changing environmental conditions. It’s essentially their version of hibernation.
During this state, ants enter a state of slowed metabolism. They become sluggish or even completely immobile. Some ants also fall into a complete stupor when overwintering. They cease development and all activities like feeding and reproduction.
Through diapause, ants can wait out the winter without spending too much energy. In doing so, they increase their chances of survival.
See this article to learn more about diapause.
Some ants can produce antifreeze in the form of glycerol (glycerin).
This glycerol resembles ethylene glycol that’s used for many antifreeze brands. It prevents the formation of ice and keeps ant tissues from freezing due to the cold. 
How Do Ants Prepare for Winter?
In preparation for winter, ants store and eat as much food as they can. They fatten up and build their energy stores which they’ll rely on as they enter a low metabolic state. 
They will also start organizing their nests to optimize heating. Again, some ants may dig deeper underground or find other warm shelters.
Do Ants Die During the Wintertime?
Yes, ants can most definitely die during the wintertime. Winter is a particularly dangerous time for ants. Not all ants are equipped with the necessary adaptations to survive the cold. Pharoah ants, for example, suffer great mortality in winter. Most of their colonies die out in a month.
When Do Ants Reemerge From Diapause or Their Shelters?
Ants become active as the temperature gets warmer. They typically come out of diapause or their winter shelters come springtime. Their activity then peaks during the summer.
Do All Ants Enter Diapause During Winter?
No, not all ants enter diapause. Winter habits vary among species. Some enter a period of rest while others try to remain active. There are also ants that aren’t equipped for winter at all. Tropical ants have somehow found their way to the colder parts of the world usually just die in winter.
What Happens to Ant Colonies When the Queen Dies During Winter?
What happens when the queen dies depends on the colony structure. Many ant colonies are monogynous or have only one egg-laying queen. For these colonies, the queen’s death often leads to the death of all.
However, there are also polygynous colonies that can have two to hundreds of queens. In these colonies, queens that die are simply replaced.
See this article to learn more about what happens when the queen ant dies.
Summary: Where Do Ants Go In the Winter?
To summarize, ants go to a variety of places in winter. They can dig deeper underground, take shelter in wood or rocks, or invade houses in search of warmth. They do so because they’re cold-blooded and cannot regulate their own temperature. Instead, they have to rely on external sources to stay warm. Failure to find sources or shelters in winter can lead to fatalities.