Ant Hibernation (Diapause)

As ant keepers, we frequently observe our small inhabitants looking for changes and just inspecting them to ensure the health and growth of the colony. A frequent observation that most ant-keepers notice during winter months their colonies activity starts to slow down, or the amount of new brood growth appears to have slowed or egg-laying has even ended. This is generally because you ants have an internal biological clock and it has triggered their hibernation period.

Do my ants require hibernation?

In colonies that are native to areas that have cold winters, your ants will likely require hibernation. In a natural setting winter is a yearly event that gives the colony a break from the constant food collection and brood rearing duties that accompany a healthy colony.  Winter also traditionally will provide fewer opportunities for the scavaging of food required to keep up brood production.

Yes – Your ants require hibernation and may even hibernate if you don’t encourage it.

During hibernation ants still, require a moist nest and water but will likely stop consuming any food or sugars offered. Many hobbyists use the 3-4 month hibernation period as a great way to take a break from the duties required for keeping colonies and enjoy the short break.

How Do I Hibernate My Ants?

When you local temperatures outside begin to drop below freezing for a few days in a row you should start the process of setting your colonies up for hibernation. Many times the observant ant-keeper will notice a change in their colonies behavior, less feeding and less activity being the most common. When this happens around November to December in Ohio, the only thing you need to do is to move the entire colony, including the outworld into a cool dark place in your home.

Popular locations include cool basements, warmer attics, garages that do not freeze, and even fridges set on their warmest setting. If possible, removing the outworld may make storing and relocating you colony easier, but it is not a requirement. During hibernation, there are only two things you need to monitor…

  1. Ensure your ant colony is not exposed to any prolong temps below freezing. 40F-50F is a great range to shoot for.
  2. Maintain proper hydration for your colony.

Because your nest is cooler, the humidity on your colony should not require as frequent monitoring but you do want to ensure it is not drying out. Colonies still found in test-tubes should be maintained in the same fashion as they have been maintained, but you should still keep them slightly cooler.

I also prefer to keep my hibernated ants covered and in the dark, I place a towel over the colony if it’s in my basement or attic to keep it dark and the temperature more stable in case of drafts or fast temperature swings.

Do I Feed Ants During Hibernation?

In most cases, ants will eat very little if anything during their hibernation period. You are welcome to offer food items, but ensure they do not mold if the food is not taken. It’s important to note as mentioned that you must continue to provide humidity AND drinking water during the hibernation period.

When Is Hibernation Over?

This is a pretty easy task, once your local environment begins to warm up you should be able to remove your colonies from hibernation. in Ohio, this is around Late February to early March. If the temperature is not an indication, be on the lookout for insects emerging outside and it will be safe to remove your colony from hibernation.

You may also attempt to artificially remove your colony from hibernation by increasing the temperature and re-introducing food to your colony. It does appear that most ant colonies have some internal biological clock that keeps them in hibernation and it might not be possible to remove them from hibernation until they are ready. If you intend to remove a colony from hibernation I would suggest giving your colony at least two months of solid hibernation time before beginning the transition out of hibernation.

What Happens If I Don’t Hibernate My Ant Colony?

While this is a possibility most myrmecologists agree that it will likely reduce the lifespan of the colony dramatically as it doesn’t give the queens and the colony as a whole a break from the massive amount of energy required to keep the colony growing and reproducing constantly.

Many hobbyists argue their ants a native to an area that doesn’t experience cold winters and colonies remain active throughout the year. There are arguments and some examples of colonies that have skipped hibernation. Generally speaking, even colonies that skip hibernation will still show signs of decreased activity during their normal hibernation time.