What Happens To Carpenter Ants In The Winter?

Have you ever looked out a window in the dead of winter with several feet of snow on the ground and wondered how insects come back year after year after year here in Augusta? It is quite a mystery, especially if you know that insects are cold-blooded animals that die when they get too cold. But insects find ways to survive. Let's take a look at how this works and see if there are some things we can learn about carpenter ants that will help us protect our Augusta property, and our wallets, from their destructive influence.

When temperatures in Maine drop below freezing, most ants hide under the ground. While the air temperature can fluctuate quite a bit, ground temperatures are slower to change. At below 4 feet, the temperature of the ground can stay around 50 degrees all winter long. This non-freezing temperature, and the reserves of food stored in the fall, can keep most ant colonies alive even in a blizzard. That is great news for ants that tunnel in soil, but carpenter ants tunnel in wood. How do they make it through without freezing to death?

Creatures that can't tunnel into the ground to find a safe temperature must use other methods to stay warm. Birds use their wings to fly south to warmer regions. Some mammals use their ability to create a winter coat to keep warm when temperatures drop. Carpenter ants create antifreeze. Yup. You read that right. Carpenter ants have the ability to create their own antifreeze.

The reason insects die when it gets too cold is because the water inside their bodies crystallizes. Carpenter ants can generate an alcohol compound called glycerol to prevent this crystallization from happening. It acts like antifreeze in their bodies and prevents them from freezing to death.

Carpenter ants have another natural ability that helps them get through winter. It is a process called diapause. While it might look like hibernation, there are actually many differences between hibernation and diapause. The critical difference is that a creature in diapause can wake up as soon as environmental conditions become favorable again.

There are two primary conditions that drive carpenter ants into diapause: cold temperatures and a lack of food. Both of these conditions occur in winter. So carpenter ants go into this sort of suspended animation until winter has passed.

A creature that goes into diapause slows down. In this slowed-down state, it does not use as much energy, so it can go a long time without eating. It also goes into a supercooled state that is capable of withstanding freezing temperatures without experiencing cell damage. This supercooling works in conjunction with its ability to produce antifreeze and makes carpenter ants incredibly resilient to cold temperatures.

Is There Such a Thing as Too Cold for Carpenter Ants?

While carpenter ants are incredibly resistant to the cold, they aren't entirely immune to it. If it gets cold enough, they will die, just like every other creature on the planet. How cold is too cold for carpenter ants? We're not sure. What we know for sure is that they must shield themselves from the freezing wind of winter to survive. There are many places in nature they use to hide from the freezing wind.

Here are some of the most common places:

  • An old log in the forest is the perfect home for carpenter ants in all seasons of the year. It might not seem ideal in the winter, but it is surprising how much of a thermal blanket a layer of snow can provide for an old, decaying log. It might not be toasty enough for a human, but it is more than toasty enough for carpenter ants.
  • A stump works even better than a log. If the roots of the stump go deep enough into the ground, the carpenter ants living in that stump are going to be very happy. They may even remain active during the winter months.
  • A tree hole. Carpenter ants love living in trees. While probably not as ideal as a log or a stump, it usually provides plenty of protection, especially in Augusta, where temperatures rarely go below freezing. The biggest benefit a tree provides is a shield from the cold wind. Have you heard of the wind chill factor? Bitter wind mixed with freezing temperatures can work to drop the temperature of a carpenter ant well below its threshold to survive.  

Of all the places carpenter ants can hide from the winter cold, our Augusta homes are definitely the worst, for us, that is. Unfortunately, carpenter ants love living with us. A man-made structure heated in the winter is the best place on earth for a carpenter ant. It beats a cold stump or a cold tree any day. This can be a problem for us, as carpenter ants can be very destructive when they get into our Augusta homes.

What To Do About Carpenter Ants In Your Augusta Home This Spring

As the weather warms, carpenter ants will begin to emerge. Fortunately, if you're seeing carpenter ants in or around your Augusta home, it's not too late. The experts at Big Busterzzz Pest Control will develop a comprehensive carpenter ant control plan to rid colonies from your property. To learn more about the best pest control in Maine, reach out to our team of professionals at Big Busterzzz Pest Control today.