Where Do Ants Go In The Winter?

Written by Colby Maxwell
Updated: November 11, 2022
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Ants are some of the most numerous insects on the planet, but they are also extremely hardy! It seems that part of their success comes from their ability to thrive in almost any environment, even cold ones. Every animal has its own strategy that allows it to adapt to different climates. Today, we are going to learn about these little creatures and discover: Where do ants go in the winter? The answer may surprise you!

What do Ants do During the Winter?

Where Do Ants Go In The Winter?

Ants in cold climates usually


and eat a lot of food before it gets cold.

©Andrey Pavlov/Shutterstock.com

Ants are resilient insects, but even these hardy bugs need to do some special things to survive the winter. The primary actions that ants take include food stocking, hibernation and even self-producing antifreeze! Let’s tackle each of these common adaptations in order.

Food Stocking

Many species of ants are conditioned to react to the changes in temperature and prepare. When they realize that the weather is changing, ants are known to eat as much food as they can. This allows them to store up energy in their bodies and prepare for the coming cold. Since the nest will enter a state of hibernation, food production and gathering will cease. This requires the ants to rely on their own stores in order to make it through the winter. On top of eating a lot of food, they will prepare their body to use fewer resources in a bodily state is known as hibernation.


ant pile

Ants generally head underground or to another temperature-stable location during the winter.

©Aleksandr Pobedimskiy/Shutterstock.com

The second and most important step that ants take to survive the winter is to enter the state of hibernation. Not all ant species need or even can enter this state, but the species that have adapted to colder climates almost always have this ability. Generally, the ants will head underground or somewhere that the tempurature remains stable. Other common places include homes (which can be annoying) and under tree bark. Then, the ants will close up the nest with material to prevent any workers from leaving. Once the nest is sealed until spring, they gather in large clumps, usually around the queen. This ball of insects allows the ants to keep each other warm. Additionally, their core body temperature changes and they enter a stage of semi-sleep. Movement slows, and the colony significantly slows down in order to preserve heat and resources.

Self-producing Antifreeze

For many species of ants, simply eating and hibernating in a warmer place is enough to get them through the winter. Still, other species need to take things a step further and do some absolutely wild things. In the case of some ant species, they have evolved the ability to produce a chemical that is remarkably similar to propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is a chemical that humans use in engines and goes by the common name, antifreeze. Essentially, ants in cold climates have the ability to produce their own version of antifreeze! When the temperature drops, ants produce the chemical in order to preserve their internal organs and not die from the extreme cold.

Do Ants Die During the Wintertime?

Where Do Ants Go In The Winter?

Ants are long-lived insects that usually survive through the winter.


Generally speaking, ants are some of the more long-lived insects out there. It usually depends on the species, but the common black garden ant can live for up to four years, with other species living decades long. With that in mind, it’s safe to assume that a large majority of ants live through the winter and make it to the warm months the following year.

Still, winter is hard on most creatures, and it’s probably normal to have some percentage of the colony die from the cold. If there are ants that don’t make it back to the nest or are already injured, the winter could be the end of them. Overall, however, the majority of the colony will survive and continue their seasonal cycle for years to come.

What’s the Coldest Place That Ants Can Live?

Where Do Ants Go In The Winter?

The mouth of the Mackenzie River is the furthest north that ants regularly live in the Western Hemisphere.


In the Western Hemisphere, ants have been recorded as far north as the Mackenzie River in Canada’s Northwest Territories. This region is classified as an extreme Arctic-Alpine climate, but incredibly, ants survive here every year. The Mackenzie River extends as far north as the Richard Islands, the furthest northern coast of Canada, just east of Alaska.

What Kind of Ant is the Most Cold Tolerant?

The species of ant that lives as far north as the mouth of the Mackenzie River is known as Leptothorax muscorum. L. muscorum and is extremely cold hardy. It is ranked as one of the most northern-living species of ant in the Western Hemisphere. Even more, they have been found at elevations as high as 3810 meters. They mostly live in mountain meadows, shrublands, and wooded areas. Their nests are usually in tree bark, under stones, and moss.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © james mccord carter/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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