As cold fronts move in across North America, you may notice a decline in ant activity on your property. Where do ants go in the winter? It may seem that they have died off entirely – but that could not be further from the truth. In fact, ants may be trying to infiltrate your business in an attempt to survive the winter.
Most ant species are overwintering arthropods that lay low and brave the elements through a dormancy period. Because these invasive insects are cold-blooded, they require warmth in order to survive harsh winters without food. This can cause them to make their way indoors before or after dormancy where they can seek shelter in your business.
Just because ants are not visible outside doesn’t mean they are not colonizing without your knowledge. Only a small percentage of ants are foragers that explore in plain sight, so it is likely their presence will elude you. To help you spot the signs and prevent extensive issues, our entomologists have weighed in with useful information and tips.
Preparation for winter
In the warm months, ants consume their nutrients from a variety of foods including nectar, seeds, and plants. It is also important for their diet to include protein-rich materials like meat and dead insects for egg production. In late summer, ants shift their diets to carbohydrates, which are then stored and converted to energy for the winter months. This helps them gain weight prior to the season change so they can survive the harsh weather and food scarcity. Those that aren’t fortunate enough to seek refuge indoors, go dormant and face the odds outside.
Dormancy and behavior
Most ants enter a dormancy period at the onset of winter where their bodies adapt to a slower metabolic state called “diapause.” As temperatures plummet and ants enter diapause, their movements naturally slow down. This makes them appear sluggish or immobile but allows them to utilize very little stored energy, as they do not eat, drink, or lay eggs during this period. Unlike some other animals, ants do not fall into a deep slumber in the winter. Rather, they find their way inside or rest several feet deep into the soil where temperatures are more consistent and the elements cannot reach them.
Some ant species are able to convert their body fluids into an alcohol called glycerol, which is a compound found in antifreeze. This defense mechanism regulates their body temperatures, preventing the formation of ice crystals in their bodies and tissue damage during the frigid lows of winter.
The increase in temperature during the early spring months cues ants to re-emerge from their chambers, prompting workers to search for promising, new food sources. Because ants are social creatures, they are known to mark trails with pheromones, memorize landmarks to these areas, and recruit others to forage there as well. They utilize structures for guidance and constantly discard waste as they move, so look for trails along downspouts, tree branches, and roots. Such structures can bring them closer to your facility, increasing the chances they find their way inside, and leaving your business vulnerable to infestation indoors.
Impacts of ants in your business
There are upwards of 1,000 known species of ants in North America, but only 25 of them are invasive to structures. These ants can easily cause thousands of dollars in damage to foundations, equipment, property, product, and reputation if not eliminated in a timely fashion. Depending on species, a colony can consist of thousands of ants, all of which can cause a disruption for your business.
Most people do not think of disease or infection as a result of ants, but the truth is they can spread dangerous organisms like E. coli and Salmonella through common spaces shared with humans. This is problematic for healthcare, food processing, and restaurant environments, as it can lead to a foodborne illness outbreak. Additionally, some ant species can bite and/or sting, which compromises the health of customers and staff. Infants and senior citizens are at an increased risk, because they may not be able to verbalize the pain. Some people even develop an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis, which may be life-threatening. Overall, ant sightings in areas meant to be sanitary may also lead customers to associate your business or brand with poor hygiene and health threats.
What you can do
First, correctly identifying the ant species invading your business is crucial. Certain species respond to treatment methods differently, so knowing which you are dealing with is a critical step to avoid exacerbating the problem.
It’s also important to understand that over-the-counter repellent sprays may create larger problems, causing ant colonies to split in different directions in a process called “budding.” This can lead to entirely new colonies being formed. Be cautious of DIY baiting as well, as you may end up targeting only a portion of the infestation.
Ants make their way into human domains for a few simple necessities: food, water, heat, and shelter. The best way to prevent ants from getting inside is to limit access to these items. Outlined below are a few simple steps you can take.
Sealing gaps, holes, openings, and cracks can eliminate the spaces where ants enter your structure. Install door sweeps and use caulk to seal smaller gaps.
To avoid inadvertently feeding ant colonies, store all unsealed food in airtight containers and clean up any crumbs. Consider daily trash removal and a rigorous cleanup schedule to ensure no debris is left behind.
Locate nests around your property, including tree bark and soil. Depending on the species, you may also find ants in or near:
- loose leaves
- stumps, logs, or firewood
- window and door frames
- walls and baseboard
- water heaters
- hot water pipes
- cracks in foundation or concrete slabs
- existing damage caused by termites
Winterize your business
- Eliminate moisture and standing water around refrigerators, dumpsters, air conditioning units, etc.
- Seal structural cracks and holes, including existing termite damage.
- Replace leaky plumbing.
- Relocate landscaping and wood against the structure.
Although the onset of winter has just begun, spring is not that far away. Talk with your pest management professional today to begin preparations for spring. Be sure your business is ready to tackle recurring ant issues when temperatures begin to rise. They may be difficult to locate to the untrained eye, so if you think your business is at risk, call a pest professional at 800.488.9495. An expert can assess the property, identify the species, and execute an action plan.