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Hibernation and wintering

A high reproductive rate is the key to the stability of an ant colony.

But after all, the queen cannot constantly reproduce at a crazy pace, therefore, as a rule, they do not live long, replacing them with younger ones. Other ant species found a way out by inventing diapause.

Diapause is a sharp decrease in activity and productivity (up to the complete disappearance of the brood). Diapause should not be equated with wintering, because wintering is always accompanied by diapause, but wintering is not always accompanied by diapause. During the diapause, life in the ant family dies out - workers almost never go out to the arena for food, spend most of their time in the nest, hanging lazily on the walls or lying on the floor, huddled in groups.

Occasionally, some leave their apartment to bring some food for their companions, but the former arena activity no longer exists. An empty arena that was previously occupied is one sign that the ants have decided to rest. Usually insects choose their own time for this, but sometimes improper breeding conditions can cause them to "hibernate".
Photograph: Antonio
The lack of lighting for daytime ants signals them that the days have become shorter, so they have to wait this time in the nest. For example, for representatives of the genus Cataglyphis (runner ant), the light in the arena must be compulsory, and preferably that the lamp installed there should not only shine, but also heat.

The peak activity of these ants in nature occurs at noon, when there is extreme heat, forcing competitors to sit in underground shelters, and potential food dies so that it can be harvested as sun-dried carcasses of various arthropods. Without heat and light, they will be forced to limit their activity, because they think that night or bad weather has come to the arena, and in this case it is not worth leaving the anthill. Such pathological diapause, which occurs spontaneously in the middle of the warm season and lasts forever, results from the lack of lighting and heat guaranteed by the lamp.

This also applies to the species Formica, Lasius, Tapinoma and some others that feed during the day. But Camponotus and Messor, which do not go out to dine until dusk in the summer, will not suffer from a lack of light.

Lack of protein in the diet.

For European ants, whose activity is clearly seasonal, the abundance of live food marks the beginning of the breeding season. In the fall, when insects are scarce, these ants completely switch to carbohydrate feeding to prepare for wintering. If the protein feed is not enough, the ants change their behavior in such a way that their activity decreases - they go into diapause.
Stress can also lead to unplanned diapause even under ideal conditions. The ants then hide in their nest and are afraid to leave it, stopping food supplies to the colony. As a result, insects die.

If all the conditions are met, and the colony develops quickly and suddenly slows down, it means that there is a periodic transition to periodic diapause and it is absolutely normal.

Continue feeding with normal food, never move the nest, and wait for the ants to function normally again. For a good rest, you can turn off the heating even for tropical species, if the temperature in the room does not fall below +23 degrees Celsius.

Annual diapause during the drop in temperature is observed, for example, in home fire ant colonies Pseudoneoponera rufipes, but after a few months the ants should return to normal activity.
Wintering is the same as diapause, but at low temperatures. It should be provided for European ant species from regions where the temperature drops below freezing in the cold season.

The important difference between wintering and diapause is that it does not occur spontaneously - the ants are thoroughly preparing for it, because improper preparation for it can cost the entire colony its life.

How to recognize the beginning of wintering?

Ants that are preparing for wintering are inactive. They have all the signs of diapause: no brood, no interest in going out into the arena. Most of the workers huddle tightly around the queen, motionless.

Our job is to regularly feed carbohydrates to those workers who still go outside to eat. Besides, they feed their comrades because their sugar reserves will not allow them to freeze to death.

After the ants are properly nourished, the temperature should be gradually (over a week or so) lowered, eventually bringing it to about +10 degrees for arboreal species (Camponotus, Dolichoderus) or higher for the genera Formica and Lasius.
If everything has been done correctly, both diapause and wintering will go well. The ants will return to their activities refreshed and full of energy!
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