I know it’s wintertime in South Africa right now and I know a lot of us are wondering what to do, and how to care for your ants, their heating, and diet and I thought I’d bring out this video to explain what to do and what to expect.
I’ll start off with the hibernations that ants go through, and I’ll briefly touch on what most of the European countries and American ants go through. Most Ants in European countries go through a full-blown hibernation so, ants have almost no activity, little to none also almost no feeding, their diet is basically non-existent and the ants sleep, as you would expect a little grizzly bear to do, so not a lot to touch on there but in South Africa, and I’m sure this includes the lower southern continent countries, we go through what they call a diapause.
Diapause means that our species of ants do not actually go into full hibernation, they still move, they still consume, they still move around the nest and construct but everything is toned down quite drastically. The ants will go through a moment, maybe an hour or a little bit longer of not moving at all, some would think the ants are sick, but the ants are in a diapause state, and because of activity being lowered drastically their diet changes completely.
They will still consume the things that they would previously eat in summer and spring but on a much smaller scale. It is especially important to still be feeding your ants or your colonies. It is still important to have their sugar waters and proteins. In that regard you cannot stop feeding your ants but whereas previously you were feeding your ants maybe once every day, or every two days, your feeding will go down to maybe once a week, especially in the middle of winter.
You will be surprised how this might help you pick something, especially a protein that will not dry out within the first few days. I’m going to use an example here for South Africans, biltong is a very good example of something that could stay in the outworld for quite a few days, and it won’t go off. Now that brings us to the next important topic, not all ant colonies eat the same.
You might even have the same species as a friend but depending on habitat conditions, depending on the temperature of the nest, depending on sugars, depending on water, their diet will change, for example, there are three or four of us that have drop tails on the South African WhatsApp group and it’s funny how each one will prefer different foods. Some might like the same foods, like honey but there might be a protein source that my colony might prefer more than my friends. It’s very important to gauge now how your colonies react to proteins and sugar sources. It is ever-adapting.
Even if you’ve got more than one type of species, if you’ve got drop tails, you’ve got some Camponotus or you’ve got some Ponerinae, each one is different and it’s very important to treat as such. That brings us to the next topic, heating. Heating is probably one of the most important things to keep your colonies alive especially through the winter. So that they keep up the numbers and the workers don’t start dying off. Heating is basically broken down into three things that you can do.
Number one is a warm room, now that is probably the easiest that you can do. It is not direct heating, it’s not too extreme, it’s more of a constant condition that ants prefer. If you’ve got a room in your house or for example, I’ve got mine in my garage because my garage is exposed to a lot of sunlight, it’s actually the hottest room in my house, so that’s perfect for me now in wintertime. I do not have to stress too much about the ants and if you do have a warm room in your house, of course with your parents and your spouse if they allow it, try to keep them in that room.
The next step if you do not really have a warm room or you live in a very cold condition, climate, or area, you get a heating pad, now a heating pad as the name would describe is basically a little pad that is heated, most of them come with heat control so you can set the temperature that you want. Heating pads will be a bit pricey depending on where you can get them. I see in South Africa you can look on websites like Take-a-lot or you can go to your nearest pet store. I know most pet stores will defiantly stock them.
That will lead me to the third one and it’s probably not the most ideal but there’s a way around it. It is a heat cable. A heating cable is a lot more direct heat. Where you cannot change the temperature and it’s one constant current because of resistance in the wire, it heats up, now you’ll notice in the videos, I have a heat cable because unfortunately, I started panicking about a species that died off and I tried to get something as quick as possible.
I will use mine as an example, now I have my colonies in the garage, the garage temperature averages to about 21 to 22 degrees, ambient temperature and on the cold nights or cold days, I will plug in the heating cable and that will heat my colonies up. It is especially important that you are very attentive to your colonies. You can overheat your colony’s nests so in that regard it’s very important to have a heat gradient, in that way the ants can gauge what they do need, or how hot they need it, and when they need it.
This allows you to see if your ants like the heat or not. For example, you would remember my Meranoplus peringeuyi colony that I have, they don’t like heat so I’ll only put a little corner of the nest on the heating cable or even just the outworld and they seem to actually prefer that because when I did have it more on the cable or more on the nest they seem to have shied away from it and actually moved into the test tube which was not as warm. So, gauge your colonies like that, be attentive the first few days, and then adjust accordingly.
It is particularly important in winter to do this, especially when working with heat cables or heat mats, you do not want to cook your ants. For the smaller colonies that you might have in a test tube set up or a tub and tube setup or a small little nest, your ants will huddle together, and the ants rub against one another and cause friction and that helps heat themselves up. This helps to keep it more of a constant temperature in the nest and this is how ants live in nature.
Smaller is always better. Ants in nature will know not to make so much space in the nest. Human beings tend to think bigger is better but with ants, that is not the case. That brings us to the end of this guide to winter care for Ants in South Africa. If you have done all of this, and you have got your diet, you have got your heating, you’re sure that your ants are not over-heating. If you do notice that your colonies are barely eating, that is nature taking its course.
They are still alive, do not panic yet, I’d give it a few days, about four days or so, and give another drop of honey. As the season starts getting warmer you should see more movement and their appetite will return.