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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 02/ 5/2009

Warm Weather: When the Ants Come Marching In

By Ann Posegate

Wx and the City

* Warming Up? Full Forecast | Backlash Against AccuWeather Hype *

A carpenter ant, coming soon to a kitchen near you? From Wikimedia Commons, by Richard Bartz.

Temperatures well above average are on their way for this weekend, according to our latest forecast. During a warm spell in late December, Capital Weather Gang commenter Bobosnow noted:

Ants!!! This happened around Thanksgiving or early Dec as well with rain accompanied by a freak warm-up. Hate it. Never had them before, but since I removed my front tree in May, have had these 2 incidents. I know it's weather-related, used to happen at my mom's house all the time - a quick warm up or rapid weather change, usually with rain, and they come in the house.

Apparently, winter ant invasions are a common occurrence. This leaves me wondering: What kind of winter weather is most likely to force ants out of hibernation? And how important is the weather in triggering an ant invasion compared to, say, a kitchen full of crumbs? -- a veritable ant feast.

Keep reading for more on how the weather affects ants...

Unlike mammals, ants are cold-blooded -- their body temperature fluctuates along with the surrounding temperature instead of staying constant. Thus, their metabolism slows down during cold winters and they cannot function at all below certain temperatures -- usually lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

If ants get wet and are exposed to freezing temperatures, they're toast. So, they find strategies to stay warm and dry, like going through diapause (a state similar to hibernation) in deep underground tunnels. They don't usually eat much, if anything, during winter.

Have ants or other pests invaded your house this winter, and have you noticed a correlation to certain types of weather?

One type of ant that can occasionally be seen indoors during winter is the carpenter ant. Carpenter ants spend winter laying dormant in underground colonies. If the soil where they are hibernating heats up (pdf) from warm temperatures, some of the ants may become active and wander indoors. But, if soil temperatures get too cold and they are nearby a building, they may come indoors to find warmth.

If you do see carpenter ants in your home in winter, a likely possibility is that they're nesting in your walls or under the floor of your house. Since carpenter ants actually chew tunnels in your walls, I hope your invaders are a less worrisome species, such as the odorous house ant. Here's how to tell the difference.

This leaves me again to wonder: If warm temperatures last for several days, and ants are attracted to sweets...will the invaders return for Valentine's Day?

By Ann Posegate  | February 5, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nature, Posegate, Wx and the City  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Forecast: One More Day of Shivering
Next: PM Update: Another Darn Cold Night, Then Warmer


Does anyone know whether the potomac river has ice on it? I am not in town to see. Thanks.

Posted by: jfva | February 5, 2009 11:26 AM | Report abuse

I have yet to see any ants this year.

Unlike termites, carpenter ants don't eat wood, but their tunneling damages the wood and can do structural damage to a wood frame house.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | February 5, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

there was ice on the potomac below the key bridge until a couple of days ago. Now there are a few backwater areas and the tidal basin with ice.

Posted by: ah___ | February 5, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I haven't seen any ants this winter, but we have been getting some flies and stinkbugs.

Posted by: spgass1 | February 5, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

A little bit of ice in the creeks and on the shore line, but nothing like it was a couple weeks ago. I'm sure there will be more by tomorrow morning!

Posted by: Etta- | February 5, 2009 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Wow, how bizarre to see that random comment on the front page.

But, from what I understand, the ant invasion was unrelated to crumbs or food. I have cat food down all the time and use corn litter, and never have had them except those 2 times with the warm up w/rain.

They were teeny tiny sweet ants or odorous ants, and I was told to scrub down the entire area I found them in, including the walls. You have to eliminate their scent trail. Who knew? But both times, after a good scrub down and sealing the crack near the front door the 2nd time, so far, so good.

Guess we'll find out this weekend. Ugh.

Posted by: bobosnow | February 5, 2009 8:17 PM | Report abuse

I know all too well how much damage carpenter ants can do. It was much too late after I first noticed suspicious "trails" in some wooden beams to avoid very costly repairs.

Ann, any advice on how to keep ants out and if they do get in anything else on what to look for before having to deal with serious damage.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | February 6, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Sort of boring, isn't it, for weather enthusiasts???

Next Saturday or so we could have a storm moving in from the SW with a bit more potential for excitement, though it depends on how much cold air we can bring in after the current blowtorch. If we don't get enough cold air in, all we get is a boring ol' wet soaker, even with an easterly fetch. There is some hope for "wintry" precipitation, however for the Presidents' Day weekend.

Add the Snow Lover's Crystal Ball to the ranks of the "unemployed" during this major economic crisis. Blame it on the "La Nina" which was supposed to be a "La Nada" this winter.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | February 7, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Yes, we get the tiny ants every time it warms up; my husband was just commenting on their arrival today. We've scrubbed down but they come in anyway - guess we haven't yet found their entry point. I just keep the little plastic babyfood containers around, with holes poked near the bottom, so I can place bait inside and cap them to prevent cat access.

Posted by: fsd50 | February 7, 2009 9:37 PM | Report abuse

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