Building an ant colony is fun but does not come without its (minor) problems. One of the problems that I first ran into when I started keeping ants was their eating habits. The same question kept popping into my head, How long can ants live without food?
How long ants survive without food depends on what stage the ant is in. Fully-claustral colonies still in the founding stage do not need any food and can survive the founding stage without. Non-fully-claustral ants and fully-claustral ants outside of the founding stage can only survive a few weeks without food.
Whether I was heading out on vacation for a couple of days or if I’d be out of town on business, I was always worried my ants wouldn’t have enough food to eat while I was gone.
Should I delay my trip? Do I need a friend to come over and feed my ants? How long can these ants go without any food?
More information about how long ants can live without food, a deeper dive into ants and their eating habits, and tips and tricks to maneuver around these time frames are below.
How Long Can Ants Live Without Food
Here is my breakdown of how long ants can live without food; use this table to plan around or to make sure you’re not underfeeding or overfeeding your ants.
Knowing what species you have is critical, and we always suggest getting to know your ants while you’re keeping them.
|Stage||Type||How Long Without Food?|
|Test-Tube||Fully-Claustral||Couple months to a year, you do not have to feed fully-claustral queens in the test-tube|
|Keeping||Hibernation||Whole Hibernation Period (3-4 Months)|
How Long Can Fully-Claustral Ants Live Without Food?
Fully-claustral ants can live (and thrive) the whole founding stage without food, and the length of this period differs from ant to ant.
This stage will generally last 2-12 months, with most ants hovering around that 6-month timeframe.
Each worker ant will feed directly from Queen Ant, who has stored up reserves for her and her brood before the founding stages.
As a general rule, you will want your Queen Ant to stay in the test tube until she has 20 to 100 workers.
The more worker ants there are, the more robust and more sustainable the colony will be once you transition the colony to an outworld or a formicarium.
Like the Lasius Niger and Pharaoh ants, some ants create workers in large numbers very quickly, but other ants, like the Aphaenogaster, take much longer.
We know some people give food to fully-claustral ants during the test-tube stages, and we highly suggest that you do not do this.
This is because Queen Ants become frightened and stressed very quickly.
When a Queen Ant is stressed, she will stop laying eggs and potentially eat her brood.
Feeding your ants during this stage will create commotion and disturbance that your Queen Ant does not want nor need.
If you’re trying to raise an ant colony, a Queen Ant who is eating her brood and not producing eggs is probably something you do not want.
How Long Can Semi-Claustral Ants Live Without Food?
During the founding stages, Semi-Claustral Ants should be fed every week – and monitored very closely.
If previously offered food has been eaten, and it’s been over 24 hours since you last fed your ants, I suggest that you feed them.
You should be providing food on some form of tray or aluminum foil to easily remove the food if it goes uneaten to prevent any mold.
Make sure the food you do provide is the correct amount and can be eaten before it would start to mold.
For example, Do not feed a 4-inch caterpillar to 6 ants.
These semi-claustral ants can only live about a week without any food, and this early period of growth is critical to a colony’s success.
Since these Queen Ants do not store up reserves for her and her brood, you will need to help her by providing specific food for that ant species.
Some of these ants will even need specific set-ups, as she will need to hunt live insects and other bugs to return to her brood.
These ant colonies survive based on the queen ant and how she can collect food. While the typical ant’s diet in these colonies is slightly nonstandard, it will pay off long-term once your ant farm has developed.
During the founding stages of a semi-claustral ant, you probably will not be taking any vacations or business trips unless someone is helping you feed your ants!
This is one of the reasons fully-claustral ant species are recommended for beginners over semi-claustral.
Because the “leave it alone while it’s in the test tube” creates a situation where new ant keepers can be highly successful.
How Long Can Ants Live Without Food?
In general, ants can live a couple of weeks without food.
However, this will not be good for the colony, and you will surely see a drop off (or a decline) in the colony’s population, and the ants may become much less active to preserve energy.
If you are going away on business or vacation, have someone come over and feed your ants.
Most species are easy to feed; it only takes about 5 minutes.
Some ants, like the Florida Harvester Ant, bury their seeds and wait for the germination process to eat the softer interior of the plants.
In a situation like this, these ants survive a bit longer than the standard ant that feeds mostly on simple carbs/protein, as the delayed feeding nature (eating plants they’ve grown) of these ants will provide them with food for longer.
You could try and leave food out that would last a while, but you do run into the risk of mold in your colony.
How Long Can Ants Live Without Food During Hibernation?
Ants survive the whole hibernation period without any food.
This assumes that you fed your ants heavily before the hibernation period, as they will use the reserves from that period to get them through the hibernation stage.
Not only will they have altered their physical state by retaining more food, but they will also internally change to produce glycerol. (Source)
This glycerol acts as an anti-freeze (yes, like the one in your car) and keeps the ants from freezing to death during winter.
So, if you live in a colder area, don’t worry too much about how much the temperature has dropped during hibernation – your ants will be okay.
Water is also essential at this stage, but we assume you’ve cooled down your nest, as the lower temperature causes hibernation.
A cold nest will lose much less water as there will not be as much evaporation, so you may also be able to slow down a bit on the watering.
Other Articles On Common Ant Questions
When it comes to ants, there are a ton of different questions.
We have some posts that answer some of the common and most well-known ant questions.
Those articles are in this list here:
- The Full History Of Ants
- The Different Types of Ants in Florida
- Why Do Male Ants Die Shortly After Reproducing
- How Far Can An Ant Travel
Frequently Asked Questions
Here we broke down a few more questions about how ants eat.
Hopefully, some of these will help you with your ant colonies on your ant farm!
Will we see male ants early on in an ant farm?
You will not see many male ants during the beginning stages of creating your ant farm. The male ant is produced for mating, an indicator of a healthy and late-stage colony. Continue to provide protein rich foods to increase the growth rate of your colony.