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Can ant larvae get too cold or hot?

Mike wrote to the "Consult-Ant" with a number of questions about ants. I am going to try to answer each one in a separate post. For the original list of questions and links to all answers, visit here.

10)  If the eggs, larvae, and pupae were placed in bad conditions, specifically temperature, for a short period of time, would they be harmed?

As you might expect, the optimal temperature for rearing larvae depends on the ant species. In his 1988 paper, Porter found that fire ant larvae (Solenopsis invicta) grew and developed between 24° C and 36° C, with optimal growth at 32 °C. Abril et al. found a range of 18°C to 32°C for larvae of the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, with optimal development closer to 26°C. Argentine ant larvae held at temperatures above 32°C did not survive.

Of course if the temperatures are hot enough to burn or cold enough to freeze, then the larvae would be harmed even with brief exposures. But what about temperatures that are not extremely hot or cold, but just outside of the range for normal development? Once again, depending on the species, there could be critical windows of development that can be missed if the larvae aren't reared at proper temperatures. Exposure to low temperatures could potentially stimulate larvae to enter diapause, as well.

Adult worker ants are much less susceptible to changes in temperature. Types of desert worker ants may survive soil surface temperatures of 60 to even 70° C! (Marsh 1985)

ant-brood

In an actual nest, the nurse workers move the larvae from chamber to chamber to ensure the larvae are exposed to the correct temperatures.

Let me know if you have more specific questions.

References:

Abril S, Oliveras J, Gómez C. 2010. Effect of temperature on the development and survival of the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile. Journal of Insect Science 10:97 available online: insectscience.org/10.97

Marsh, A.C. (1985). Thermal Responses and Temperature Tolerance in a Diurnal Desert Ant, Ocymyrmex barbiger. Physiological Zoology, Vol. 58, No. 6 (Nov. - Dec., 1985), pp. 629-636.

Porter SD. 1988. Impact of temperature on colony growth and developmental rates of the ant, Solenopsis invicta. Journal of Insect Physiology, 34(12): 1127-1133.

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