Original Paper


, Volume 99, Issue 10, pp 811-819

First online:

Cold resistance depends on acclimation and behavioral caste in a temperate ant

  • Andreas P. ModlmeierAffiliated withInstitute of Zoology, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz
  • , Tobias PammingerAffiliated withInstitute of Zoology, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz
  • , Susanne FoitzikAffiliated withInstitute of Zoology, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz
  • , Inon ScharfAffiliated withInstitute of Zoology, Johannes Gutenberg University of MainzDepartment of Zoology, Faculty of Life Sciences, Tel Aviv University Email author 

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Adjusting to low temperatures is important for animals living in cold environments. We studied the chill–coma recovery time in temperate ant workers (Temnothorax nylanderi) from colonies collected in autumn and spring in Germany. We experimentally acclimated these ant colonies to cold temperatures followed by warm temperatures. As expected, cold-acclimated workers recovered faster from freezing temperatures, but subsequent heat acclimation did not change the short recovery times observed after cold acclimation. Hence, either heat acclimation improves cold tolerance, possibly as a general response to stress, or at least it does not negate enhanced cold tolerance following cold acclimation. Colonies collected in spring showed similar cold tolerance levels to cold-acclimated colonies in the laboratory. Next, we compared the chill–coma recovery time of different worker castes and found that exterior workers recovered faster than interior workers. This difference may be related to their more frequent exposure to cold, higher activity level, or distinct physiology. Interior workers were also heavier and showed a higher gaster-to-head ratio and thorax ratio compared to exterior workers. An obvious difference between exterior and interior workers is activity level, but we found no link between activity and cold tolerance. This suggests that physiology rather than behavioral differences could cause the increased cold tolerance of exterior workers. Our study reveals the importance of acclimation for cold tolerance under natural and standardized conditions and demonstrates differences in cold tolerance and body dimensions in monomorphic behavioral castes of an ant.


Behavioral castes Cross-protection effect Hardening Intranidal workers Social insects