Prenolepis imparis

Geographic Range

Prenolepis imparis, commonly known as false honey ants, are found throughout most of the United States. Their range stretches to southern Ontario in the North and Mexico in the South. False honey ants are a native Nearctic species. (McLeod, 2014)


False honey ants live in wooded areas, soil that contains clay, sand, and occasionally under logs and rocks. Workers build nests deep underground. They build nests in shady areas near the bottoms of trees. The nests often have many dead-end tunnels. Stretching downward up to 3.6 meters, the nests of false honey ants are very deep. The nests reach so far down in order to maintain a cool environment. In Florida, the nests are deeper than those in the northern parts of their range. (McLeod, 2014; Tschinkel, 1987)

  • Range depth
    2.5 to 3.6 m
    8.20 to 11.81 ft

Physical Description

False honey ants workers are 2.5-3.5 mm in length. Queens are about 8 mm in length. Male ants are 3-4 mm in length. They have light to dark brown colors. Queens are reddish-brown in color and males are black in color. The head and abdomen are often darker than the midsection. Their bodies are shaped like an hourglass. Reproductive ants have wings. (McLeod, 2014)

Eggs are small, white, and shaped like cylinders. Larvae look like maggots. They are small, curved, and covered in hairs. (Williams and Lucky, 2020)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range length
    2.5 to 8 mm
    0.10 to 0.31 in
  • Range wingspan
    2.5 to 8 mm
    0.10 to 0.31 in


False honey ants progress from egg to larvae, to pupa, and then to adult. Like other ants, false honey ants undergo complete metamorphosis. (Williams and Lucky, 2020)


False honey ants are a polygynous species. All queens lay eggs. One male mates with multiple females. This species is the first North American species of ant to form a mating swarm in the spring. (Williams and Lucky, 2020)

In late August to September, a single brood is produced once the queen's ovaries have matured. The brood is made up of workers and reproductives. After overwintering, the reproductives will leave the colony in early spring for their mating flight. The reproductives form mating swarms. The swarms tend to gather on vegetation and on the trunks of trees. (Williams and Lucky, 2020)

  • Breeding interval
    False honey ants breed yearly.
  • Breeding season
    False honey ants breed in the spring.

False honey ants use female reproductive care. (Williams and Lucky, 2020)


Workers live for 1-2 years. Colonies can contain from 560-10,000 workers. Colonies last from 7 to 9 years. (Tschinkel, 1987)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 to 2 years


False honey ants are specialized for foraging in cold temperatures. They forage at temperatures between 45° and 60°F. They may be found gathering food at near-freezing temperatures. During the warmer months, they will close off the entrance to the nest and become dormant. They experience estivation during the hot summer months. They will not leave the nest until the temperatures lower again. Depending on where they live, their active period changes. In the southern parts of their range, they are active between November and early April. False honey ants that live near the northern parts of their range are active throughout the year, except for the summer months. (McLeod, 2014; Williams and Lucky, 2020)

Reproductive false honey ants are able to fly. Once a food source has been found, workers will mobilize and defend it from predators. They live in colonies that contain up to 560-10,000 workers. (McLeod, 2014; Tschinkel, 1987)

Communication and Perception

Not much information is known about the communication and perception of false honey ants. They likely use tactile, visual, and chemical channels of perception. Tactile, visual, and chemical methods of communication are possible.

Food Habits

False honey ants are generalist omnivores that prefer diets with a lot of proteins and fats. Workers eat flowers that drip sap, honeydew, rotting fruit, and waste from galls, earthworms, and arthropods. (McLeod, 2014; Williams and Lucky, 2020)

  • Animal Foods
  • carrion
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


No information about predators was found.

Ecosystem Roles

False honey ants contribute towards soil aeration when they build their nests. They consume flowers that drip sap, honeydew, rotting fruit, and waste from galls, earthworms, and arthropods. (McLeod, 2014; Williams and Lucky, 2020)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

False honey ants do not have any positive economic impacts.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

False honey ants are not a pest species, but they may enter buildings. (Williams and Lucky, 2020)

Conservation Status

Other Comments

Prenolepis imparis are known as small honey ants, false honey ants, or native winter ants. (Williams and Lucky, 2020)


Deena Hauze (author), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


flesh of dead animals.


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

soil aeration

digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


McLeod, R. 2014. "Species Prenolepis imparis - False Honey Ant" (On-line). Bug Guide. Accessed July 10, 2020 at

Talbot, M. 1943. Population studies of the ant, Prenolepis imparis (Say). Ecology, 24(1): 31-44. Accessed July 12, 2020 at

Tschinkel, W. 1987. Seasonal life history and nest architecture of a winter-active ant,Prenolepis imparis. Insectes Sociaux, 34: 143–164. Accessed July 10, 2020 at

Wheeler, W. 1930. The Ant Prenolepis Imparis (Say.). Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 23(1): 1-26. Accessed July 12, 2020 at

Williams, J., A. Lucky. 2020. "Common name: winter ant, false honey ant" (On-line). Featured Creatures Entomology & Nematology. Accessed July 10, 2020 at