How to bait argentine ants? AND What are the white flakes in an ant colony? (Joanne)

Hi there,
I have two questions:
1) If you were going to do an experiment on Argentine ants and wanted them to from a trail to a food source, what food would you use. (My son is doing a paper/ behavioral experiment on pheromone trails). We've placed banana and white sugar near a nest and after a day only a few ants were at the sugar. At this rate it will take forever to do the observations and experiment design!
2) There appears to be quite a few ants under a specific rock in our garden. Last week, I just happened to lift the rock and saw tons of Argentine ants swarming around carrying what looked like tiny white flakes of something in their mandibles. What was this? I went in the house to try and locate a video camera. It took me awhile to do so, and when I returned and lifted the rock, they were gone!

Thanks in advance for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Hi Joanne!

Thanks for contacting us at AntAsk! How exciting that your son is doing an experiment on ant behavior! Ants are so much fun to study! Concerning your first question: Many researchers use tuna to bait their ants. Of course, this can get kind of smelly, but since you already tried sugar and banana, you might want to try tuna. One other option could be jam. For my research I bait ants using a sugar solution (I work on ants that only feed on plant sap in nature, so they especially like sugar). You could try solving sugar and place little drops on little plastic pieces, if you don't like to tuna option. I suggest solving sugar in water in the ration 1:3 (e.g., one tea spoon of sugar and 3 tea spoons of water).

Concerning your second question: Ants often have their nest or part of their nest under rocks. So I guess that you saw the brood of the ant colony. The ant queen lays eggs, from these larvae hatch. The larvae grow, so they come in different sizes and eventually they pupate. So I guess you saw eggs, larvae and pupae. Once you lifted the rock, the ant workers tried to bring the brood to safety. This is why they were all gone when you came back.

Thumbnail image for gracilis2_brood.jpg

This image shows from left to right: a worker, a small larva, medium larva, large larva, a young pupa and an old pupa of the species Pseudomyrmex gracilis. Photo curtesy by Alex Wild.

Let us know how your son's experiments go and contact us if you have any further questions!

All the best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

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