Ant biology: October 2014 Archives

Weaver Ant Farming



Dear AntAsk Team,

Weaver ant larvae is a commodity here in Indonesia, we use weaver ant larvae for dietary supplement to improve the performance of songbirds before bird singing competition and carp fishing bait. Throughout the year weaver ant larvae is harvested and sold, because demand for weaver ant larvae has increased in recent years some areas are being over harvested and as a result diminishing in weaver ant colony in the nature.
From that point, I and some friends trying to establish a weaver ant farm so we could meet the demand for weaver ant larvae and by doing so also help to reduce over harvesting in the nature.

Right now we have 42 jar of weaver ant nest in our colony which started from 30 jar of nest (the farming have started 1.5 month ago).
The diet of our farm is sugar water, caterpillar, crickets, diluted honey, diluted white egg, diluted fish oil.
Note: we haven't tried to harvest the larvae. Attached pictures of our farm setup.

DSC_0007.JPG DSC_0195.JPG

My question is:
1. Is it true that weaver ant tend to grow in population the most in shaded or dark places(because of these rumor we build a shed using paranet)?
2. What diet is the best for weaver ant to produce more egg?
3. After 1.5 month from the initial start now our weaver ant produce less and less egg what could go wrong?
4. How to join the antblog? I registered but there is no confirmation e-mail for activation.
Thank You in advance. I apologize if I'm not courteous enough or there is any mistaken words since English is not my native language.

Best Regards,

Mario


Hello Mario,

Thanks for your questions, and congratulations on your initiative: edible insects are the way to go!

We contacted an expert on many aspects of Oecophylla biology, Dr. Joachim Offenberg; and here is what he had to say:

"1. In nature they prefer sunny places for their leaf nests. However, as it looks like you keep the ants in plastic bottles it may be better under shady conditions as the bottles are transparent and temperature may build if exposed to direct sunshine. You can find a study on this issue via this link. On the other hand, the ants prefer temperatures usually above 30 degrees Celsius. Brood development increases with temperature.

2. The diet you describe seems to be adequate for the ants but it is important they have ad libitum access to a 20-30% sugar solution (they seem to prefer sucrose) and also remember to provide pure water ad libitum. In general they accept most types of protein but they prefer it in a wet condition. I.e. fresh rather than dried meat and fish etc. As insects are their natural source of protein it think it would be wise to include insects to some extend in their protein diet.

3. First of all you need to be sure that you do not mix nests from different colonies. In that case they will fight each other rather than producing offspring. Secondly you need to be sure that the maternal queen of the colony is included in your ant farm. The maternal queen (the queen without wings) is the only member of the colony that can produce eggs that are able to develop into brood. Weaver ant colonies will not accept introduced queens which makes it important to find the maternal queen of the colony (which can be difficult!). A last reason for limited brood production could be limited availability of space in the ant farm. I know from my laboratory colonies that colonies that live under limited space, reduce the production of new workers, since the colony is able to match the production of new workers to their actual need. I do not, yet, know the mechanism behind this regulation and have therefore not found a way to trick them to continue a high brood production. If you find a way I will be happy to hear about it!

4. Lastly, it is important to protect the ant farm against smaller ant spices as e.g. Pheidole spp., crazy ants etc. They like weaver ant larvae as much as the birds and are in many cases able to win a fight against weaver ants.

Good luck with your ant farm and best wishes,"

Joachim Offenberg, Flavia Esteves & the AntAsk Team

p.s. Mario, you began your AntBlog membership when you sent your questions to us! We really appreciated that, and hope to hear more interesting questions from you soon!
p.p.s. Your English is great!


Hello, I am in Toronto and have located a colony of small reddish/brown ants living under the 6x6 wooden ties surrounding my lawn. My question is: are these ants beneficial to the eco-system and should therefore be simply left alone? I have a wooden porch: should I be concerned about 'an invasion'?
Secondly, I have occasionally seen the same type of ants moving in mass across sidewalks - thousands of them - so many that it looks like a brown stain on the sidewalk. Can you tell me what causes this phenomenon?
Thanks for your help,

Mary


Dear Mary,


Thanks for writing to the AntBlog! It was a pleasure to answer to your interesting questions.

Ants play a huge role in an ecosystem: they are diverse (we estimate 30,000 ant species living on Earth), and are in great numbers everywhere (all the ants weigh almost the same as the 7 billion human beings). Along their evolution, ants established ecological relationships with a large array of plants and animals. They are prey, predators, symbionts, parasites (there are even slave maker ant species!), seed dispersers, pollinators, and so on. Ants move more soil than earthworms. They impact and are impacted by almost everything surrounding them. More, they have a short lifespan, and that means their nest population is constantly being replace by new generations of ants. So, if something happens with an environment you will notice the effects faster and with more details if you look at the ants, and it will be much more effective than looking at birds or mammals, for example.

Just for curiosity, ants are important for other aspects of human societies. Their behavior is used as model to create smarter traffic lights, or to develop software that will evaluate the response of our bodies to the effect of new drugs (see here, here, and here). Anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, and even drugs to fight against cancer were/are being developed with substances ants secrete (here, here, here, here, and here). Finally, have you ever thought of including ants in your menu? Many human cultures around the world did! See here.


Salad of Oecophylla smaragdina queen brood mixed with some worker ants, mint leaves, spring onion, chili, and fish sauce. Popular in Thailand and Laos. Image by Joost Van Itterbeeck/AntWeb.org

Based on the behavior you described, I believe you found pavement ants (genus Tetramorium). Unlike carpenter ants (genus Camponotus), pavement ants don't cause any structural damage to your house (and just to take Camponotus out of the fire, those ants nest in decayed wood; so, if the wood in your house is in a good shape, carpenter ants will not be a problem).

Pavement ants get their name because they nest usually underneath or at the edge of sidewalks, and other hard surfaces. They are an introduced species from Europe; and in your garden they will: harvest seeds -- some of which will eventually grow around their nests; tend insects on plants, collecting sugary dropping they produce (A.K.A honeydew), and protecting them from predators; and predate other insects.

The pavement ant workers are dark reddish-black, about 2.5-4 mm long; the petiole, which connects the mesosoma (i.e., the modified thorax of ants) and gaster (modified abdomen), has two segments. The posterior part of the mesosoma has two spines that project upward, and they have a stinger in the last abdominal segment.


Lateral view of Tetramorium caespitum. Image by Will Ericson/AntWeb.org

When two pavement ant colonies overlap, worker ants leave the nest to establish their territory boundaries before ants from the other nest push them out of there. Then, ants coming from each nest collide in a massive battle. The combats are sometimes ritualized: they will just size each other strength, and produce very few casualties. In another occasions, they will ripe one another apart, and thousands of corpses will be left on the sidewalk afterwards.


Sidewalk ant war. Image by the fabulous Alex Wild (www.alexanderwild.com)


Cheers,

Flavia Esteves and the AntAsk Team

Ants in an ant hill



How many ants are in one ant hill?

Samir


Dear Samir,

Thanks for your question!

Ants are abundant: they collectively rival with humans as dominant organisms on terrestrial ecosystems, weighing as much as all humans present on Earth; and, combined with termites, they comprise almost a third of animal biomass in tropical terrestrial habitats! The reason for such success is their social nature. More, there are around 16,000 described ants species in the world, and we think there is approximately the same number of species yet to be discovered. As their large species number indicates, ant societies exhibit a diverse array of behavior, morphology, and also nest sizes.

While Myrmoteras barbouri has around 8 individuals in their colonies, some species of nomad ants that live in the old world, A.K.A driver ants, may have nests with several million individuals. Another good example of large nests is the ones built by Atta sexdens, a leaf cutter ant living in the Neotropic, which may possess 5 to 8 million ants!


myrmoteras.jpg Full face view of the charismatic Myrmoteras barbouri, whose nest possesses very few ants. This ant species lives in the Indomalaya bioregion. Image by Estella Ortega/antweb.org.


siafu7-L.jpg Dorylus driver ants in Kibale, Uganda. Image by Alex Wild (www.alexanderwild.com).


Among the diversity of ants we find on Earth, there are the mound-builder ants. Their nests are more than a pile of revolved soil covering an underground home; they have symmetric shape, complex interconnected systems of galleries and chambers, and are often thatched with leaves and stems fragments, or adorned with pebbles. Those types of nest indicate habitats under extreme climate. The mound reduces the loss of temperature and humidity, while it also increases the area exposed to sunlight, keeping the nest warmer than the outside environment. Their thatched or pebble sprinkled roofs are an additional heat source (think of how warm is a stone under the sunlight, or the heat produced by material in decomposition), besides preventing evaporation.


FormicaObscuripesNest-S.jpg Thatched mound nest of Formica obscuripes, an ant found in North America. Image by Alex Wild (www.alexanderwild.com).

The nests of some mound-building ants, such as Formica (also known as wood ants), often last for many decades, and they can be massive, rising from the soil surface as much as 5 feet (1.5 meters).

A thatched mound nest of Formica rufa, found in Palearctic region, may have 4 million ants; while in North America, nests of the western thatching ant Formica obscuripes, house around 40,000 ants. The soil mound nests of Solenopsis invicta possess approximately 100,000 individuals.


casent0178134_p_1_high.jpg Lateral view of Solenopsis invicta, a tramp species found in the United States. Image by April Nobile/antweb.org.


You will find interesting information on mound nests and thermoregulation here.

All the best,

Flavia Esteves & the AntAsk Team

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