Recently in Ant farms Category



I have another question involving ants.

About three years ago, I put a hummingbird feeder outside my office in the home. I fill it with a mixture that is four parts water and one party plain old white sugar.
A few female and male hummingbirds visit every day.

However, black ants would also walk down the pole that the feeder hangs from and actually enter through the holes designed to admit hummingbird beaks and wind up dead in the so-called nectar inside the feeder. I looked for an online solution and found what is called an "ant moat." It's the red cylinder that the feeder is suspended from. It holds water and this prevents ants from crawling down to the feeder.

It works great and I haven't had a single drowned ant in the nectar since I installed the ant moat.

Amazingly, though, over the last two years I've only seen one ant actually walk down the pole, discover the moat, and retreat. *Just one*. Granted I'm not watching every minute, but I'm looking out there enough to be surprised that I've only seen one ant and that was last year when I first installed the moat.

It strikes me that perhaps that original ant left a chemical message for others that communicates that the nectar is inaccessible so don't even try.

What do you think?

Many thanks,

Ted

AntMoatHB-Feeder.jpg
* * *

Dear Ted,

Thanks for all of the details on your ant deterrent, it seems to be quite effective! In fact, there are many potential ways that the colony of ants learned to avoid your trap, likely involving some of the avenues of ant communication discussed in this post. One thing to keep in mind is that collective foraging often works on signals of reinforcement by multiple foragers. Thus, if none of the ants were able to return back to the nest with the nectar, then they would have a hard time "convincing" any other ants to forage in that direction, and there would be little reason to walk towards the moat other than random chance.

Hope this helps!

Max Winston & the AntAsk Team


How difficult, if possible, is it to transfer an ant colony from a small easy maintenance starter farm to a much larger farm. Also how big would my farm have to be to have a full colony of pavement without 'controlling' population size? I can build one as big as I need. And what are the chances that my pavement ant colony will have more than one queen producing, I read that they will sometimes have more than one producing queen per colony. I think it would be very interesting to watch a multi queen colony.

Thank you so much,
Justin

Dear Justin,

It should not be too difficult to transfer your colony to a new farm, though you will probably lost some individuals in the process. Take a look at our previous post here.

I doubt that there will be any need to "control" the population size. The colony will grow until it is mature or runs out of resources so keep it well fed and it should be fine. Pavement ant colonies can grow to tens of thousands of workers so if you want your colony to reach its maximum possible size, you should probably make the farm rather large. Be sure to take a look at this previous post for tips on building a habitat.

Steiner et al. (2003) found multiple queens in five of 35 pavement ant colonies collected, so it is certainly possible that your colony contains multiple queens. Although you may need to do some more whole colony collecting if you are determined to find this type of colony.

Good luck with the farm!
Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team

References:
Steiner FM, Schlick-Steiner BC, Buschinger A. 2003. First record of unicolonial polygyny in Tetramorium cf. caespitum (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Insectes Sociaux 50: 98-99.


How do I get my ant farm to produce more queens and how do I collect them?

Dear Anthony,

This can be a very difficult goal to accomplish. Ant colonies need to be very well established before they will begin producing reproductives. Depending on the species, this can take up to a few years. Also, if your ant farm doesn't have its own queen, it can't possibly produce new ants because, with a few exceptions, worker ants cannot produce fertile eggs.

Allowing your colony to grow and providing it with abundant resources is the best way to ensure that it will attain maturity and will eventually be able to produce new queens.

Good luck!
Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team



Hi there,

I live in Vancouver, Canada, and am wanting to establish an army ant farm. Can you suggest how best to go about this?

Thanks,
Paul
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Dear Paul,

Starting an army ant farm in Vancouver, Canada could be very difficult for a number of reasons. First off, by nature, army ants are inherently nomadic predators, and thus keeping them in a confined space such as an indoor "farm" might be next to impossible if you want them to last very long. Secondly, most of the 5 genera of New World army ants (Cheliomyrmex, Neivamyrmex, Nomamyrmex, Labidus, and Eciton) are primarily Neotropical. While some species of Neivamyrmex have been seen as far north as Iowa (see this helpful ant distribution website), Vancouver is still hundreds of miles farther north, and with the cold humidity, it is doubtful any species of army ant could survive. Those that could for a short period would probably be subterranean, and you would need quite an arena to visualize and house a colony of thousands to millions of nomadic predators.

However, in 2005, Dr. Brian Fisher--myrmecologist extraordinaire--was able to import a colony of Eciton burchellii army ants to the California Academy of Sciences for the exhibit "Ants: Hidden Worlds Revealed". The advantage of importing Eciton burchellii in comparison to the many other army ant species is that they're generalists--they'll eat just about anything. The downside is that the millions of workers need a lot of space and have quite an appetite. Dr. Fisher informed me that Cal Academy was feeding the colony over 25,000 crickets a day, which they let loose in a giant chamber housing the colony in the museum.

Thus, unless you have the resources to build an arena and find the appropriate diet (smaller colonies will have more restricted diets--such as ant, wasp, or bee larvae), it might be a difficult task.

Best,

Max Winston and the AntAsk Team

I'm thinking about doing a science fair project on ants. I was hoping to create a habitat for two colonies of ants and then connecting them by removing a plastic divider. Wanted to observe what the colonies would do and how it would change their behaviors finding food, etc. Also, I read that certain ants can float by linking together on top of water. Is this true? Will ants from two colonies link to survive?

Marion


Hi Marion,

We have several posts on ant farms here, and particularly this post might be of interest to you.

Almost all ant species will viciously defend their colony against ants from a different colony. This being said, once you remove the plastic divider, the two colonies would fight each other. If the two colonies are from the same species, workers usually fight one-on-one in often lethal fights and the larger colony would win. Check out this post by Alex Wild on territorial fights of pavement ants. If the ants you bring together are from different species, it is hard to predict which one would survive.

ant_battle1.jpg

Two pavement ant colonies fighting (Tetramorium). Photo by Alexander Wild (http://myrmecos.net/2010/09/21/the-battle-for-clinton-lake/).

To answer your second question, fire ants can link together to float. This behavior actually helps this invasive species to survive during floods and to colonize new habitats. (To find out more about fire ants read this post.) Researchers have discovered the mechanisms behind these living floats and found that ants use the buoyancy of air bubbles to float. Linking their bodies together increases water repellent activity. Here is an article on the study by Mlot and colleagues, which was published in 2011 ("Fire-ants self assemble into waterproof floats to survive floods" PNSA 108:7669-7673).

Fire ant.jpg

Air bubbles enable fire ants to float. (Picture is courtesy of Mlot, Tovey and Hu, Ant Laboratory, Georgia Institute of Technology).

I hope this answers your questions!

Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team



I bought the uncle Milton's ant farm for my son. We want to purchase some ants, but I don't want to have to replace them every few months. Do you have any suggestions for how to do this.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Melissa

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Dear Melissa,

Good to hear you are already on your way to starting an ant farm! Luckily, colonies can last much longer than a few months, and we have had some very detailed posts on building and maintaining ant farms.

Please follow the instructions here, and here for a successful, long-living ant farm!

Good luck!

Max Winston & the AntAsk Team

Hi AntBlog,

I am an elementary school teacher and I am looking for a project to do with my students on ants? Do you have any ideas?

Thank you,
Maria

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Dear Maria,

We are really glad you want to include ants into your classroom activities!

There are many potential ways to include ants into classroom and teaching, including 1) having a living ant farm in the classroom, 2) participating in the School of Ants, or 3) becoming an Urban Ant Collector.

Ant Farm: You can learn more on making your own ant farm and finding and/or purchasing ants for the farm here, here, and here.

School of Ants: School of Ants is a nationwide citizen science program interested in getting people from across the USA to collect their local ants and send them into a lab in North Carolina so they can make a map of all the ant species found. It is easy to participate and all you need are a few common items (read here for the list). Once you have put out your "baits" you just put them in the freezer overnight to kill the ants, and then ship them off for identification. Once identified you can log in and see what ant species your classroom collected! It is a great way to see not only your local ant diversity, but also how your ant community compares to other locations.

Urban Ant Collector: Using an Android smart phone app, you can collect ants like a professional while adding to our knowledge of the planet's biodiversity. You can read more about this program here.

Best of luck,
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

I dug up a pogo ants nest and I have about 10 queen and 10 kings but none of them are fertilized how do I get them to mate?

Javaris

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Dear Jarvis,

We are glad to hear you are interested in ants! Unfortunately it is very difficult (and impossible for many species) to get ants to mate in captivity. Most ant species need to go on a mating flight, where unmated queens and males (these are often called "sexuals") leave their nests to reproduce based on environmental queues. During these mating flights, the sexuals from all the nearby nests will congregate in a single location to find mates. Below is an image taken by Alex Wild showing one of these mating swarms.

Mating swarm.jpg

Ant mating swarm - Photo by Alex Wild (www.alexanderwild.com/)

For more tips on keeping ants and getting mated queens for your ant farm, see the following three posts here, here, and here.

Best of luck!
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Hello,

Thanks for writing such an awesome website! Would you please help me.
I have several panes of glass and instructions on how to build an ant
farm. That's not the problem. The problem is where do I get ants from?
I live in Northeast Arkansas and I do see ants outside, mainly little
black ones. A day ago I saw larger red ones going through my garden
collecting every insect they could find. Today they were nowhere to be
found. Do I always need to start with one queen? Do I just dig one up.
Hope you can help me. My son is very impatient :) He wants his ant
farm. Well, I am just as eager to get this going too.

Thanks for your time,
Daniel


Hi Daniel,

Thank you very much for contacting us! It is a very common question how to get ants for an ant farm and we have several posts on the topic. Check out this link:

http://www.antweb.org/antblog/ask-an-ant-expert/ant-farms/

If you want some ants quickly, I suggest just collecting a bunch of workers from one colony. They will die within a couple of weeks, but your son will have something to look at in the meantime and it will be interesting to observe them for a while. After most or all the workers have died, remove the remaining once and add new once. Without a picture, it is always hard to tell which ant species you might have encountered. However, largish red ants in NE Arkansas are probably a Formica species. They do not sting, but are very fast-running and a bit difficult to catch. Right now it's so hot and dry in that part of the country that all the ants have gone pretty deep under ground. Still, early in the morning, one might be able to find some near the surface, in their mounds (Formica builds mounts), or under cover objects such as rocks, logs and boards. It will be easier after we finally get some rain, though!

Good luck,
James Trager, Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

Hi, I have an Atta sexdens Queen and I wanted to know how can I control her fungus to not overrun the space so early? I heard that this type of leafcutter-ant grows very very fast, and if there is anyway to retard this fast process..

Giving small quantities of plants would solve this problem? Or there is another way to do it? And here I sent some pictures of my colony :)

Thank You
Best Regards,
Felipe

2.JPG

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Dear Felipe,

To answer your question, we contacted Randy Morgan, who is an expert on keeping live ant colonies and Curator of Invertebrates, Reptiles and Amphibians at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, and here is what he had to say:

"Congratulations for successfully collecting a young leaf cutting ant (Atta sexdens) colony! Your little colony (containing a mated queen, perhaps 50-100 workers and small fungus garden) is now about one year old and so far has been growing relatively slowly. You are correct, established colonies can grow very quickly. Your colony is just entering the stage of rapid colony growth and in several years could contain 5-8 million workers and hundreds of melon-sized fungus gardens!

Obviously keeping a fully-grown colony in captivity would be next to impossible. Even so, many universities and insect zoos keep partially-grown colonies for research and/or public educational display, and these colonies are often hardy and long-lived. However, one year old colonies are relatively fragile since fewer workers are available to help maintain an optimal nest environment (100% RH; 25-27ยบ C) for fungal growth. Environmental stress, especially even slightly lower atmospheric humidity, can lead to garden decline and eventual colony collapse. Thus, it would be ideal to grow your colony at least somewhat larger (i.e., minimally several thousand workers and two large fungus gardens) and to do so as quickly as possible. Experience has shown that it is better to keep small colonies growing rapidly and then culling excess workers and fungus from time to time, rather than limiting plant matter (the latter essentially starves the fungus and makes it less productive and poorer food for the ants). Before you drop excess fungus gardens with attendant workers into the freezer, break apart and sort through the gardens to ensure that the queen is not present!

Maintaining observation nests for Atta can provide an endless source of educational fun. To be successful long term, one should become knowledgeable about the ants' sophisticated social organization and intimate association with their fungus gardens and other resident micro-organisms. It can also be helpful to think of yourself as the "Assistant Fungus Gardener" with your primary job to do whatever is necessary to help the ants maintain a nest environment conducive to fungal growth. If the fungus thrives so will its ant colony.

Please find a document summarizing Atta biology and one husbandry system that has proven to be effective here: Leaf cutting ants-IECC 08.pdf. Of course other culturing techniques may also work as long as the needs of the fungus come first. Good luck, thanks for writing and please keep us posted on how your work with Atta is progressing.

Randy Morgan, Corrie Moreau & AskAnt Team

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