Ant farms: October 2011 Archives

I want to make an ant farm from a small aquarium I bought, but I need an ant queen. I don't want to dig up an existing colony. Would having a queen overpopulate the colony? How would I find a queen after its mating flight? I live in Arizona and it's October. I've heard that you need to look for a small hole with a small pile of dirt by it. I haven't seen any. Will ants make a larvae turn into a queen if there is no queen present like bees do? What time is mating season for ants in Arizona? Should I wait until mating season starts? -Austin

Hi Austin!

Thanks for contacting us! Digging up a colony to find the queen can sometimes be very hard. Often, the queen is hidden very deep in the soil and you might not find her. It might be easier to wait until next season for a newly mated queen.

James Trager has shared his expertise on the times when to expect newly mated queens of some ant species that are encountered in Arizona and are fun to keep in a formicarium. Here is his advice:

"Pogonomyrmex and Myrmecocystus flights are tied to rains, either monsoon, or spring, depending on the species.

Higher altitude, forest species of Camponotus fly on the first really warm days of spring, typically in April, May. Lower altitude species of oak-conifer woodlands, mesquite scrubland and true desert mostly fly with the first monsoon rains.

Finally, Formica species fly in July, especially early in the month, except the really high altitude ones, which may wait till August."

Here you can find more information on the ants of Arizona.

A queen would not overpopulate a colony. It is usually a good idea to have a queen, so that your ant colony lives past two month. The workers often die after this short time period and a queen would always supply new workers. Some of the larvae will turn into new queens, but they need to mate before they can lay fertilized eggs. It is very hard and often impossible to have ants mate in captivity. So it is best to find a freshly mated queen. You should keep your eyes open for several winged ant queens and keep one individual each in a small container. If one starts laying eggs, you can carefully transfer her to the bigger aquarium.

Here , here , and here are some other posts that might be helpful for you.

Good luck with your ant farm!

James Trager, Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

Hi there!

I'm curious as to what you guys feed your captive Odontomachus colonies. I feed mine mealworms because they're readily available, but they'll only accept it if I put the mealworm directly in the nest or at the nest entrance. Also, is it required to feed them sugary foods?

Another question, have any of you had experience with keeping Camponotus in plaster nests? I've heard that they're able to chew through plaster, has that ever happen to your Camponotus colonies? Thanks!



Thanks so much for the question, Phira. Odontomachus (sometimes called trap-jaw ants) are one of the coolest ants around. One of the experts on this group, Dr. Andy Suarez from the University of Illinois, gives this advice:

"We find that trap jaw ants are most excited about termites but will live happily on crickets and mealworms. Because crickets and mealworms are often infested with mites (because of the high densities that they are reared in at pet stores), we freeze them for a week or two before feeding them to the ants. We also tend to cut them up so the ants can get a bit of hemolymph. In addition to insects for protein, we try to always give trap jaw ants some sugar water or honey water. It is easily provided by making a 20% solution and then soaking a cotton ball in it. The cotton balls can them be removed if they start to mold."
In my own experience, Odontomachus in the wild will recruit to peanut butter baits (O. simillimus in Palau, and O. bauri in Panama). If you want to get more elaborate about ant colony nutrition, A. Dussutour and S. J. Simpson published an article in 2008 formally describing a precisely adjustable diet for ants mixing different protein powders, sugar, and agar. I used one version of that diet as an ant bait in Panama, and found many different ants were attracted to it.

With respect to sugar water, it is important because adult ants actually cannot swallow solid food. That's why you'll never see ants consuming solid food outside of their nest. They have to cut it up into manageable peices and bring it back to the larvae in the nest. The larvae chew and swallow the food, and regurgitate some of it for their adult sisters. So for small ant colonies which might not have many larvae at certain points, liquid foods are very important for the health of the adults.

As for Camponotus and plaster, I actually don't have any experience with that, but it seems like an easy hypothesis to test! Newly mated queens can certainly chew through fabric screening that can contain most other ants. They don't seem to be able to chew through metal screening however. If you like the way plaster regulates humidity, it might be worth trying to reinforce it with some metal screening.

Hope this helps!
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team