Ant farms: December 2012 Archives

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?


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.


Max Winston and the AntAsk Team