Results matching “cricket”

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,


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 there,

I have a query about these ants we saw in our local park in Madrid, Spain. The ants themselves seemed fairly standard, with one nest hole, and a long line of foraging ants heading out to a nearby area and coming back with various tasty tidbits. As can be seen from the photo the ants were a number of different sizes.


However, amidst the ants were several white creatures (in the photo centre left, bottom right and the tail of one top left).


These looked nothing like ants, but appeared to be coexisting with them peaceably. They were going in and out of the ant hole, and were ignored by the ants. One or two travelled along the foraging line, but didn't appear to do any actual foraging. They were quite quick too, about as nimble as the ants.

Any information as to what these might be would be gratefully appreciated. My guesses would be a) some precursor ant stage (pupa or some such) b) other insect living symbiotically with the ant or c) I have no more ideas.

Many thanks!



Hi David,

Your second guess is correct! The other insects in your photograph are in fact silverfish, cohabiting with the harvester ant Messor barbarus. There are many species of such myrmecophilous (or "ant-loving") Zygentoma around the world, with 16 occurring in the Iberian Peninsula alone. Unfortunately, without a clearer image, it is difficult to provide you with a more precise ID (several different species have been observed in Messor nests in particular), but based on a superficial diagnosis, they most likely belong to the genus Neoasterolepisma.

Silverfish are among a wide variety of other arthropods (including beetles, crickets, spiders, millipedes, even cockroaches) known to inhabit the nests of ants, either commensally or parasitically, and like other myrmecophiles, silverfish have evolved very successful strategies for avoiding detection by their ant hosts. While looking nothing like the ants, as you say, these scaly symbionts are able to blend in with the rest of the colony by rubbing against "callow" or immature workers and adopting the unique chemical profile that sister ants use to recognize one another. In this way, the silverfish enjoy easy access to shelter and resources within the nest and can intermingle freely with foragers on the outside (no doubt pilfering some of the tasty tidbits you observed being brought back to the harvester's granaries). Of course, this chemical disguise is only temporary, so the silverfish must also rely on another characteristic adaptation--speed--if their cover starts to fade, hence their nimble-footedness around the workers.

While some myrmecophilous silverfish are apparently highly specialized, demonstrating a preference for a single ant species, most are generalist interlopers, using their peculiar knack for chemical mimicry to infiltrate the subterranean strongholds of a variety of different ants. Another widespread Mediterranean silverfish species, Proatelurina pseudolepisma, for example, was found in the nests of a total of 13 different species of ants! Those of Messor barbarus, incidentally (the same species in your photograph) happened to be the most popular.

Hope this helps!

Alexandra Westrich & the AntAsk Team

I am attaching two pictures. The first one titled corgi and ant is to give you the size relation of this 'bug' (ant?) to the size of an average Pembroke Welsh Corgi. The second picture is a close up of the insect. Is it an ant? If so, what kind. This was in California. My friend's dogs found it in their backyard. She killed it shortly after discovering what the dogs had. She didn't know what kind of insect it is either.

corgi and ant.jpg ant.jpg


Dear Patricia,

This is not an ant, but a Jerusalem Cricket. These are large, flightless insects in the genus Stenopelmatus. They are common in the western United States. Cute corgis, by the way!

Thanks for your question,

Gracen Brilmyer & the AntAsk Team

An insect that looks like a queen ant

Hello "Askanant". My name is Corinne and I am in 4th grade. I have always wanted to study bugs when I grew up, and I am getting ready to do a science project on ants. (I am sending this message to my teacher, who is also a bug lover too).

Today, I was down in Hemet and playing in a field with my friends. I found what looks like a queen ant. Her face and head look like an ant, but she is almost an entire inch. My dad said he thinks its a potato bug.

There is a picture attached. If it is a queen ant, can you tell me how to try and keep her alive?

Thank you very much!
Corinne, 9 years old, 4th Grade
One day I will get to study bugs for a living!

Hello Corinne:

Thank you for contacting the AntBlog about your mystery insect. A good place to start on your way to "study bugs for a living" is to learn to identify the incredible diversity of insects that live around us, and we're here to help (especially with ants).
We occasionally get questions like yours, about insects with large rounded abdomens, which people think look like queen ants - an honest mistake. It turns out your dad got this one right; the insect in your picture is what many Californians call a "potato bug", but entomologists call a Jerusalem cricket. Here's a link at an insect identification website with some excellent pictures of one: Another group that people often confuse with ants is the oil beetles:
Two easy clues to recognizing true ants, which can be seen on the many pictures of ants as this site, are:
- "elbowed" antennae, in which the first segment of the antenna is much longer than the others, and held at a different angle to the body than the rest of the antenna
- a definite waist of one or two narrowed body segments. (The Jerusalem cricket has a waist, but it does not consist of a whole body segment, only the narrow front portion of a single segment.)

James C. Trager of the AskAnt Team

Army ant farm (Paul, Vancouver, Canada)

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

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

Dear AntAsk team,

I've been rearing a colony of North American Odontomachus for about three years now. Recently I separated about 200 workers from the main colony for the purposes of another project which has since been completed. Reluctant to return them to the original colony for fear of contamination, I have been keeping these workers separate and supplying them with sandy soil, some dried wood, a cotton ball of water, a cotton ball of sugar water and biweekly termites or pinhead crickets. However, I was startled to find that over three months later I still have about 85 or so of the separated workers left perfectly alive and well. I was wondering, what is the average longevity of most Odontomachus workers? Is this common for them to live this long?

Thanks for your help,

Dear Kaitlin,

Thank you for contacting AntBlog. Your experiments with Odontomachus trap-jaw ants sound interesting. To address your question, we contacted an expert, Andrew Suarez, who has lots of experience rearing Odontomachus colonies in the lab. Here is what Andy had to say:

"We have maintained a number of Odontomachus species in the lab, and have found workers to be quite long lived under lab conditions. For a few of the larger species, we have had workers live for over a year. Six months, however, is definitely not unusual."

Good luck with your trap-jaw ant colonies!
Andrew Suarez (guest expert), Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

If it looks like an ant...

In most cases anything that looks like an ant is an ant. But there are also many insects and arachnids that mimic ants. Read on to learn more about this amazing mimicry.

Ants are incredibly abundant and dominant organisms throughout the world. Conservative estimates of their worldwide numbers range from 1 million billion to 10 million billion and between 15% and 20% of terrestrial animal biomass is ant biomass. Their huge numbers and ecological dominance make them attractive targets for other animals to parasitize in any way they can.

More than 2000 arthropod species, including many spiders, hemipteran bugs, and staphylinid beetles have evolved to look and behave just like ants in order to blend in and be accepted into colonies. Once there, they may derive protection from being surrounded by friendly ants, they may steal food from the colony, or they might even prey upon the ants and their eggs. Check out this post on velvet ants to find out about a type of wasp that sometimes mimics ants but is often confused with them.

antmimicspider.jpg Myrmarachne_plataleoides_female_thailand.jpg
These Salticid spiders are ant mimics. Notice how they use their front pair of legs as "antennae" because they do not have true antennae. Photos from and

The ant Pseudomyrmex salvini (left) and a mimicking spider in the genus Synemosyna (right). Photos courtesy of D. Ballhorn.

The ant-mimicking spider, Aphanlochilus rogersi, with a captured Cephalotes pusillus. Photo from

This wonderful picture by Alex Wild shows the predatory ant-mimicking spider, Aphanlochilus rogersi, holding one of its victims snatched from a column of foraging Cephalotes pusillus. These spiders are so specialized as predators of these ants that they refuse to eat other types of insects. They not only blend in with ants by looking like them, they will also hold their catches in a way that makes it look like they are just another member of the colony holding a deceased companion. But looking like ants can also help arthropods in a very different way.

It turns out that most ant mimics do not eat ants. So then why do they look exactly like them? Many species of ants are aggressive, well armed with stingers and a powerful bite, are often distasteful, and have the amazing ability to recruit their nestmates to help when they are attacked. These features along with their huge abundance make them intimidating to predators and ideal models for other, less well protected, species to mimic.

Though it looks very similar to an ant, this is actually a cricket in the genus Macroxiphus. Photo from

In order to successfully integrate themselves into colonies, many ant mimics hide out in the ant nest that they plan to infiltrate for days before exposing themselves to the ants living there in order to absorb the smell of the nest. Ants depend largely on smell to identify nestmates, particularly in the darkness of the colony interior, so by smelling like the nest, mimics protect themselves even further. Recently, it was found that an ant larvae mimicking butterfly, Maculinea rebeli, actually mimics ant acoustic signals as well! The larvae of these butterflies mimic the scent and begging behavior of ant larvae and are carried into nests by unsuspecting ants. Once there, they start making sounds very similar to ant queens. Using this sound means that they are treated even better than the average ant larva because the nurse ants think that they are royalty!

Though termites do not mimic ants, they are often confused with them because they are both social insects that live together in large colonies. Check out our post on termites to find out more about them.

The many types of ant mimicry in a variety of organisms makes ants seem even more impressive. Everybody seems to want to be like them.

Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team

I am interested in setting up a formicarium. What are the best methods for setting up sustainable and easily viewable formicaria? And what North American ant species tend to lend themselves for use in an amateur formicarium? (John, Leeds, UK moving to US soon)

John, thank you very much for this question. Many people are interested in keeping ants in a formicarium (plural is formicaria, but many people just call them 'ant farms'), and they are really cool, but there are some things you need to consider.

- Types of ant farms
- Ant food and water
- Moisture
- Cleaning up
- Which ant species to keep?
- How to handle your ants
- Overwintering
- Concluding remarks

Types of ant farms
Formicaria are available on the internet or from some pet shops, but you can also build one yourself. There are quite a few different types ranging from slim ant farms to simple jars which we will discuss here. You can make any type of nest more elaborate by connecting several containers with plastic tubes (clear) by cutting a whole in the container and attaching the plastic tubes using a glue gun.

The slim ant farm with dirt
The majority of ant species in temperate regions nest in the ground. When you are keeping these ants, it is a most natural habitat if you provide your ants with some dirt. In order for you to be able to see the ants, you would want an ant farm made from glass or acrylic plastic. Slim containers also make it more likely that you will see the ants, but you have to be aware that they will likely try to tunnel away from the glass. To encourage the ants to tunnel near the glass, you can cover it up with aluminum foil when you are not watching them. It is really important that the container is well sealed and your ants don't escape and find themselves a new nest somewhere in your apartment. Unless you are a skilled do-it-yourselfer, you may want to buy an ant farm from a store, because they can be quite tricky to make. You should definitely check out some websites on the net to give you some ideas. Here are some youtube videos providing step-by-step instructions for a great ant farm using old CD cases (video 1 and video 2). Also a simple way to construct a glass ant farm can be found here. Once you have the container, you want to fill it with a sand/soil mixture that stays loose and does not become hard or compact. You have to make sure that the substrate is kept moist, but not wet, in order for the ants not to dry out, but also not to drown. So before you fill your ant farm with the substrate, make sure that the substrate is moist. Slightly spray it with water and mix it. Sand and soil in equal amounts is a good mixture, but sift the dirt before you use it so it is loose. You can buy sand in aquarium shops and soil in flower supplies if you don't have anything suitable at home. There are some shops on the internet that sell ant farms filled with a blue gel. These types of ant farms are for short term keeping of ants because you cannot replace, refill or clean the blue gel, but these kinds of ant farms can be very fun and educational for children and adults alike.

Pogos slim.jpg

This is a glass ant farm that was constructed in the lab of Robert A. Johnson (Arizona State University, USA) and instructions can be found at this website.

An ant farm from a jar filled with dirt

Another way to make an ant farm with dirt is just to use a jar. You can take an old peanut butter jar (glass or plastic), clean it out really well and remove the stickers (soak it over night and use some soap). Fill this jar about half full with dirt, again you can use a mixture of sand and soil (sift the soil in any case) in equal amounts. For ventilation, you should cut a whole in the lid and cover it with mesh. You should not use a fabric net in this ant farm model, because the ants can bite through the net and escape. Attach the mesh using a glue gun. You should NOT use Fluon® (also called "Insect-a-Slip Insect Barrier ") to coat the top 3 inches of the inside walls to prevent the ants from climbing up, because it will get very messy with the dirt and then the ants can just walk on it. See section below on feeding ants.

A simple Tupperware model
Tupperware can be quite handy when you want to make an ant farm yourself. This model is often not so fancy to look at, but it fulfills the needs of many ant species.
- Buy a Tupperware container or any plastic box with lid.
- When you keep your ants in Tupperware, they often try to walk up the walls and escape. To prevent this you can use a liquid called Fluon® (also called "Insect-a-Slip Insect Barrier ") to coat the top 3 inches of the inside glass walls. Fluon® is slippery for the ants and prevents them from walking all the way up to the lid. Use a foam brush to apply it and move the brush up and down not sideways. Let the container sit upside down for at least 2 hours allowing the Fluon® to dry and then you can turn it over, but you should wait at least 24 hours before you place your ants in the container.
- For ventilation, you have to prepare the lid of the Tupperware container. Use a cardboard cutter (careful not to cut yourself and use a cutting board underneath!!) to remove a small square from the lid (1 by 1 inch, or 2.5 by 2.5 cm² works well). Even though you have used Fluon® some ants will still reach the lid for the container. Because of this use some very fine net (wedding veil works well) and cut a piece of 2 by 2 inch (5 by 5 cm²) and cover the open square with it using a glue gun. Make sure to apply the glue tightly from the inside so that the ants don't get caught between the net and the plastic. It is unlikely that the ants will actually reach the lid, because you are using Fluon®. So the danger of the ants biting through the net is not very high. Just make sure you watch the activity of your ants at least every other day.
- Once you have the container ready, the ants need a place to actually nest in and keep their eggs, larvae and pupae (referred to as brood). You can use a test tube or make a cavity with plaster.

CSM ant lab nestkl.jpg

This picture shows a Tupperware box with Fluon® coated walls as they are used in the Moreau lab at the Field Museum. Note the hole in the lid covered by a fine net that has been attached using a glue gun. Photo by C.S. Moreau.

The Tupperware model with test tube
You can use a test tube to provide a nest to your ants. Prepare the Tupperware box as described above and then:
- Take a test tube or some other kind of tube (glass or plastic) and fill it one third with water.
- Take some cotton, form it into a ball and push it inside the tube until it is damp and prevents the water from coming out when you place to tube horizontally. The inside front part of the tube should stay dry.
- Prepare some black paper shields or tin foil to cover the tube at the dry end. This way the ants have a dark nest. Prevent the tube from rolling around by pressing it into some modeling clay at the bottom of your container.

graph formicariumkl.PNG

This is a sketch of a simple Tupperware/plastic box ant farm with a test-tube as a nest for the ants (A). In part of the graph (B) you see how the test-tube is constructed. Image by D. Ballhorn.

The Tupperware model with plaster cavity

Another way of making an ant farm is using some kind of Tupperware or even a small aquarium and then making a cavity. Some additional models of this type of nest are found at this website.
- Buy some kind of plastic or glass container (a small aquarium is nice).
- Use some modeling clay and form it the way you want the cavity to look later.
- Prepare dental plaster and pour about 1-2 inch thick (2.5 - 3 cm) on the bottom. Let that dry for a few hours (about 6 hours should be sufficient).
- Then place your modeling clay on top of this bottom layer, prepare some more plaster and pour it around the modeling clay. Make sure to leave it open at the top, so you can get the modeling clay out again and access your ants later.
- Let the plaster dry for at least 24 hours, and then carefully take out the modeling clay.
- Now you have a nice cavity for your ants, but you can also decorate it making it look more natural (for example you can use natural pigments to color the dental plaster like the one shown below otherwise the plaster will be white).
- You can apply a very thin layer of glue to the plaster and take some dirt or fine sawdust and sprinkle it onto the glue layer. This will give your ant farm a more natural look than the white or grey from the plaster.

This is an image of a harvester ant colony (genus Pogonomyrmex) in a nest made with dental plaster. This nest was designed by Ray Mendez in Arizona, USA. Photo retrieved from Ant Course yearbook 2009.

Keeping twig-nesting species in twigs
Some ant species, especially in warmer climates nest in dead and hollow twigs. To keep these species in a natural habitat you can just collect the twigs and keep them in a Tupperware/plastic container or aquarium with a tight fitting, sealing lid.
- Prepare a container with Fluon® and allow for ventilation as described above.
- When you have a large number of workers in the twigs, they like to expand. You can just take some bamboo twigs (about 0.5 inch or 1 cm in diameter) and cut them into 7 inch pieces, place them in the container and the ants may move in. They will excavate the twigs themselves. This is fun to watch and gives the ants something to do.
- You can take a slightly bigger glass container/aquarium and place your bamboo twigs in there. This is great to watch when you have several active workers.

Here is an aquarium in which a colony of the twig nesting Pseudomyrmex salvini was kept. Note the twigs that the colony was collected in at the bottom and new bamboo twigs in the aquarium. Food was offered in plastic weigh boats, but any container will do. A lid was constructed from acrylic plastic, but beware because the ants started to escape because the lid became deformed due to heat lamps on top of it and Fluon® was later applied to prevent the escaping of ants. Photo by S. Kautz.

Ant food and water
In nature, ants make use of many different food sources. Some species are very specialized and for these specialists (like the leaf-cutter ants) you will need to find the food they prefer. But the majority of species lives on a mixed diet of honeydew (which is basically sugar water enriched with some amino acids) and dead insects. We will outline how to satisfy generalists.
- It is important to keep your ant farm clean and not spill the food. This prevents the ants from getting stuck, for example in honey water, and you will have fewer problems with mold.
- For the generalist ants you should provide three different "dishes", one with diluted honey, one with dead insects and one with water. You can cut plastic or aluminum foil into discs of about the size of a plastic soda bottle lid.
- Preparing the diluted honey: Mix about half a cup of honey with half a cub of water. You can add a bit of a crushed mineral and vitamin tablet, but really only a bit. Keep this refrigerated. Use an eyedropper to place little drops onto the dishes. Don't make the drops too big: the ants might drown in it!
- Preparing the dead insects. You can buy crickets from pet shops. Freeze them and then take from the freezer as needed. If you have a small ant colony, about half a cricket every other day should be sufficient. Be sure to break open the insect when you put it in the container for your ants.
- Water should also be supplied on a little ant dish and in little drops, so the ants don't drown in it or you can wet a cotton ball and put it in the nest and the ant can drink from it.
- You can slice up an apple or a carrot and offer that to your ants occasionally. They might like it.
- Place the dishes on top of the substrate in a dirt nest and on the ground in the other kinds of nests.
- Watch how much food your ants actually need and prepare the ratios accordingly.
- It should be sufficient to feed your ants every other day and clean up your ant farm by removing dead bodies or spilled food.

Moisture is very important for your ants. Since ants are so small, they can dry out very quickly and this will kill them. It is also important to avoid mold in your ant farm. So you really have to see how moist your ant farm is and then regulate it accordingly. Here are some general tips:
- When you are using a dirt nest the dirt should be moist, but not wet. Use a spray bottle to provide some moisture if it gets too low.
- When you are using a plaster nest, the plaster should be damp. Just pour a LITTLE water on it occasionally. Once you have mold, wipe it off using a paper towel. If the mold gets too bad, move your ants to a new nest. You can take out the plaster and re-use the box. Try to disturb your ants as little as possible when moving them!
- When you keep your ants in a test tube, water is provided. Just watch out that it does not get used up. But this happens only after quite some time!
- If you keep twig-nesting ants, occasionally spray them with water. This should be enough to keep their nests moist enough.

Cleaning up
Try to remove dead bodies (both dead ants and the prey you are providing), spilled food and mold as soon as you see it! Most ants will keep their nest cavity clean and remove dead bodies from it to a trash pile they create. But, it is your job to remove the dead bodies from the container! Use forceps (tweezers) to avoid disturbing your ants as much as possible. Also try to avoid taking out the live ants and especially the brood whenever possible. This might damage them and they could die a couple of days after you touch them.

Which ant species to keep?
It is a great idea to get species that are native to the area that you live in. This prevents the establishment of invasive species (see our post on Fire ant invasions). There are some online shops that sell tropical species, but these could become a threat to our native fauna (if there are queens present) and often they have been exported illegally. Never ship ants with queens across state or country lines. So it is a good idea to drive to the woods and look for some native ants. You may want to try to get an ant queen that has mated, because workers are not sustainable. Workers do not lay eggs and they only live about 1 year, but a nest of only workers can still be quite fun to keep. You can dig up an entire nest and try to get the queen with brood and workers that way. An alternative that I would recommend is that you wait until June-August (as soon as it is the right season) and try to get a founding queen after her mating flight (see our post on How can you tell if an ant is male or female?). At this time of year, usually there are many queens that have been swarming and walk on the ground in search of a suitable site for a new nest. When you see that you should collect several queens, but you have to keep them in separate containers, because they most likely will attack each other. Once you have the queens in their container, they will lay eggs and these will develop into worker ants if she has mated. Keep in mind that native ants are a very important part of their ecosystems, and destroying a larger colony can have more of an impact on the surrounding community than you might imagine. This is another reason why it's good to start with a newly mated queen: their chances of survival, from the time they fly from their nest to their second or third year as the queen of a new colony, are very dangerous times and only a very small fraction will survive. By giving her a nice, safe formicarium to start her colony in, you might be saving her life!

All the most commonly encountered ants that live around people's houses are possible to keep in captivity, and the majority of these can be fed a generalist diet (discussed above). Here is a list with just some species native to temperate regions that can be kept in ant farms (far from complete!!!):
- Lasius species (ground nesters; native to temperate regions) Lasius niger is the most common garden ant in temperate Europe, and there are some very common species in North America, too.
- Camponotus species (often very big ants! ground nesters or nest in twigs; native to tropical and temperate regions), but these are carpenter ants so be sure to not let them escape in your home.
- Formica species (like to build mounts; native to temperate regions, rather big)
- Pogonomyrmex species (North America, harvester ants are native to arid regions, need seeds as food source and be CAREFUL!!! they have an awful sting. Check out this website for notes on Pogos in an ant farm
- Myrmecocystus species (honey pot ants, North America, arid regions)
- Messor species (harvester ants, need seeds as food source, native to temperate regions)
- Myrmica (native to temperate regions, rather small)
- Tetramorium
- Tapinoma
- Pheidole

How to handle your ants
You should try not to touch the ants for two reasons. First, they might sting you (depending on the species you have) and second, you might harm them. When you need to pick up individual ants, because one escaped from the ant farm, use feather weight forceps (these are tweezers that are very thin and flexible and will not squish an individual ant). You can also use an aspirator, but be very careful that you don't accidentally suck in an ant. That might end badly for both on you! Here is a suggestion for an online store that cells equipment for handling ants.

Depending on the species you have and the region you have the species from, you might want to keep the ants cool in the winter (in a basement or even in the fridge). This imitates the annual cycle so the queen might have improved egg production. You should start keeping the ants in a cold room when it gets cold outside. Don't immediately place them in the fridge, but try to cool the temperature down gradually if possible. An easy way to do that is to keep them near an open window starting in late October, for example (but be careful of direct sunlight on hot days!). Then, in late November, early December, move them to the fridge. Check them weekly for moisture and always offer some food. Then, get them out the fridge again in February and try to warm them up gradually again. Even when you have ants from temperate regions they will survive if you do not overwinter them, but the egg production of the queen will be reduced after 2-3 years. So if you only have workers, you don't need to overwinter them.

Concluding remarks
There are many different ways to keep ants and we did not include all of them. There are also many kinds of ants (see our post on How many kinds of ants are there) that can be kept and hobby ant farmers as well as experts have a lot of experience on keeping ants. There are many different forums out there that discuss such experiences. A nice list of useful websites and interesting forums for people interested in ants can be found here, here, and at many other sites on the internet.

Enjoy your formicarium!
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

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