Results tagged “ant farm”

Transfer colony to new farm (Justin)



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.

Farmed queens (Anthony, UK)



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

Science fair students,

Here at AntBlog we get many emails with questions about how to include ants in science fair projects. We are always glad to hear that people are interested in including ants in their science experiments. Depending on what kind of project you are thinking of doing, we have compiled a summary of the most commonly asked questions about including ants in your school science fair project.

Diet experiments:
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2011/12/can-you-help-me-with-my-ant-diet-experiment-stephanie-6th-grade.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/11/what-are-the-taste-preferences-of-ants-and-how-can-we-desing-a-project-to-test-them-tiffany.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2011/12/salt-craving-ants-christina-united-kingdom.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2012/02/hi-antask-i-am-in.html


Repellents and toxin effects on ants:

- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2012/10/ant-science-fair-project-natalie-chicago-usa.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2012/02/science-experiment-with-natural-ant-repellents-luke-new-york-usa.html


Ant biology, evolution, and behavior:

- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2012/02/a-7th-graders-questions-about-ants-answered.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/10/do-ants-really-have-the-largest-biomass-of-all-species-on-earth-laurie-usa.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2013/02/whats-up-with-ant-evolution.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2012/11/ant-intelligence-decline-with-size-alan-usa.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2012/07/questions-about-ant-ancestry-pamela-new-york-usa.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/ask-an-ant-expert/ant-behavior/

Building your own ant farm:
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/04/how-to-make-an-ant-farm-john-leeds-uk-moving-to-us-soon.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2012/09/im-thinking-about-doing-a.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/ask-an-ant-expert/ant-farms/

How to get rid of pest ants in your home or yard:
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/07/help-i-have-ants-in-my-home-and-want-them-out-oscar-oakland-ca-usa.html
- ttp://www.antweb.org/antblog/2011/11/what-are-these-ants-and-how-do-i-get-rid-of-them.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/08/what-are-these-yellow-ants-and-how-do-i-get-rid-of-them-karen-alpine-texas-usa.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/ask-an-ant-expert/ants-in-your-house-or-yard/

Good luck and have fun! There is nothing more fun than ants and science.

Best regards,
Corrie Moreau & 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

------

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

********
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

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

********
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

Long living worker ants? (Keith, USA)


Hi there,

Thanks for your wonderful website and blog! The worker harvester ants that are usually sold for small home ant farms only live perhaps a few months, often only a few weeks! What species of ant would you recommed if I wanted to have worker ants that easily live perhaps a year or longer?

thanks,
keith
*****
Dear Keith,

We are glad to hear you are interested in keeping live ants! We are often asked about which ants to keep in ant farms, how to make your own ant farm, and how to find ants that live longer than the ones sent through the mail.

They only way to insure your ants will live long is to have a colony with a queen. It is illegal to mail queens, which is why most companies that provide live ants to not offer this service. You can also read more about this here. The best way around this is to collect your own colony of ants from nearby.

We have several previous posts that will help with this:

You can read more about collecting your own ant colony on these posts:

- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2011/10/how-to-find-an-ant-queen-austin-arizona.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2011/07/questions-on-ant-farm-steve-winnipeg-manitoba-canada.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/07/how-do-you-collect-an-entire-ant-colony-evan-philadelphia-pa-usa.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/ask-an-ant-expert/ant-farms/

For tips and instructions to make your own ant farm see these posts:

- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/04/how-to-make-an-ant-farm-john-leeds-uk-moving-to-us-soon.html

Best of luck and enjoy the ants!
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Long living worker ants? (Keith, USA)


Hi there,

Thanks for your wonderful website and blog! The worker harvester ants that are usually sold for small home ant farms only live perhaps a few months, often only a few weeks! What species of ant would you recommed if I wanted to have worker ants that easily live perhaps a year or longer?

thanks,
keith
*****
Dear Keith,

We are glad to hear you are interested in keeping live ants! We are often asked about which ants to keep in ant farms, how to make your own ant farm, and how to find ants that live longer than the ones sent through the mail.

They only way to insure your ants will live long is to have a colony with a queen. It is illegal to mail queens, which is why most companies that provide live ants to not offer this service. You can also read more about this here. The best way around this is to collect your own colony of ants from nearby.

We have several previous posts that will help with this:

You can read more about collecting your own ant colony on these posts:

- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2011/10/how-to-find-an-ant-queen-austin-arizona.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2011/07/questions-on-ant-farm-steve-winnipeg-manitoba-canada.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/07/how-do-you-collect-an-entire-ant-colony-evan-philadelphia-pa-usa.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/ask-an-ant-expert/ant-farms/

For tips and instructions to make your own ant farm see these posts:

- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/04/how-to-make-an-ant-farm-john-leeds-uk-moving-to-us-soon.html

Best of luck and enjoy the ants!
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Hi Ant People,

I'm planning on starting an ant colony. It's my first one but I'd love to have some red or bright yellow ants. I live in an apartment in New York City.

Is this possible? Can you give me some tips to get started?

Thanks you so much!
James

*******

Dear James,

Glad to hear you are interested in keeping ants in your NYC apartment! Since you are interested in having some red or yellow ants, I would suggest ordering your standard "ant farm" ants. These are usually a large, red species of Pogonomyrmex. You can order them from many online sources such as:

- Ward's Scientific (you can order live ants and a gel ant farm)
- Uncle Milton's Ant Farms
- Ant Farm Central
- Or you can usually find an ant farm for sale at a local toy store (or natural history gift shop), which includes a certificate to receive live ants.

In addition, if you wanted to build your own ant farm, we have a previous post here.

Also, regarding keeping live ants, please see the following AntBlog posts here, here, and here.

Enjoy your ant farm!
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Hi Ant People,

I'm planning on starting an ant colony. It's my first one but I'd love to have some red or bright yellow ants. I live in an apartment in New York City.

Is this possible? Can you give me some tips to get started?

Thanks you so much!
James

*******

Dear James,

Glad to hear you are interested in keeping ants in your NYC apartment! Since you are interested in having some red or yellow ants, I would suggest ordering your standard "ant farm" ants. These are usually a large, red species of Pogonomyrmex. You can order them from many online sources such as:

- Ward's Scientific (you can order live ants and a gel ant farm)
- Uncle Milton's Ant Farms
- Ant Farm Central
- Or you can usually find an ant farm for sale at a local toy store (or natural history gift shop), which includes a certificate to receive live ants.

In addition, if you wanted to build your own ant farm, we have a previous post here.

Also, regarding keeping live ants, please see the following AntBlog posts here, here, and here.

Enjoy your ant farm!
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Dear Smart Ant People

I am an American living in Vietnam working with the US government to return POW/MIA from the Vietnam war to their families. I have built a nice home for some lucky ants and I would like to know your recommendation for a larger, easy to keep species that can be found locally.

Thank You
John


Dear John,

Since you work in Vietnam, I am sure you have plenty of amazing ants to choose from. We have addressed similar questions here, here, and here. Hopefully these will be helpful.

In addition, there is a website on the ants of Vietnam that you can find here.

Good luck and happy ant hunting,
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Thank you very much for your efforts and the creation of your website. I am an ant "newbie". I have had ant farms in the past and have been very fascinated for a long time. However, I am disappointed by the fact that the ant farm experience ends when the ants die. I have been on the search to start an ant farm with "wild" ants including a queen. I live in PA towards Philly and have been unsuccessful finding a colony to start with... until today. I found a colony near my work. The ants are large (about a 1/4 inch) red and move rapidly. Not my ideal choice due to the potential stings. But this is the colony I would like to have. Do you have any advise on how to successfully move this hive and transition it into my tank.

Evan, Philadelphia, PA, USA


Hi Evan,
This is an excellent question. For your ant farm you really want to focus on obtaining the queen because, as you have seen with previous farms, workers are non-reproductive so your colony will end with the last worker. Queens on the other hand mate once and produce offspring for the rest of their lives, so you can maintain a colony for as long as she lives.

Collecting ants can require a permit but in your case a permit should not be necessary, if you are ever in doubt this post may help. Before you start collecting consider the following materials:
• Hand shovel
• Container
• Light oil/ Vaseline
• Featherweight forceps
Optional:
• Aspirator
• Pecan Sandies cookies

If you are serious about ant collecting I would highly suggest investing in an aspirator. They can be purchased here or make one using these instructions. Aspirators are great for catching those quick and little buggers.

Prior to your collection trip prepare a container to hold the ants. This could be a large Tupperware or coffee container, spread some light oil or Vaseline near the top of the container to make it difficult for the ants to climb up to the lid. If you feel it necessary, bring a second container to hold extra dirt for your farm. Although you said you have had an ant farm before, you may want to take a look at our How to make an ant farm post.

You can collect workers by picking them up individually with featherweight forceps, these are important because sturdier forceps may harm the ant. Unfortunately, this process can be slow and tedious especially since you say they are fast. This is where the aspirator would be handy, it makes collecting easier and faster. Baiting also makes collecting workers easier, crumbled up Pecan Sandies cookies tend to be the best as they contain many sugars and lipids the ants like. Sprinkle some outside the nest and check back after 15 minutes or so. The ants you catch can be placed into the oiled container, but be sure to seal it each time as the oil is not foolproof.

The next step is finding the queen. Depending on the size of the colony, this can be extremely difficult. You should first start by digging a circle around the mound, carefully moving the dirt off to the side or into your container, the loose soil will likely container workers. If you are dealing with a large, well established colony she may be hidden several meters underground. The queen is often near her brood, so when you begin to see larvae and pupae you are close! If you think you have been digging for too long with no luck, sift through your dirt pile a little and see if she's there.

Luckily for you, you have the opportunity to keep an eye on the colony whenever you go to work. If you have no luck finding the founding queen perhaps you are not too late for mating season. Check the mound periodically for ants with wings, they are most likely males or alate queens (queens who have not yet mated and still have their wings). They will be hanging around just inside the mound waiting for ideal weather conditions for their nuptial flight. After they have mated you can check within several meters around the nest for small holes with small piles of dirt next to them, these may contain new queens starting a colony and should be closer to the surface than an established colony. This may be your best bet to collect a queen because the chances of finding one in a large colony can be small.

Once you have started your farm, never add ants to it. Your colony will develop its own scent and not recognize new members and may attack them.

I hope this helps, happy hunting and keep us updated on your wild ant farm!

Sara Zufan & the AntAsk Team

Can you send me live ants? (Anonymous)


I want to keep live ants and would like some leaf-cutter or other ant species, can you send me some? Since I would like to keep them for a long time, please send a queen too.

This type of question is asked quite often here at AntBlog. Here is a standard response for anyone interested in keeping live ants or collecting ants on your own:

Unfortunately it is illegal to ship live ants, especially with queens, between countries and in most cases even between states.  In order for anyone to ship you live ants, you both would need the appropriate permits.  Much of this information is also true for collecting ants yourself even if they are dead. This means you would need:

1) a permit to collect the ants (collection permit),
2) a permit to export the ants from the country/state in which they were collected (export permit),
3) another permit to export "live" ants (live ant export permit),
4) a permit to import the ants into the receiving country (import permit), and
5) another permit for receiving the "live" ants (live ant import permit).  

There are likely other forms, permits, and agencies that would also need to be involved and the rules are often different between countries/states. So, be sure to carefully check the rules and regulations for both the country/state the ants will be collected in and where you want to take them to. Unfortunately finding who to contact in each country/state can often be difficult, but it is essential that you follow all rules and regulations regarding collecting, exporting, importing and mailing live or dead ants or any other biological material.

Also, please see another related AntBlog post on this topic regarding making an ant farm here. Near the bottom of the post there is a section on "Which ant species to keep?" that will likely also be helpful.

Best of luck!
Corrie Moreau & 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.
IMG_0527.jpg

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.
Psal.JPG

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
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.

Overwintering
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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