Do you keep ants? Not yet?
Before you start, join our Facebook group "Mravce, mravenci a ich chov", where we will advise every ant keeper with his ants, nest, or formicarium, ant farm or an anthill in general. You can also find inspiration on my Instagram or TikTok. If you do not find exactly what you are looking for in the text below, do not hesitate to contact me on WhatsApp +420730704731, where I am fully available to advise anyone.
Why to keep ants?
Ant keeping is a unique opportunity to observe a wonderful and perfectly functioning microworld, which people in everyday life see only from its outer part.
Ant keeping is not unusual today. However, on the assumption that you have made or purchased a fully functional formicarium for the colony with modern technologies that eliminate the mistakes of the novice ant keeper - this means primarily irrigation and prevention against mold, i.e. effective ventilation. Avoid blue gel or overpriced plastic farms containing phthalates, inappropriately colored sand and other decorations that have no place in the ant world. In short, they are nests that may look nice at first glance, but are no longer suitable for long-term breeding of ants. After all, only the most common ant queen from our country lives up to a respectable 30 years (more in the article below). Enthusiasm for antkeeping in such nests is preceded by disappointment in the form of the death of the colony within a few weeks. A novice keeper with such a failure will never return to the wonderful breeding of ants in his life.
It is therefore very important, and I always recommend it to all future breeders of any pet, to read as much information as possible about the living creature they are about to acquire. However, there has been a friendly Czechoslovak community of ant keepers for many years, and its keeping, amateur and scientific knowledge is the treasure of the entire ant breeding in our country.
I sometimes also send formicaria with an ant colony to kindergartens, natural science universities, zoos or to natural science groups. And no wonder. The formicarium is adapted for detailed observation of the colony inside its guts, which is absolutely ideal for educational purpose! A formicarium with a fully developed colony is an excellent study object for schoolchildren, where they can observe with their own eyes the behavior of a colony under the surface of the earth or the developmental stages of a perfect transformation. And there is even more to observe! Ants perform countless activities and activities, such as expanding chambers, digging paths, repairing the nest, removing waste, wetting the nest, carrying workers in the mandibles, moving the entire colony, caring for the brood, for the queen, cooperating in hunting larger prey, cutting and carrying away food, collecting seeds, defending the nest, caring for aphids and transferring them to surrounding plants or the root system, and other activities characteristic of a particular species of ant and its particular specialization (cutting leaves, growing mushrooms, stealing pupae from nests of other species, etc.).
How do I get the queen?
You can find a fertilized queen in nature after swarming (wedding flight). It is recommended to collect only those queens who have already dropped their wings. If you manage to catch the queen in nature, it is definitely advisable to find out what kind it is. You may have caught the colony-founding species in a way other than the classical way (eg by parasitizing other ant species). Another option is to buy the queen in a shop, where you can also choose smaller stable and started colonies suitable for release into the anthill (formicary).
Choosing the right kind of ant
Before choosing a specific species of ant, it is responsible to read about it in advance from the available articles on the Internet or the seller, what conditions for keeping it requires. For a novice keepers, it is ideal to choose from species that are not demanding on keeping.
Species of ants for beginning keepers:
➤ Camponotus ligniperda (wood ant) - the largest European ant species
➤ Messor barbarus (grain-eater ant) - a southern European ant with workers of various sizes
➤ Lasius niger (common ant) - a common and most common smaller ant
➤ Temnothorax crassispinus (Acorn Ant) - a small, undemanding and resistant species of all available species
➤ Camponotus nicobarensis (subtropical species) - a very suitable species for beginners, which does not require hibernation
What to look for when choosing ants in online stores
The most visible indicator of neglected keeping is black mold or a fungus in a test tube. Water in different colors (yellow, purple, brown) also in the test tube indicates that the seller does not care about the quality of his ants. Therefore, if you do not have a certified seller, always want to see a specific photo of the colony / queen sent with details of the test tube, queen and brood (eg eggs). If the queen is not just freshly captured, she should have brood in her test tube (a bunch of eggs, larvae, pupae or the first worker). Another indicator is the poor condition of the queen. We know this, for example, by the fact that the buttocks (gaster) are disproportionately shrunken - hungry and its individual pieces (tergites) overlap, which covers the connecting blanket (intersegmental membranes). The queen should have all the complete parts of the limbs and tentacles and buttocks (gaster) without damage - dents. For each species of ant, the seller should provide the correct information for its keeping on request.
Where to start raising a fresh queen?
➤ Plastic test tube
- The queen should be placed in a very small chamber not exceeding 3 times its length. These conditions are achieved in a classic plastic tube of 10 or 15 cm3. The tube is filled with water, the water is plugged in half of the tube with a densely packed cotton ball. Test tubes are available at almost every pharmacy. You can buy a plastic test tube at each pharmacy for a few crowns. The advantage is low acquisition costs. The disadvantage may be the premature evaporation of water from the test tube or the mold of the wet cotton wool inside. You can watch the video instructions on how to make a test tube here VIDEO.
➤ Bamboo glass test tube with water replenishment
- We can also use a specially made test tube with internal partitions and a reservoir, which can be continuously replenished with water.
➤ Starting nest
- Other options are small starting nests with one chamber made of acrylic plastic, plaster or ytong. Such a nest must have a functioning irrigation system and at the same time sufficient ventilation.
How is the establishment of a colony since the laying of eggs?
The queen lays 5 to 20 eggs within 10 days, from which miniature larvae hatch after about a week. The larvae are nourished at all times by the queen, who passes them nutrients from her body. After a few weeks, the larvae form pupae. Pupae can be in the form of a Holocula (especially the subfamily Myrmicinae) or cocoons with a cocoon (eg Formicidae, Ponerinae). The pupa can also be bare for various reasons, such as drought and high temperature or lack of packing material in the nest, which the larva would wrap its weaving thread with. After the hood has matured, the queen bites the adult worker out of the liquid shell of the package and helps clean it by licking it. The freshly hatched worker has a light color and a soft cuticle, which darkens within a few days, so the worker can get involved in the anthill.
Why do some workers differ in size?
The smallest worker is born from the first batch of brood. This is due to the nutrients that the queen had to distribute evenly to all larvae in order to be able to fatten all the larvae and develop to the adult stage. As the colony gains in the number of workers, the supply of proteins by which other larvae are fed increases and their development is not limited in any way. Therefore, workers of different sizes may be present in the nest.
Some workers are not only different in size, but also have a more robust head
Yes, some species, especially Camponotus sp., Messor sp., Or Pheidole sp. they create workers who are called soldiers (super-majors) or super-soldiers (super-majors). Their visible feature is a robust head equipped with a reinforced muscle controlling the mandibles. Their role is set aside, for example, to split seeds or to defend the nest from intruders. Some species (subt. Solenopsis sp.) Produce these soldiers if the food source in the vicinity and reach of the nest is completely depleted and it is already necessary to obtain new resources, inaccessible to workers of normal size.
How long will the queen last in the test tube?
The queen should be in the test tube until she has her own worker. The newly caught queen usually lays eggs during the week, and after more than a month, the first worker shows up. The queen and the workers can be kept as long as the service, ie feeding and cleaning the inside of the test tube, is still possible, so that the workers do not run away from the open test tube. It is recommended to leave the queen in the first year in a test tube, in which the first hibernation will remain.
Can I move the queen to the big nest without workers?
This option is not recommended, as the queen would not feel safe in a large area and would be exposed to unwanted stress.
Can I already move the colony with the first workers to a large nest?
If you do this, the workers will fill the empty corridors and surrounding chambers of the nest with substrate and waste to make them feel as safe as a nest, which is much more comfortable for them. Therefore, it is recommended to choose a nest that is proportionally large given the age of the particular colony and the assumption of the expected abode of other workers in the short term.
What is hibernation?
The process of hibernation is a natural transition to hibernation, when the activity of the colony is reduced to a minimum due to the low temperatures of the temperate zone. Prepare the colony for winter rest slowly by lowering the nest's ambient temperature at least a week before full hibernation begins. Hibernating colonies do not eat and often congregate in states. Hibernation lasts from autumn to spring, but at least 3 months should be observed. In hibernation, the colony should have sufficient moisture to prevent the ants from drying out.
Hibernation is a natural process that simulates the winter season of temperate belt species and it is necessary not to miss hibernation in any case! During hibernation, many important processes take place, such as the regeneration of the queen's ovaries. By omitting hibernation the second year, the queen does not lay the normal number of eggs, shortens her life span, and long-term omission can lead to her premature death.
Where to hibernate?
Dark and cold places, such as a cellar, garage or porch, where the temperature does not fall below freezing, are suitable places for hibernating queens or colonies. Domestic species are ideal to put in the refrigerator, where the temperature is stable around 5 ° C. In this case, it is recommended to wrap the tubes in foil due to the daily use of the refrigerator in the home, so that the colony is not stressed by light from the room or the internal light bulb.
What stages of the brood can be hibernated?
You can move the queen or colony to hibernation, where there are also larvae of worms hatched from eggs. The larvae, sensing the arrival of winter weather, slow down their development and remain preserved in the larval stage until the end of hibernation. We have the queen with freshly laid eggs developed into micro larvae and only then is it possible to move the test tube to the cold. Queens that have not laid eggs at all go into hibernation without brood , and the first clutch will not be laid until the spring (this happens in species that swarm in the fall, such as Solenopsis fugax), but occasionally in common ant species.
How to end hibernation?
We pull the colony out of hibernation gradually, ie. by gradually raising the temperature, eg by placing a test tube or nest in the coldest room in the household. A freshly pulled hibernation colony usually does not receive food
It serves as a barrier that ants cannot overcome and thus escape outside the nest. All barriers are applied in thin layers of the arena wall. Several types of anti-escape barriers have proved their worth in formal medicine, such as:
- Fluon (PTFE) - in liquid form is toxic, higher acquisition cost, but effective.
- Mineral oil or Vaseline - an effective barrier, but ants often get wet in it or the barrier can get on their tentacles
- Talcohol (mix of alcohol and talc) - this barrier is very effective, cheap and safe.
Water and humidity are very important for the colony. In the test tube, moisture is ensured by a water tank closed by a thick cotton ball. As the room temperature drops, water condenses on the walls of the test tube and the queen / ants lick and drink. Larger nests must not have an irrigation system that has a long-lasting function (eg 2 weeks). As a precaution, it is recommended to insert a test tube with water into the arena in case the nest irrigation system dries completely.
Food for ants
- Insect (flour worm, crickets, cockroaches, octopuses) - we can give all species of ants freshly killed insects, only small species are recommended to cut the insects in order to get into it without any problems. Insects should not be given to ants dead.
- Sugars - prepare ants dissolved in still water for the ants, which is recommended to be dosed with a syringe with a needle. We mix sugar water in the ratio of 3x standing water / 1x sugar. The tap water becomes drained after 24 hours with the lid open. We dispense sugar water on a smooth surface (eg on a cut out small square of hard plastic or plastic) in the number of a few small drops and in an amount that will be quickly consumed. Always wash dried sugar droplets with clean water before further application. Store the reconstituted syringe in the refrigerator for about 2 to 3 weeks or until a cloudy coating appears in the syringe. Be careful not to apply the sugar solution to the absorbent part of the nest, as sugars support the growth of yeast and can also cause the development of mold. All uneaten food should be removed from the arena the next day. If you are not sure about the density of sugar concentrate or honey in the feeder, also give the ants clean standing water in the same way.
- Seeds - Before getting a queen or colony, always find out what food a particular species requires. Some southern European species specialize in the collection of grass seeds, from which they process flour and form so-called bread. You can get a mixture of seeds for exotic birds that do not contain colored granules.
You can serve water, honeydew or sugar cane to the colony in various feeders with small holes from which ants lick the liquid. However, it becomes a rule, especially for small species, that they enter the feeder despite such a small hole and get inside the feeder. The feeders are therefore especially suitable for large species of ants.
Small species such as Myrmica sp., Dolichoderus sp., Tapinoma sp., Monomorium sp., Temnothorax sp., Pheidole sp., Plagiolepis sp., Solenopsis sp. etc., serve liquids exclusively in small bowls in which a densely pressed ball of 100% cotton wool is placed. Then fill the ball with any liquid so that it is sufficiently soaked and held only in it, not to flow out of it. This technique of administering fluids has been used by ant keepers in the last century and has survived to this day. As a cheap and easily available alternative, you can use so-called "pills cups" - a cut-out plate from pills.
The workers receive soft or liquid food, and the solid particles are then separated in the pharynx and spit out. The colony temporarily stores its food in the so-called social or collective stomach (volets), resp. in the stomachs of all members of the colony. The contents of the stomach are made up of a mixture of proteins, honeydew, water, saliva and pheromones, which is called trophalax - a fluid distributed to all members of the colony. The trophalax most often brings the workers towards the nest to the colony's most important link, the queen, and above all the constantly hungry larvae. By gradual redistribution, the food is vomited by the saturated worker and passed on by mouth to other workers.
How long do ants live?
A laboratory-confirmed case recorded in 1969 by Swiss myrmecologists Heinrich Kutter and Robert Stumper of Luxembourg states that the life span of Lasius Niger was 28 years and about 9 months. Life expectancy is different for each species. Monomorium pharaonis queens, for example, have a very short lifespan, and their number in the nest is in the order of hundreds to thousands of queens, which live at only 3 months at high temperatures. Winged males of almost all species usually do not live more than 1 year, dying a few hours or days after mating.