How to Raise A Colony
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Ant Keeping for Beginners
So you have come across this website because you want to keep ants as pets. Now you have become interested in what ants do close up. Maybe you want to see how a colony grows from the very beginning, consisting of thousands of workers. It may be entirely new to you, and your curiosity into the world of myrmecology came out of nowhere, or you may have come across my YouTube channel. However, you may not even know where to start. Do not worry, because my guide will help you to successfully raise a colony and begin the ant keeping journey. Keeping insects can be a very rewarding hobby, it is not hard to do and it’s not expensive to do. This tutorial and guide are aimed for those beginners. Follow these easy steps to get started.
Before you start getting ants preparation.
There are many things that you will need to prepare before catching or keeping ants. You are going to need some of the following equipment to get started.
Here is a checklist of what you will need.
- Cotton balls
- Test Tubes – This will be used to house your first colony.
- Ant food
- Small plastic container
Get these things before you try to catch or start an ant colony or a queen. It won’t cost too much to get started maybe a few quid or dollars if you are American. My advice does not go out there and buy expensive stuff as it is not needed. If you wish to spend your well-earned money actually, you can do this later on when you are more experienced. Always start off cheap, so if you fall you won’t regret spending a lot of money on top of the range equipment.
Making your first ant farm.
Before you collect your ants, you will need to make something to keep them in. Known as an ant farm but can also be referred to as a formicarium. An ant formicarium usually consists of two parts, the first part being the ant nest and the second part being the foraging area. I have often seen a lot of new insect keepers make a terrible mistake by making the nest and foraging area far too big.
Ants are by far tiny creatures, and they can be kept in a small setup. Just in a test tube structure alone, you can keep up to 100 live workers before introducing them into an ant farm. So what we are going to do is house them in a test tube. The test tube will act as an artificial nest until the colony matures enough.
In the beginning, it may come across a little annoying. However, this is the best part of it when the colony is just starting out. It is the cheapest way to start off keeping lasius niger, and it provides the perfect conditions for all types of ant colonies. The great thing about a test tube setup is that it also provides the ant keeper with a crystal clear view of the ants.
Try not to keep your ant’s in sand or soil, or you will never be able to see them again. Also, the problem with this is that because you cannot see the ants they could be dumping waste and other debris into a pocket. Mould can grow and kill off the colony as it would be hard to clean.
So how do you create a test tube setup?
Visit my youtube video on how to make a test tube setup for queens. But here is a quick guide on the process to making a test tube nest.
- Gather your things together.
- You want to fill the test tube up a quarter with water.
- Get your cotton ball and push it down into the test tube soaking the water but not flooding it.
- Wipe off any excess water, and there you have a test tube setup.
- Use another cotton ball to seal it so the queen cannot escape, but she can breathe.
So now you have made your first artificial nest ready to be used for your ants. We make the test tube because they will require water to stay alive. They will drink the water, and it also provides humidity which is perfect for the brood to survive. You may take you a few attempts to get it right. If you use to much cotton, it may not soak up water for them to drink. If you use to less cotton, it could flood water and drown your ant’s.
You may want to cover up the test tube setup with some foil, or a newspaper to provide them with a dark environment. Providing the conditions of being in soil and under the ground. By doing this, it prevents the queen from becoming stressed from too much light. An excellent way to help the queen produce your colony at a more successful rate.
Adding a Foraging Area
Our test tube will provide them with an artificial nest, but they are going to need to leave to find food. In the wild, they will forage the entire world to find food. But keeping them in captivity, we will have to provide them with a way to forage. That’s by adding a foraging area to the nest also known as an Outworld.
The formicarium foraging area will allow the ants to find food and bring it back to the nest for consumption. A foraging area is usually a small plastic container where you can add food and water to feed your ants. It also allows the keeper to remove any leftover waste from the container. You will want to place your test tube setup into the foraging area so your ants can find food.
How to prevent ants from escaping?
You may have a container that has no lid, and even if you did have a lid it may be air tight which could kill the colony. Without the lid, your going to be thinking the ants are just going to walk out of the formicarium and be all over your house. However, there are two ways you can prevent this.
The first one to stop them escaping is by using petroleum jelly around the top edge of the foraging area. When ants meet the petroleum jelly, it is too slippy for them to walk on so they turn back.
Another method is to mix up some talcum powder with alcohol and repeat the same process. Being too slippy and the ants tend to walk back once they meet this barrier. A paint brush works well to apply it around the top of the formicarium, but you could use a tissue.
Catching or getting your queen ant.
Now that your ant formicarium is fully setup and ready to be used. You will need to find yourself a queen ant. You should never get worker ants without the queen, as they will die off. Get yourself a queen with some workers. You can buy Queen ants however they may not be fertile and not produce a colony. The best way to go about it is catching one, so if it falls at least, you didn’t pay for it. By finding many queen ants, the chances are one of them will succeed.
You will need a queen. The queen ant lays eggs and produces the worker ants so without the queen the colony will not mature and grow.
If you are now thinking to yourself what species should I get? Well, I would personally recommend the Lasius Niger species as it doesn’t suffer much from stress and is easy to find. The great thing is with Lasius is that they can survive most mistakes made by beginners and are very aggressive at growing colony.
They also cannot bite or sting, so they are pretty harmless to humans. This species can be found in a lot of different countries mostly Europe, United Kingdom, North America, Asia and some parts of North Africa. So finding a lasius queen ant shouldn’t be too hard.
Time to start your colony
Once you have got your female queen, she has to start her colony. I guess that you have caught a queen ant that may be fertilised. To start, you should place your newly found queen into the test tube setup aka the artificial nest. You will want to leave her alone from now till her first workers arrive.
She will not require any food at this point as she will usual consume her wings as proteins for egg production. After a few days, it is likely she may lay eggs. It will take up to 45 days for these eggs to turn into the first worker. When this happens, you will need to start providing food as the queen will need this to keep producing. It is now your time to start feeding your ants.
Time to start feeding.
At this point, you must be excited to have your first batch of worker ants. But now you were maybe thinking, what shall I feed my ants?. The two most important things ants love is protein and sugar. The ant colony is going to need protein for the queen to reproduce eggs and also to help the larvae grow.
The sugar, however, is used as an energy source for the worker ants. You can provide these two things in many different ways. Please see below for possible food choices that you can feed your ants.
- Meat’s like chicken, turkey, etc.
- Freshly killed insects such as fruit flies, cockroaches and crickets.
- Honey, syrup and honey water.
- Sugar water mainly sugar mixed with water.
- Fresh fruit such as grapes, apples and oranges.
If you have a small colony, you will only need to use a drop of say sugar water or honey this will provide them with enough sugar. Give an insect a day just a little fruit fly this will give them the protein they need. Also be sure to clean up and waste as we don’t want mould outbreaks that could kill your ants.
Say your colony was getting too big, to counter this you wouldn’t feed them as much which significantly slows down the reproduction rate. When the colony reaches a large size, you may be surprised just how much they will eat and how quickly they do it.
Your ant keeping journey starts
So now you have successfully raised an ant colony, congratulations. You have experienced starting your colony, and it was great. But now you know how to keep ants, the real work begins. You can only enjoy watching the colony grow bigger and bigger. With the experience, you have now you can start to try out other species.
You will learn a lot from watching your ants communicate and working together. Your time and efforts have been rewarded with a beautiful ant colony. There are many other ant species in the world to keep. Ant keeping as a hobby will never bore because there are so many different species of ants.
Thank you for visiting my website, and I hope to see you on my Youtube Channel.