Welcome to the world of ant keeping!
On this page we will be delving into the basics of ant keeping while going through the progression of every ant keeper, from purchasing or finding your first queen to having a stable colony displayed at home. There is a lot of information provided here, but feel free to contact our team at The Ant Lab for additional information. We also recommend joining the ant-keeping community groups on Facebook and follow our Instagram.
For basic information and other helpful tips we have a FAQ's section.
For those who want to find/hunt for their first queen follow the below link for information:
(Link to follow shortly)
For those of you who have found your first queen, congratulations!
Having a temporary container to store your queen in with a moist(wringed out) cotton bud or tissue will suffice for a few days while you prepare a long term housing for her.
Remember to keep her in the dark to help her remain calm and to place small air holes to allow fresh air.
The housing you create/purchase for your queen will be dependant on one of the following options: is she a claustral or semi-claustral species? What size is the queen? (see '2: Identification')
Here at The Ant Lab, we have queens for purchase of all shapes and sizes, All with at least eggs and some with small colonies of workers!
Take your time looking at and doing research on what kind of colony you would like to start up and keep, and also think about how far along you would like your queen/colony to be.
Doing your research before purchasing a queen will help you far into the future and give you ideas of their preferences and future setup.
Ant habitats vary greatly across Australia, so find out where your ant is from and how their natural environment can be simulated in your care.
When purchasing a queen online, the genus and species should be listed as well as other useful information for each ant. If an unknown species a Genus will be posted in its place and general guidelines for that genus followed
Identifying your queen to its genus (G) and then species (Sp) will help you in the long run with gathering information on your ants and how to take care of them.
For some ants this is a simple thing to do as the workers share a lot of characteristics with the queen, but for many species the queen will look completely different to her workers.
Knowing if your queen is claustral or semi-claustral will also help you take care of them and how to reduce stress factors.
Claustral: Queens that are kept in an enclosed chamber (test tube) during the initial stage of colony founding. These queens usually live off energy stored in her wing muscles until her first workers arrive and a foraging area is added once they reach 10+ workers for medium-sized ants and 20-40+ workers for smaller ants.
Semi-Claustral: Queens that are kept in a basic setup with a foraging area
(test tube and tub) during colony founding. These queens will hunt for sugars and proteins until their first workers arrive and take over these duties.
Delving into some of the many online data bases can help trim down the possibilities, with the biggest help with queen identification being to join one or multiple online groups, and asking questions to help with identification.
Due to ants being classified by their worker cast, it can often be hard to know the exact species, but the wider ant keeping community is increasing its collective knowledge and is often able to point people to the correct genus (G) and then filter down to species (Sp).
Online stores will generally list the queens for sale under their genus (G) if not their exact species (Sp).
Example: You've received or found a queen and want to check her species so you post on a local forum/group. You describe her as "roughly 15mm in length, black head, bulky orange thorax, orange legs and black gaster with an orange band at the base".
Using this information and the picture you've provided, the community was able to give you the genus (G) and species (Sp) of (G)Camponotus (Sp)consobrinus or more commonly known as a 'Banded Sugar Ant'.
With this you are then able to look up more information regarding your ant and her future workers.
Useful sites such as Ant Wiki can be used alongside other information to look at different species (Sp) for identification and species (Sp) knowledge.
When purchasing a queen online most if not all queens will be transported in a test tube. To prevent flooding during transport, they will have a small water reservoir behind a cotton bud. This water reserve can last potentially a few weeks to a couple of months for your new queen, however it is always best to keep an eye on the water level to be able to change the test tube to a new one if necessary.
When purchasing your new queen from The Ant Lab you will be provided with a spare test tube for the purpose of changing in the instance of water running out or mould forming.
Both claustral and semi-claustral queens are raised in or with a half water test tube.
Claustral: Queens are kept in their prepared test tube during the initial stage of colony founding. These queens can live off the energy stored in her wing muscles until her first workers (nanitics) arrive.
Semi-Claustral: Queens are kept in a basic setup with a foraging area most commonly referred to as a "test tube and tub" setup. These queens will hunt for sugars and proteins until their first workers arrive and take over these duties.
How to make a water test tube:
What you will need:
- 1x test tube
- 1x cotton ball
- fresh clean water
- a long straight pointed object small enough to fit inside the test tube (we recommend a clean chopstick or skewer)
All done. It's as simple as that!
Your newly watered test tube is now able to be used in one of two ways: as new housing for your claustral queen or as a beginner nest for your semi-claustral queen.
For housing claustral queens and starting housing for semi-claustral queens:
Transfer the queen with her eggs and/or workers to the new test tube and block the entrance with half of another cotton bud.
Keep in mind that the half cotton bud is there to prevent escape and to allow fresh air into the tube, so do not pack it in too tightly.
For transferring your queens to a new test tube, see section '8: Transferring Queens'.
For finishing housing semi-claustral queens:
What you will need:
- 1x watered test tube
- 1x test tube cover (bark, cover or foil)
- 1x small container with lid (sized to fit test tube diagonally or lengthways)
- substrate (e.g. red reptile sand)
- feeding dish
- climbing barrier (e.g. fluon)
- 2x cotton buds
- a cutting utensil
NOTE: Some queens such as bull ants (Myrmecia) will attempt to defend themselves once they notice that they are able to leave the test tube.
Here is a list of what your queen/colony needs:
Water: Providing a water source is essential to all living things, so our queens come in test tubes with a small water supply for transport. We recommend using the spare test tube provided to prepare a new test tube if the water source runs our or moulding occurs. Once your have a stronger colony, don't forget to provide them with a constant water source or to hydrate their nests as needed [amount varies between species (Sp)].
Food: Sugars for queens and workers to keep them going, protein to help larvae grow. Careful not to over-feed as mould can grow and spread diseases. Pre-killing your feeder insects is not only humane, but is the best way to make sure your ants don't get hurt.
Oxygen: Though small, your little friends will still need access to fresh air. This is done in the founding stage through lightly stuffed cotton buds at the entrance to the test tube or having an outworld with aerating holes or slots to allow airflow.
Darkness: An ants best friend, our setups are an attempt to mimic natural nests out in the wild. Being in the dark is a stress relief for all ants and allows them to slow down and feel safe. Exposure to light means your ant has to be on guard for threats and causes stress.
Temperature: A constant temperature between 18-25 degrees Celsius is approximately what most ants will like. This will maximise egg laying, pupa development and overall speed of your colony. Anything below 15 degrees Celsius, you will see very little activity in your nests as a lot of species (Sp) will go into hibernation during winter-like temperatures. Below 10 degrees Celsius and you risk freezing your ants. Heat mats are a great way to keep your colonies warm and at a constant temperature and will allow some ants to be kept in colder climates.
Space: Try not to invade their space too often, something as simple as feeding time can be stressful. Keeping your queens and colonies happy, healthy and growing will allow you to have them as pets for many years (some 10+ years). Keeping your nests in the dark and observing the workers in their outworld is the best way to enjoy your colony.
Jazz up your presentation and put some thought into how you would like to present your ants in their outworlds before introducing your colonies. Jungle, beach or desolate wasteland, anything is possible!
The all important questions: What to feed? When to feed? How much to feed?
Tip: Always remember to be as gentle/quick as you can when feeding your ants. Stress is one of the main reasons a queen will not lay and/or eat her own young.
Always remove old/discarded food from the outworld/test tube to prevent mould forming.
What to feed?
Ants require food for fuel just like all living things and require a diet of proteins, carbs (sugars) and lipids (fats) in varying quantities.
Each ant species (Sp) has particular tastes when it comes to their dietary intake.
The following are but a few of the selections you can provide your ants.
Carbs/Sugars: Honey, Sugar water, Nectar(flowers), Honeydew(from sap eating insects), Jam, fruit and Jelly's.
Proteins & Fats: Crickets, Mealworms, raw or cooked meats(chicken)/eggs. Some ants also eat seeds and nuts and providing a mix of bird seed will show you their preferred seed to consume. We recommend only using store bought or home grown feeder insects due to wild caught food being susceptible to diseases ,mites and parasites.
When and how much?
Depends on your ants!!
Hydrating your nests is part of simulating the natural occurrence of rain out in the wild. The water that you provide your ants to drink(watered test-tube) can simulate the Humidity that most ants prefer. Your ants will move themselves and their brood to the preferred spot in the test-tube/nest in order to stay hydrated and not dry up. There are multiple nest types within ant keeping: Hebel, Acrylic, Wood/bamboo & Natural formicarium's.
Here we will briefly cover the two main nest types:
Note: Learn about your ants, if they come from dry areas, don't provide then with the humidity of a rainforest and vice versa. Observe your ants and you will notice if they prefer a dryer or wetter nest over time.
Bonus: Every so often allow your nest to completely dry out, this is to prevent mould build up and simulate dry periods in the wild. Don't worry! This is the reason we provide our ants with a water source for drinking.
Noticed your ants are looking a little cramped?
Before you go expanding their nest ask yourself.
Is my nest over 50% full? Are my ants starting to nest in their outworld?
If the answer to both of these questions is yes. Then it may be time to expand your colony to have a larger nest.
Purchasing a large nest originally that contains sectioned off expansions will help mitigate the need to add extra tubing and deal with possible escapes. All nest types come with one or more entrances/expansion ports.
By disconnecting your nest from the outworld and blocking the tube/hole with a cotton bud or other means you are able to add tube-links/dividers with extra lengths of tubing to connect your new nest expansion.
Have fun with these connections and think ahead, you may need to expand in the future so put in a 4-way junction instead of a T-junction. Block off unused tube ends/connections with cotton buds but allow airflow.
Swipe up any escaped workers with a cotton bud or tissue and tap them back into the outworld and careful with more aggressive species as they will view the jolting around as a possible attack and will bite/sting in defence.
Note: Don't be too hasty! To much room can stress a colony out and also provide a place to dump rubbish which can cause mould and disease. Ants don't get claustrophobic, you can allow your ants to expand themselves by filling your nest originally with substrate and your colony will expand as they grow, dumping the excess into the outworld as they see fit.
Is your test-tube drying up or have you got a new nest you want your queen/colony to transfer too? Here are a few helpful tips to entice their relocation:
First your will need to connect your old housing to your new once, for test-tubes there are connectors and for nests their entrances/connection ports.
Second you are going to try to make your new nest the preferable site by providing what your ants want in the new nest and changing the environment of the old nest to something not as great.
In order to move your colony you may need to do one or multiple of the following to reduce the comfort of your ants in their current home.
It can take a long time for ants to move, even months! Allowing them to move on their own terms will reduce stress and allow your colony to continue growing in the meantime.
Cleaning: Ensure to remove discarded or uneaten food this includes spare sugar source's that your colony may have covered with substrate and other debris.
Water: make sure to hydrate their nest every so often and ensure they have a clean water supply for drinking.
Food: keep a feeding schedule. Note down what your colonies do and don't like to eat and how often/amounts.
Temperature: keep your colony in a room temperature area, be sure that they aren't in direct sunlight to not overheat. We recommend a secondary room without Aircon so that temperature changes aren't as significant. Keep in warmer part of the house during winter months if you live in an area where temps reach below 5 degrees outside.