Ant-Keeping Basics

So the ant-keeping bug has bitten you, you have decided that you want to try your hand at keeping and observing ants. That’s great, anyone can keep ants and it is a rewarding and inexpensive hobby for most people. Before you dive in and purchase or collect your first colony (or queen) there are a few basics you should know and understand. The goal of this article is to provide the most concise collection of information for beginning ant-keepers.

Ant-Keeping is Easy

There is a ton of information on the internet on how to keep ants, form expensive professionally constructed setups to homemade natural setups, anyone can start keeping ants and learn more about the tiny worlds in your backyard that is constantly changing struggle of survival with one of the earth most important and underrated insect.

Ohio alone has over 130 different species

You MUST Have a Queen

In order to have a colony survive long term, and to see all of the wonderful interactions of your colony you must keep at least one queen. The queen is vital as she will lay eggs that grow into other workers that will construct the nest, take care of their siblings and ensure the queen herself has a solid food supply. Colonies without queens will die off as the workers die, normally in less than 3 months.

You can collect your own queen or colony, or purchase a queen or colony from a seller inside your own state.

What MUST Provide Living Space for your Colony

Ants are pretty forgiving creatures and can survive in many different types of locations and environments. If their environment becomes incompatible, they will usually move, or dig further to make it a better environment. This is why many ants dig deeper into the ground, for temperature and humidity control.

Ant keepers use special nests called a ‘formicarium’. These formicaria can be hand-made or purchased online and are specially designed to provide proper humidity and a general framework that encourages easy viewing for your pet ants. Most of this formicarium provide ways to connect to separate containers called ‘outworlds’ that allow easy feeding and a place for your ants to forage for food.

Some ant-keepers prefer to forgo the traditional formicarium setup in favor of a natural setup. This generally is a waterproof setup that is filled with dirt, plants and other natural flora and fauna. This setup provides a more realistic view of the ants but limits viewing of the actual nest, larvae and the queen.

You MUST Feed the Colony Properly

Beyond proper housing, Ant-keeping requires that you provide your ants with three different nutritional items to survive and to succeed in rearing new brood and growing the colony.

  1. Water
    Water is the most important thing for ants, it maintains humidity and allows the ants to ingest it. A dry colony will die very quickly.
  2. Sugar
    Sugar is the primary energy source for ants, it allows them to work, forage and care for the brood and queen. Sugar can be in the form of fruit juices, sugar water or nectar, and honey.
  3. Protein
    in order for the queen to produce eggs and for the larvae to grow you must provide protein for your colony. This can be found in dead insects, meats, seeds or nuts.

While it is simple and necessary to provide water for your colony finding the right foods can be species-dependent and can even change over time. ensure your colony stays healthy by providing a variety of food that they accept and eat.

Common Terms

While ant-keeping is not on its own a scientific endeavor, many hobbyists would also consider themselves amateur Myrmecologists. To keep things straight there are a handful of terms and that are helpful to know when reading or researching.

  • Myrmecology – The scientific study of ants.
  • Nuptial Flights – The time when males and females (future queens) mate, normally while in flight.
  • Formicarium – An ant “Nest”, designed for safely housing ant colonies while allowing visibility for observation.
  • Diapause – Ant “Hibernation” when colonies exhibit decreased activity and rearing, generally in conjunction with winter.
  • Trophallaxis – Ants use secondary stomachs to “feed” one another by touching mandibles and releasing the contents of this stomach.