A mature Myrmica sp ant colony with workers, alates, brood, and queen.
Explore Ants :
-There are more than 12,000 species of ants all over the world.
-An ant can lift 20 times its own body weight. If a second grader was as strong as an ant, she would be able to pick up a car!
-Some queen ants can live for many years and have millions of babies!
-Ants don’t have ears. Ants "hear" by feeling vibrations in the ground through their feet.
-When ants fight, it is usually to the death!
-When foraging, ants leave a pheromone trail so that they know where they’ve been.
-Queen ants have wings, which they shed when they start a new nest.
-Ants don’t have lungs. Oxygen enters through tiny holes all over the body and carbon dioxide leaves through the same holes.
-When the queen of the colony dies, the colony can only survive a few months. Queens are rarely replaced and the workers are not able to reproduce.
Although ants are frustrating when they get into your home or when you’re having a picnic, ants do help the environment. They are social insects, which means they live in large colonies or groups. Depending on the species, ant colonies can consist of millions of ants.
There are three kinds of ants in a colony: The queen, the female workers, and males. The queen and the males have wings, while the workers don’t have wings. The queen is the only ant that can lay eggs. The male ant’s job is to mate with future queen ants and they do not live very long afterwards. Once the queen grows to adulthood, she spends the rest of her life laying eggs! Depending on the species, a colony may have one queen or many queens.
Ant colonies also have soldier ants that protect the queen, defend the colony, gather or kill food, and attack enemy colonies in search for food and nesting space. If they defeat another ant colony, they take away eggs of the defeated ant colony. When the eggs hatch, the new ants become the "slave" ants for the colony. Some jobs of the colony include taking care of the eggs and babies, gathering food for the colony and building the anthills or mounds.
Scheme ant worker anatomy - courtesy to : www. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant
courtesy to : www.animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/bugs/ant/
Ants are common insects, but they have some unique capabilities. More than 10,000 known ant species occur around the world. They are especially prevalent in tropical forests, where they may be up to half of all the insects living in some locations.
Ants look much like termites, and the two are often confused—especially by nervous homeowners. However, ants have a narrow "waist" between the abdomen and thorax, which termites do not. Ants also have large heads, elbowed antennae, and powerful jaws. These insects belong to the order Hymenoptera, which includes wasps and bees.
Enthusiastically social insects, ants typically live in structured nest communities that may be located underground, in ground-level mounds, or in trees. Carpenter ants nest in wood and can be destructive to buildings. Some species, such as army ants, defy the norm and do not have permanent homes, instead seeking out food for their enormous colonies during periods of migration.
Ant communities are headed by a queen or queens, whose function in life is to lay thousands of eggs that will ensure the survival of the colony. Workers (the ants typically seen by humans) are wingless females that never reproduce, but instead forage for food, care for the queen's offspring, work on the nest, protect the community, and perform many other duties.
Male ants often have only one role—mating with the queen. After they have performed this function, they may die.
Ants communicate and cooperate by using chemicals that can alert others to danger or lead them to a promising food source. They typically eat nectar, seeds, fungus, or insects. However, some species have diets that are more unusual. Army ants may prey on reptiles, birds, or even small mammals.
One Amazon species (Allomerus decemarticulatus) cooperatively builds extensive traps from plant fiber. These traps have many holes and, when an insect steps on one, hundreds of ants inside use the openings to seize it with their jaws.
Another species, the yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes), is capable of forming so-called supercolonies that house multiple queens. On Australia’s Christmas Island, the accidental introduction of yellow crazy ants in the early 20th century has led to a destructive infestation. The ants are a significant threat to the island’s endemic population of red crabs, which are displaced by the ants from their burrows or killed as they pass through ant nest sites during the crabs' large-scale annual migration from the forest to the coast.
Average life span in the wild:
Several weeks to several years
Size: 0.08 to 1 in (2 to 25 mm)
Group name: Army or colony
Did you know?
Ants can lift and carry more than three times their own weight.
Size relative to a paper clip
Ant range in Yallow
Keeping Ants in captivity :
- Ants as pets :
Maybe you’ve heard of it: keeping ants as pets! Keeping an ant colony is interesting and fun because of the amazing ability of the ant colony to function as a unit. Setting up an ant colony enclosure, called a formicarium, can be challenging but is certainly worth the effort for insect enthusiasts!
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Introduction to keeping ants :
Ants belong to the taxonomic group Hymenoptera, just like wasps and bees. All ant species live in colonies, there are no solitary ant species. Inside a colony of ants the tasks are very stricly divided: the queen lays eggs, the workers take care of the larvae, collect food and build the nest. All worker ants are females. Some species of ants have different worker types, they look different than the other works to be able to perform a specific task better. The worker types are called castes (one caste, two castes) and can be specialized in defending the colony, getting big or small food items to the colony or even storing food in their body. One example of an ant caste is the soldier ant. Soldier ants are usually larger than the other workers and have big mandibles used to bite. They will defend the nest against intruders.
Once a year the colony will produce new queens and kings. These ants are different than the workers because they are able to mate and lay eggs. The new kings and queens will leave the colony to start a new colony somewhere else.
There are around 22.000 different species of ant on Earth. Ants can be found on every continent except antartica and can be called very succesfull creatures in evolution: if you add all the dry biomass of all animals on earth up, 15 to 25% of this biomass is from ants.
Genetics of ants:
Ants and other Hymenopetera have a haplo-diploid sexdetermination system. This big word means that the genetics of male and female ants are not determined by X or Y chromosomes as in humans, but are determined by the total number of chromosomes. Male ants have only half the number of chromosomes than female ants. This is because male ants develop from unfertilized eggs. Every chromosome in this haploid egg occurs only once. Female ants develop out of fertilized eggs. Every chromosome in this diploid egg occurs twice, one set came from the mother and one set from the father.
The social system inside a colony of ants is called an eusocial system; ants show eusociality. An eusocial species will have a queen that lays all the eggs and has sterile workers that will work for the colony without reproduction. In eusociality workers will serve the colony without producing their own offspring. This has baffled biologist for a very long time. It is astonishing to see that an animal will sacrifice its life to defend its colony and that an animal will work without reproducing. The system does not seem stable in evolutionary sense. In evolutionary theory genes are spread to the next generation based on the success of the parents: more adapted parents/more successful parents will spread relatively more genes to the next generation than less adapted parents. The next generation will therefore have relatively more of the genes that caused the adaptedness or success than the previous generation. But in ants this system does not seem to work at first sight; workers don’t reproduce and therefore the genes that make them workers do not spread to the next generation. And if there is a sneaky worker that does produce some eggs, these sneaky genes are spread to the next generation and will therefore increase in frequency. At first sight the existence of eusociality is a paradox. But it turns out the system works through a different way. The queen and the workers are sisters, therefore many of the genes present in the queen are also present in the workers. When the workers help to raise their sisters offspring, they will spread their own genes as well. Raising two nephews or nieces will result in spreading the same number of genes as would be spread by raising a son/daughter. Because working in a colony is much more efficient than raising offspring individually when you are an ant, more ant genes can be spread when living in an eusocial system than individually. Other species like termites, bees, wasps and naked mole rats have adopted the same eusocial system. The terms biologist use are ‘inclusive fitness’ and ‘kin selection’ to explain eusociality. Please Google these terms to learn more about it. My explanation is short and incomplete, as there are many subtleties to this explanation.
Looks and species of ants :
Everyone can tell you what an ant looks like. Six legs, two antenna, a body made out of three pieces (head, thorax and abdomen). Some ants have wings, these are the kings and queens. Ants can come in many colors including black, brown, yellow and red.
Most common pet ant species are the black garden ant Lasius niger, the harvester ant Messor barbarusand the red ant Myrmica rubra. Lasius niger is a very common and well know ant in Europe and also occurs in the United States. The harvester ant Messor barbarus is an ant species from South-Europe and is a favorite pet ant because of the different worker castes. It has small (minors) and large workers (majors) and can be fed with seeds making it easy to feed these ants.
Pet ant colony housing :
Pet ants can be kept in a simple glass test tube until the colony is big enough to be moved to a real formicarium. A formicarium is a real ant enclosure with a nest and an “outdoor” compartment. A glass test tube should be filled with sugar water capped with a big wad of cotton wool, behind this cotton will be the ant queen and her offspring. The test tube can be closed off with another cotton wool plug to prevent the ants from escaping. This type of housing does not look attractive at all, but is very efficient for keeping small colonies with a maximum of 25 workers.
A really nice ant housing is a formicarium where the ants feel good and where the owner can observe the ants inside the nest. Such a formicarium consists of a nest area and an “outside” area. The nest area is made of gypsum or concrete with tunnels in it, covered by a glass slate. The glass is covered by something to keep the nest dark, but can be lifted for the owner to take a peek inside the nest. The “outside area” is the place where you will place the food for the ants and where they will dump their garbage. Both areas are protected against escaping ants by closing it off or by covering the outside edges with teflon.
There are many types of formicaria that all look nice, I’ll show just one. A jelly ant nest as sold by kids toy shops are not suitable to keep an ant colony in, no matter what the package says.
Formicarium building plan. Example
To build this formicarium you will need a square or rectangle tin or plastic box, a clear rubber or plastic tube with a diameter of 1 cm, gypsum powder, play-doh soft clay and a glass slate just a bit smaller than the top of the tin or plastic box. The box should be 20 x 10 cm with a height of 4 – 6 cm for a small colony of ants (up to 150 workers). To make the nest area: use the clay to make a tunnel system on top of the glass slate. It should look like the picture above, including the water ditches and round nest chambers. Make a connection between the clay and the rubber tube. Then fill the tin box with gypsum (water + gypsum powder, as on the package). Suspend the glass slate with the clay-side down into the gypsum and let it become hard. Do not let the glass go under the gypsum, it should stay on top of it. When the gypsum has set you can remove the glass and take the clay off. If you put back the glass slate after cleaning it, you will have a finished nest area! Make sure the rubber tube goes from inside the tunnel system to outside the tin box.
You should weekly fill the water ditches with water. This will move through the gypsum and will make the nest moist in some places. The ants can choose where to live based on the amount of moisture.
Ants can chew or dig through gypsum, given enough time. Always make sure that the tin or plastic box is ant-tight. Ants can pick up their eggs and larvae and just take off completely.
The rubber tube is used to connect the nest area to the “outside” area. The easiest outside area is a plastic box that can be closed off completely. It should have air holes or should be open on top with the edges covered in teflon or paraffin oil (replace regularly!) to prevent the ants from walking out. On the bottom of the outside area you should put white sand. Also place the food for the ants in the outside area. Remove all waste the ants place here weekly.
Food for pet ants :
What ants eat depends on the species. In general ants eat dead or live insects and a mix of water and sugar (or water and honey). Some species eat seeds, like the harvester ant Messor barbarus, next to their insects and their sugar-water. Now and then you can feed your ants also fruit, a piece of meat, pollen or syrup.
You can make sugarwater for ants by mixing 7 units of water with 1 unit of sugar (or honey). You can pour this in the lid of a soda bottle and place this in the “outside” area of your formicarium. Replace this water every 2 – 3 days. Never let it run out.
The insects you can feed to your ants are freshly dead or live fruitflies, small crickets, flies, moths and aphids. The proteins in these bugs are very important for the well-being of your pet ant colony
Humidity and temperature for an ant formicarium
The best air humidity for an ant colony depends on the ant species, some need their nest dry while others need it moist. The ants know best what is good for them, so you should offer them different moisture areas inside the nest. The ants will move their offspring to their optimal humidity. Read more about making water ditches to provide the ant colony with moisture at the section about “Pet ant colony housing”.
The temperature for a formicarium should be between 20 and 28 °C, with a drop in temperature by night to maximally 15 °C. You can heat the nest with an electric heat mat or with a lamp. The nest should be kept dark at all times, but if you cover the nest area with black plastic or paper you can heat this with a lamp. Always be careful for fire hazard! And overheating your ant nest is deadly to the ants within a couple of hours.
Developmental time and development of an ant colony
The time is takes for an ant to develop from egg to adult ant depends on the species, the environmental temperature and the caste of the ant. Most ant species take around two weeks to develop from egg to worker. The growth of the colony depends on the number of eggs the queen lays and on the success of the development of these eggs. If you have a colony with bad conditions, like too few proteins in the food, too high or low humidity, too high or low temperature or stressful conditions like bright light inside the nest area, the eggs and larvae die.
An ant colony becomes as old as its queen: around 3 to 10 years depending on the ant species and how well you care for them.
Buying ants or collecting them from nature
You can buy an ant colony or ant queen, or you can collect one from nature. For both options you will have to choose to get only a queen or a queen with already some workers. If you find or buy a queen without workers, you don’t know if she mated. If she never mated, she will never start a colony. If you want to buy an ant queen to start a colony, I would recommend to buy one with eggs or workers so you are sure she mated. If you collect ants from nature, I recommend getting only a queen as they are very easy to find. In summer ant colonies will produce young queens that can be found anywhere. When you find them without wings, they are probably mated. You won’t disturb nature by getting one or two of these young queens.
You can also dig out a complete ant nest to find the queen. I strongly disprove of this. You will destroy a complete ant nest and you might not find the queen. Without the queen you cannot keep ants in a functional nest as a pet. Some ant species are protected by law from disturbing them.
Do not release foreign ant species into nature! This will disturb the natural balance in nature and in some states or countries this even against the law.
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Moving a Mature Ant Colony into an AntsCanada Habitat Nest 3D™
- Ant Care :
courtesy to : www.antscanada.com/ant-care/
Owning a pet ant colony can truly be one of the most intriguing, educational, and rewarding experiences. There are several things to know in order to properly care for a pet ant colony. The following are the most commonly asked questions about caring for pet ants.
NOTE: Be sure to also check out at our store the AntsCanada Ultimate Ant Keeping Handbook™ E-Book, an all-inclusive everything-you-need-to-know e-book on pro ant keeping, with all the latest and updated info on the ant keeping hobby. It’s definitely a resource every ant keeper should have. It even has a section on the care of specific ant species, and a complete glossary of ant-related terms.
Lasius Hybrid Nest™ Small
Where do I get ants to stock my antfarm?
Click here to find out how to start your ant colony.
Can I mix different species of ants in one formicarium?
No, they will war and there will be deaths. Even ants of the same species from a different colony will fight. Colonies identify members within their colony with a distinct colony scent, and any ant that doesn’t carry that scent is considered an enemy. Never mix your ants!
What are the best ants to keep from my area?
There are literally thousands upon thousands of species of ants in the world. In a single region there can be up to thousands of species, so it’s impossible to say which species is easiest to keep. Lucky enough, however, almost all species found can be kept successfully in a captive environment with the right care, housing, equipment, and conditions. Please refer to the AntsCanada Ultimate Ant Keeping Handbook™ Ebook for an Ant Caresheet section for a list of the most common species of ants kept as pets and details of their preferred living conditions.
What am I supposed to keep my ants in?
We offer great, easy-to-use “All You Need” Starter Kits at our shop which contain all housing and equipment required for ant keeping. A newly captured queen ant should be placed in a test tube setup (See Starting Your Ant Colony section). When the queen has many workers, you may then transfer them into a proper ant setup. A proper ant setup consist of two units attached together through a tube. First, you will need what is known as a formicarium, the area in which your ant colony will nest, where the queen and her brood will reside and the workers will commune. We offer an array of top quality formicariums at our shop, including our ever popular Omni Nests™ and brand new, state-of-the-art, genus-tailored Hybrid Nests™. You will also have to attach the formicarium to what is called an outworld which simulates the outer world where the ants will forage for food and establish their garbage sites and graveyard.
The “All You Need” Hybrid Gear Pack includes, formicarium, outworld, and accessories needed for every stage of ant keeping.
What is a basin/outworld and why do I need one for my ants?
In the wild, ants leave their nests to forage and hunt for food. They have a system using pheromones (biological chemicals used for communication between ants) which allows the ants to locate where food may be found once a single ant discovers it. Watch this video for an example on how their pheromones for tracking food work by clicking here.
Naturally ants will be compelled to leave their nest and bring home food for the rest of the family, which leaves you with the fun task of creating an outworld for them, where they can wander and forage around for food. It’s a much better and more natural method to feeding your ants than having to open your ant nest and risk escapees and other such hassles. See the outworld as their sort of ‘grocery store’.
Our top-of-the-line AC Outworlds™ available at our shop are specially designed to create this ‘outer world’ for your ants. Your ant colony’s outworld (known in ant keeping as a ‘basin’) should be open and should generally offer much more space than the nest. Especially true with larger colonies, the bigger the outworld, the better so you can see more natural behaviours, e.g. ants forming impressive trails to and from food. You can place the food like live or freshly killed bugs, fruit, honey mixed with water soaked into a cotton ball, and meats directly into the outworld for the ants to eat. Be sure to remove any uneaten food. Also, they will create areas for piling the dead in the outworld so be sure to clean them up as soon as you can.
How do I prevent the ants from escaping?
There are several ways. In the ant keeping world we use common deterrents to keep ants from escaping through little cracks or open spaces. We at AntsCanada like to use vaseline (petroleum gel) and smear a two inch wide band around the outworld door and its joints. Most ants come in contact with it and don’t bother walking through it. Those who have ants that still travel over a two inch thick band of vaseline smeared around the top of the outworld, can also use baby powder (talcum powder) mixed with rubbing alcohol, and smear this mixed substance instead. If you choose this method, be careful not to put too much because the ants can get coated in it and die. Another deterrent commonly used in Europe is paraffin oil. If all of these fail, the most effective deterrent is Fluon or a substance called PTFE, however if you choose to use this substance remember that the fumes before drying is highly toxic so apply it to your outworld in a well ventilated area and before your ants are given access to the outworld. Fluon/PTFE is also known commonly among laboratories working with insects as the product ‘Insecta-slip’ and it can be purchased at an online store known as Bioquip.
If you are using an AC Outworld™ you can place the deterrent on the bottom of the upper lip so that it does not look unsightly or cause obstruction when viewing your ants in their outworld.
The AC Outworld makes a very attractive piece in any ant setup, especially when they are naturalistically designed.
What will you do when the young queens/males of your colony decide to have their nuptial flight? Won’t you have tonnes of flying ants in your home?
You will be surprised to know that in our experience, ants kept indoors don’t seem to undergo the mass nuptial flights in the same manner that the ants outside do. The suspected reason for this is because in the wild, specific environmental cues (e.g. temperature fluctuations, humidity, photoperiod, etc) trigger ants to decide to undergo their nuptial flights for mating. An ant colony kept indoors however, where the environmental conditions are always kept relatively constant, don’t receive those same environmental cues, so they usually don’t end up flying on schedule. Instead, these young, winged queens/males, exit and re-enter the nest at whim and wander around the outworld a little. Eventually, many of the males die, and the females after wandering break off their wings and surprisingly, start to act like worker ants, helping out with worker ant duties. These queens eventually die, as well. In our experience, there were only a few males that attempted and successfully flew out of the outworld, but not many. However, if you are concerned about alates taking to flight and notice that your alates are indeed flying or showing signs of flight, you may want to move your entire setup, i.e. formicarium and outworld, outside in a well sheltered area (where they cannot get rained on and drown) with the outworld door open so the alates can fly. Under no circumstances should you do this if you are keeping non-native ants! If you are keeping non-native ants you will have to keep your outworld closed and simply allow the alates to die out naturally.
Will my ant colony grow only as large as their nest? If I get my colony a very large ant nest, will it cause the colony to grow bigger and/or faster?
As a rule of thumb, you should start with a small ant nest if your ant colony is small. Don’t give them a nest bigger than your colony needs. What you will find if the nest is too big is the ants will store their garbage in the hallways and chambers which will cause a mass mold outbreak, endangering your colony. The idea is to have the ants gradually grow into their nests, getting them to move into bigger nests as the colony grows. Make no mistake – if the conditions are right and there is enough food they will continue to multiply (depending on the species of course). You can limit an ant colony’s growth by limiting food (particularly protein food sources) or lowering the temperature slightly once the colony has reached desired size (see Ant Tutorials).
Do you suggest putting 2 mated queens of the same species in the same habitat for a more likely chance one will lay eggs?
You will have to research the species. There are some species that are called polygynous meaning they tolerate many queens in the nest, and get along throughout the founding colony stage and afterwards. There are, however, many species that undergo pleometrosis, where two or more queens will raise their young together peacefully up until the first workers come, and at that point the queens kill each other until one survives and/or the workers kill all but one queen. This however can lead to sustained injuries with the surviving queen, often leading to death, and in the past we’ve had queens kill each other leaving the young workers orphaned. In nature, pleometrosis increases the chance of the colony’s survival, but seeing as you will be the colony’s protector and caregiver, they won’t have to deal with the same obstacles queen ants deal with in the wild, making pleometrosis unecessary. If two queen ants are placed in a very large setup, e.g. a large habitat nest or two large habitat nests connected to each other a condition known as oligogyny may occur where suddenly rival queens will disperse to different areas of the nest and found a colony together that way. Either way, if you do decide to mix queens, do so with caution and know the consequences.
What is the secret to get my ant colony bigger faster?
The two factors [under your control, anyway] that affect the queen’s rate of egg production are heat and food availability. Ants like all insects are cold-blooded [aka poikilothermic] and the rate of all their physiological functions depend on the heat of their surroundings. With a heating pad under one side of the nest (only warm up one side so that the ants can thermoregulate and move to whichever side they please when they please) warming up a portion of the nest to around 25-27 degrees C, your ants will in essence ‘rev up’ so to speak, including the queen and her egg production. Another simpler way to heat your ants is by simply placing your colony’s nest in a warm room of your home. This is also a practical method of keeping your ants warm when you own several ant colonies. Never place your ants in direct sunlight. You will fry them!
Food, food, food! Give your colony the steady supply of nourishment it needs to grow. Feed your ants as much as they will eat, especially proteins like insects. We have found success in feeding soft cooked seafood like small pieces of crab and shrimp. Be careful not to feed them too much that they begin storing copious amounts of food in their nest that remains uneaten or buried. These forgotten stores/leftovers will grow mold and pose dangers to the colony.
I assume that after a long period of time the queen will stop laying eggs and will die. At that point there would probably be males and females with wings, but because there is no actual nuptial flight due to them being captive, I assume the colony would die? How would you keep the colony surviving over a long period of time (I’m thinking you would introduce a new queen?)
Yes, at that point the colony would die. You can try to introduce a new queen, but chances are they will kill her. Some queens however can live for 15 years, so that’s a very long time.
What foods should I feed my ants?
Ant colonies require a protein food source, a sugary food source, and water available to them at all times. Watch our tutorial on ant feeding and nutrition here.
What foods should I NOT feed my ants?
Try to stay away from feeding wild insects that are collected from or around areas that may be sprayed with pesticides. Golf courses are an example of such pesticide-ridden places. When in doubt feed crickets and mealworms bought at a pet store. Be sure to cut up the mealworms with scissors before feeding so the ants get into the goodies.
How do I give my ants water and how much?
There are several ways to provide your ants with water. You should remember that providing ants with a water bowl can lead to ants drowning. There are other safer options. You can fill up a test tube with water and plug the end up with a cotton ball, and place the whole test tube in your colony’s outworld. The ants will drink the water directly from the cotton. Also, most ant species like their nests moderately to very moist. The nest’s moisture level should match the moisture preferences of the particular species you’re housing, and that information can be found online. Refer to our AntsCanada Ultimate Ant Keeping Handbook™ for an Ant Caresheet for specific nest moisture preferences of the various commonly kept ant species.
What are your opinions on the popular Gel Ant Farms?
We initially loved the idea of keeping ants in a medium that also fed them, and in 2009 we excavated a very large Myrmica rubra colony to house in a gel farm, and study its effectiveness as a long-term home for ants. Unfortunately, the colony dropped in population by nearly 30% in the first week and the surviving members went into a sort of hibernation state. The young were also disappearing. It took them almost two weeks to begin digging tunnels in the gel and by then the entire gel nest began to mold which endangered the colony. Perhaps the ant nest was built to accommodate the more stout harvester ants (the live ants that you can order via mail), but in the end, we had to release the colony back into the wild. The ant community remains uncertain on the gel farms. Many experts say that the gel farms are not suitable for long-term serious ant-keeping but are OK for temporary ant housing and observation, while some go so far as to say it’s dangerous for ants and should not be used. But if you are currently housing your ants in a gel farm, don’t panic and don’t feel bad. We here at AntsCanada love the Gel Farms because of the widespread awareness that the popular gelfarms are bringing to people about ants. It has wonderfully introduced to many around the world how truly interesting and miraculous the creatures are, thus causing them to venture out into the world of serious ant keeping. The choices on how you house your ants are up to you, and as always, continue to do your research when making decisions for the pet animals you love.
What happens to ants in the winter?
They hibernate [See ANT BIOLOGY section].
How does one hibernate ants? How long do you keep your ants in hibernation and when do you wake them up?
In Toronto, Canada, it starts to drop below freezing around November or December and ends around March. So I keep my hibernating ants on a similar schedule of around 3-4 months of hibernation period. In this time, we place all our ants in their entire setup whatever it may be (i.e. test tube or formicarium and outworld) in a cool basement storage room where there is no heating. A garage or attic would do the trick as well. IMPORTANT: Throughout the hibernation period, your ants won’t require any food, however they dostill require water. Therefore, unless your ants are in a test tube setup, you must ensure the formicarium continues to stay moist like usual, which means you may have to check up on the formicarium on a regular basis to ensure the colony is properly hydrated. The good news is that a cold nest doesn’t lose moisture as quickly as a warm or room temperature formicarium, so you won’t have to water the nest as frequently as you’re used to during the warmer months.
Some place their ants in a fridge under low setting (i.e. the warmest the fridge can be). Under these conditions, the ants can stay cold enough to undergo a proper hibernation, but warm enough to not die. In the wild, ants underground are able to stay a few degrees warmer than the ambient temperature above ground. Do not place your ants and formicaria outside during the winter, as they may freeze to death.
Here is a helpful video on ant colony hibernation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xf8p_23z-Bg and another video on hibernating your queens and starting colonies in test tubes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDgleH51Kd4.
Do I have to hibernate my ants? What happens if I keep my ants in warmth throughout winter?
Yes, it is recommended that you do hibernate your ants if they are from a temperate region (i.e. place with a winter season). Even if you try to keep your ants warm during the winter, your ants will probably still hibernate anyway. Those who keep their ant nests warm through the winter months may notice their ants’ activity and feeding level drop drastically. Summer-like environmental stimulants aren’t enough to keep ants from hibernating as they seem to run on a biological clock. Many experts say that ants from temperate regions should be hibernated for at least a month or so, and failing to do so shortens the lives of the queens who miss that solid break from the physically demanding task of egg-laying for a few months. Others argue that hibernation is not necessary. For those like us here at AntsCanada, who care for very many ant colonies and some with thousands of members, the winter months offer a relaxing break from the demands of ant duties. There are very few pet animals one can keep that allows for that refreshing break and yearly return. It’s what keeps ant keeping so fresh and exciting for years and years!
What is the youngest age you believe a child is ready to care for an ant farm?
The answer to that varies. I was caring for ants as a youngster, but it really depends on the child’s sense of responsibility. There is nothing wrong with purchasing a formicarium for a young one (actually, we encourage it, as it starts biology and ecology education early) so long as you foresee that all the needs of the ants are met and that you closely supervise the child as they are in contact with the ants. It can be easy for an unsupervised three year old to break open an ant nest and get seriously injured and also seriously stung or bitten! Most parents feel age 10 with supervision would be an acceptable age for ant keeping, and they would also truly comprehend and appreciate them.