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I need some guides on antkeeping!


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16 replies to this topic

#1 Offline bleepboop - Posted March 14 2019 - 11:58 AM

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Hello community,

 

I'm working in a university research lab and I am planning on doing some experimental work involving ants. Because I have never kept ant colonies in the past, I am a complete newby in the topic and I would like some advice from the experienced.

 

To go into a bit more detail in what I want exactly:

 

1. I want to use pavement ants, camponotus species or other ants of comparable size (their large size makes them much more suitable for the work I want to do). When and where are the best time and place to capture a queen after nupital flight or to dig up a colony? Any special tricks that I should be aware of? Also I would like a setup that are tailored specifically for these species- what are some things that I need to keep in mind?

 

2. Since I will need to tend to multiple colonies (to avoid loss of colony creating a bottleneck for experiments), and also since I will be working on projects other than those involving ants, I want to spend as little time as possible for the maintenance. If you know any tips and tricks on simplifying the process of feeding, humidity and waste management, e.g. automatizing it with some computer controlled setup, or, if you think it would be possible to establish a self-sustaining microecosystem, please share your thoughts.

 

3. I want to be able to perform experiments that require us to kidnap a few hundred workers from a colony for a few hours (no more than, say, 12 hours), and I want to make sure the colony will grow to the size where this is not going to be an issue. This means I need to grow colonies fast, and maintain large numbers throughout the year. The more ants I can kidnap for experiments, the better.

 

We have pretty much all the standard bio/chem laboratory supplies (test tubes, 1/4" vinyl tubes, petri dish, etc.), access to most crafting tools including CNC, 3d printer and laser cutter. I think we can spare up to a couple hundred dollars to get started- we could probably afford more but I will have to give a good reason to my PI. I would prefer to utilize the resources we have before having to purchase something extra.

 

Also, if you have other ants you want to recommend, please let me know what species and where they can be found naturally or purchased. I would prefer something that is found commonly across Midwestern US since the paperwork for getting permit to import foreign ants seems like a nightmare and I want to avoid it as much as possible.

 

Thanks!



#2 Offline Ants4fun - Posted March 14 2019 - 12:33 PM

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1. There is a big size difference between pavement ants (Tetramorium immigrans) and Carpenter ants (Camponotus SP.). It depends where you live, but capturing small colonies of Camponotus in rotting logs is fairly easy to do, and ensures you get a fertilized queen that has already established a colony. You can collect queen ants throughout the summer at various times. Just keep in mind that it may take a while for the colony to become mature, possibly several years. Here is a link to tips to catching queen ants: http://www.formicult...tch-ant-queens/

Here is a link to the nuptial flight times of many common ant species: http://forum.formicu...t-mating-chart/
Here is the ant keeping guide for beginners: http://forum.formicu...-for-beginners/

Creating a nest tailor made to a specific species is highly dependent on which species. However, many people tailor make formicariums by changing chamber size, humidity, and nest medium.

2.Ants don't require much maintainence time. You can expedite the process by making sure the ants have plenty of water. Lack of moisture is the number 1 cause of captive ant colony deaths. Make sure your setup can go long periods of time without refilling, and use liquid feeders to provide your ants food when you can't feed them.

3. It's hard to have your cake and eat it too. Many large species of ants generally have smaller colonies and are slow growers. I would select a common ant, such as Camponotus pennsylvanicus, the Black Carpenter ant. They are the largest and among the most common ants in the midwest. However, it may be difficult to raise a colony to that size quickly. Capturing a colony from a cotton log might be your best bet. Another easy to aquire species is aephenogaster. They are medium sized, and mature colonies can also be caught from rotton logs.

Here is a link to various formicariums: http://forum.formicu...-and-outworlds/

However, your basic test tube setup would work well in a laboratory setting.

Also, if you add your location, you can see if there are ant keepers in your area who would be willing to donate or sell a mature ant colony.

Edited by Ants4fun, March 14 2019 - 12:35 PM.

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#3 Offline bleepboop - Posted March 14 2019 - 12:45 PM

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Thank you for your input. I didn't realize pavement ants were so small, I just assumed the big black ants that I see around pavement in summer were pavement ants because of the name but I was mistaken.

 

Do carpenter ants/aephenogaster continue to stay in rotten wood? Also if that is the case, do I have to keep them in the wood after capturing or is it okay to transfer them to a different environment (e.g. test tube, 3d printed structures, terrarium with soil and mulch, etc)?

 

Thank you very much for the list of mating time by the way. I'm getting interested in antkeeping as a hobby as well as for research work, and I would definitely prefer to capture a queen and grow it out myself so that chart is super helpful.



#4 Offline Ants4fun - Posted March 14 2019 - 1:14 PM

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You can collect them from logs, then when their nesting medium becomes dry, they should look for a more suitable nesting site. Hopefully, your formicarium. In the midwest, I find this the easiest way to capture a large colony. However, collecting a queen ant and raising her is a better and more sustainable way to get an ant colony.

#5 Offline YsTheAnt - Posted March 14 2019 - 3:50 PM

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If you are looking for a larger species that will reach maturity fast (may be useful for research purposes), consider Formica.

They can get into the hundreds in under 12 months, and are pretty good sized.
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#6 Offline Dargus - Posted March 14 2019 - 4:50 PM

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If you were in California I'd recommend liometopum occidentale one of my favorites. They lay large batches of eggs and form large colonies quickly they're also a polymorphic species. If someone can suggest a similar type it might fit your studies. Other than that maybe harvester ants they're a great beginner species and are easy to feed as their main diet consists of seeds. They are polymorphic and also form large colonies at a fairly quick rate. (I'm a beginner myself so take my advice with a grain of salt)

#7 Offline Ants4fun - Posted March 14 2019 - 8:11 PM

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If you are looking for a larger species that will reach maturity fast (may be useful for research purposes), consider Formica.
They can get into the hundreds in under 12 months, and are pretty good sized.

They generally have smaller colonies, and it would be hard to take several hundred workers at a time. They are also harder to found than Camponotus sp. And Formica, at least in the midwest, won't get into the hundreds in a year's time. Maybe closer to 30 or so.

Edited by Ants4fun, March 14 2019 - 8:12 PM.


#8 Offline Ants4fun - Posted March 14 2019 - 8:14 PM

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If you were in California I'd recommend liometopum occidentale one of my favorites. They lay large batches of eggs and form large colonies quickly they're also a polymorphic species. If someone can suggest a similar type it might fit your studies. Other than that maybe harvester ants they're a great beginner species and are easy to feed as their main diet consists of seeds. They are polymorphic and also form large colonies at a fairly quick rate. (I'm a beginner myself so take my advice with a grain of salt)


Pogonomyrmex SP. are a great recomendation, as they have large colonies once mature, but they are also pretty slow growers. But, again, it depends on where he lives.

#9 Offline Serafine - Posted March 14 2019 - 9:31 PM

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They generally have smaller colonies, and it would be hard to take several hundred workers at a time. They are also harder to found than Camponotus sp. And Formica, at least in the midwest, won't get into the hundreds in a year's time. Maybe closer to 30 or so.

Most Serviformica species can raise a very impressive amount of brood in a very short time. In the wild they often take heavy losses when raided by Raptiformica, Formica s str or Polyergus slave-makers. Just throw enough protein at them and they will explode.

 

HOWEVER, another thing you should consider is different ants behave in different ways. Not every ant may be suited for your experiment.

 

If you keep Camponotus you will not see the typical "ant trails" many of the smaller species create (you may think you're seeing them but that is because the tubing basically limits the pathways the ants can travel along) - Camponotus forage and hunt in packs of a few to a few dozen ants and they're generally not as great when it comes to teamwork as smaller ants (and they don't need to, a single Camponotus major can easily cut a dozen Formica workers into pieces - or hundreds of Lasius workers).

 

And while Serviformica can form ant trails to patches of aphids they usually rather forage alone or in small groups as they are expert runners - in the wild they can quickly strafe through enemy territory and even raid lonely workers of other species to steal their food (Formica fusca for example loves to raid workers of Lasius niger, sometimes they even wait around their nest entrance to pounce on them when they come back from their foraging trips and after a short fight the Formica fusca usually runs away with whatever the Lasius worker was carrying).

 

Temnothorax (acorns ants) don't even form trails at all (they are experts in tandem running), yet they will quickly congregate on any food item near their nest.

 

Typical "trail makers" include most of the smaller ants that can be found in urban areas like Lasius niger/neoniger, Tetramorium sp and Pheidole megacephala (although I would not recommend to keep P. megacephala as they are tiny, invasive, ecologically devastating and very able to establish indoors).

 

 

 

Considering maintenance - the best way to keep ants if you want the reduce maintenance to a minimum is in test tube. The standard 16x150mm tube is perfect for most smaller ants, larger ants or larger colonies can also be kept in 30x200mm tubes. If you use a plastic straw as entrance (and plug the rest of the entrance with cotton) such tubes last between 6 and 14 months.

 

Another trick is to fill the outworld with a bottom layer of grout or sand-clay mix (2-3cm) and at one place form a sort of valley as if you'd want to make a small pond. After the grout/sc-mix is dry (which may take up to week even with small setups) just fill up that valley with sand. Ants LOVE to drop their garbage onto patches of sand and you can collect all of it very easily - you do NOT want your ants to stick their garbage everywhere (or even under their tube) because that's a pain to remove, especially with larger colonies.


Edited by Serafine, March 15 2019 - 3:10 AM.

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#10 Offline Ants4fun - Posted March 15 2019 - 5:29 AM

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In the midwest, your average formica queen will raise about 10 workers before diopause. By the next diapause they should be in the hundreds. But, their growth rate isn't that much better than C. Pennsylvanicus which is also commonly found here. And, most mature formica colonies here have small colonies, usually only numbering a couple thousand.

Yes, trail making is usually reserved for smaller sp. Although, P. Megacephala isn't found here, you may be able to find P. Bicarinata or something similar.

#11 Offline ANTdrew - Posted March 15 2019 - 7:03 AM

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Tetramorium are small, but indestructible. Within two months, they will number in the hundreds. The queens are really easy to find in June as well. I'd vouch for starting with them.


"The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer." Prov. 30:25


#12 Offline Rstheant - Posted March 15 2019 - 2:25 PM

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If you are looking for a larger species that will reach maturity fast (may be useful for research purposes), consider Formica.
They can get into the hundreds in under 12 months, and are pretty good sized.


This is true, but I think they are a little harder to raise in the queen stage. I could be wrong.
My current colonies: :yes:
1x Camponotus fragilis
1x Camponotus sansabeanus
1x Camponotus semitestaceus
2x Camponotus vicinus
1x Camponotus quercicola
1x Camponotus modoc
1x Liometopum occidentale
1x Mrymecocytus mexicanus
1x Mrymecocytus navajo
2x Mrymecocytus tenuinodis
1x Novomesser cockerelli
1x Solenopsis xyloni
1x Veromessor andrei
1x Veromessor pergandei

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#13 Offline Ant_Dude2908 - Posted March 15 2019 - 2:31 PM

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Formica are extremely easy to raise. Back in Washington, I had my first ever queen (Formica pacifica) go from 0 to over 2000 workers in 2 years.
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#14 Offline Serafine - Posted March 15 2019 - 6:24 PM

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If we had any information about the kind of experiment you are planing to do it would be much easier to recommend an ant species. Otherwise it may happen that you end up with ants that are completely unsuitable for the tests you're intending to do.


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#15 Offline antking117 - Posted March 16 2019 - 5:16 AM

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Tetramorium are small, but indestructible. Within two months, they will number in the hundreds. The queens are really easy to find in June as well. I'd vouch for starting with them.

I think this may be far fetched. Here in Nebraska we get mostly Tetramorium where in the south you will find a ton of Solenopsis invicta (not stating you live in the south, but providing example of how crazy abundant Tetramorium is here). I have raised many Tetramorium queens and within the first year they usually only get about 10-30 workers. The next year, however, they do get into the hundreds, and even more the later years. Just trying to provide in most cases accurate information.


Edited by antking117, March 16 2019 - 5:22 AM.

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#16 Offline bleepboop - Posted March 16 2019 - 9:39 AM

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Hey everyone, thank you very much for the input, I really appreciate it.

 

As for more specific info, we are located in Indiana, and from what I've read so far oha, pavement ant and black carpenter are pretty common, so I think I'll start from searching for these in the area. There are a few things I am trying to investigate, including interaction (both in-colony and between colonies), foraging behavior and any other curious features we notice along the way that we could quantify in some meaningful way.

 

I'm not too concerned about the differences between species, because my primary motivation to look into ants was that they seemed like the best low-maintenance example of eusocial animal, and I needed something to compare to other existing data concerning non-eusocial animals like fruit flies and stuff. We will definitely try out a few different species to look at the similarities and differences, but that's for the long term and I need to have a working setup and an outcome to justify the continuation of project (as well as funding!), so I wanted to focus on a resilient, fail-proof species until I get a greenlight to try out an assortment of interesting stuff.

 

Again, I really appeciate all the suggestions and references to resources, this really saves me a lot of trial and error. I'll stick around to ask more questions and exchange notes, and probably post some updates every now and then.



#17 Offline CoolColJ - Posted Yesterday, 10:01 PM

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for general ant keeping stuff, the Ants Australia playlist is good

 


Current ant colonies -
1) Opisthopsis Rufithorax (strobe ant), Melophorus sp2. black and orange
Pheidole antipodum colonies...  Polyrhachis rufifemur, Camponotus suffusus bendingesis, Myrmecia fulvipes, Colobopsis macrocephala
Journal = http://www.formicult...ra-iridomyrmex/

Heterotermes cf brevicatena termite pet/feeder journal = http://www.formicult...feeder-journal/




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