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How To Find and Catch Queen Ants

find catch ant queen queen mating flight trap founding chamber blacklight black light pool crystals guide tutorial

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#1 Offline Crystals - Posted October 9 2015 - 11:57 AM


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How To Find And Catch Ant Queens

Some Background First:

An ant nest will produce winged ants called alates usually once a year (the time they fly varies depending on the species).  These are princes and princesses that will embark on the mating flight at the right time.

Most alates will only mate when they have flown high into the sky, so if you disturb an ant hill and see winged ants, don’t bother collecting them.  They haven’t mated and are infertile.  It is nearly impossible to get them to mate in captivity.

Alates usually fly just after a rain or in high humidity (more common in locations that do not get snow, like California).  Each species seems to send the alates out on the same day as others of their species.  There may be 1-5 flights over a 1-3 week period.

Queens can vary greatly in size from one species to the next.  Some are only 2mm, while others can reach 14mm.


Wings are not guarantee of fertility.  I have had wingless queens who were infertile, and I have had several queens who kept their wings and they turned out to be fertile.

Once you have a queen, the first thing to do is to get your ant identified. Post an ID Request thread in the ID request section so we can help you ID your queen.  Usually the genus is enough to get a clear idea on how to care for your ant.  Some ants may be social parasites or semi-claustral and this can make their care requirements a little harder to meet. (More reading on types of queens here)

How To Tell A Queen Apart From Workers?

A Queen will usually shed her wings shortly after landing.  Sometimes the queens will keep their wings for years even if they are mated.

A queen is larger than the males.  The males have a very pointy gaster (abdomen) and are only 1/3 of the queen’s size.  The males also have extremely tiny heads with huge eyes. 

After mating the males die, if they don’t mate they will only live 1-3 days without the colony to feed them.  Males always keep their wings.

The queens and princes have larger thoraxes (mid-sections) than the workers do.


Tools for Collecting Queens:
Depending on how you are planning to catch your queen will determine what tools will be best.  In general, you will want various containers, a small shovel, and featherweight forceps.
Here are two threads that go over things to catch queens and a general Anting Kit

Ways To Find Or Catch A queen:

Hiking or Just Being Outside
Sometimes queens will just walk right by you shortly after their flight.  It is easiest to find them on cement or open bare ground.  It can be easy to spot them on a sidewalk or driveway as the queens run around trying to find a good place to dig their new home.  You may walk along the sidewalk for days and weeks and see nothing, but one day you will see dozens.
Sometimes you will spot founding chambers where a queen has recently started digging.

Founding Chambers
Species in warm dry locations will dig deeper and faster than those in more northern locations, or locations that get snow.  In places like California most species will dig deep after several days, in locations like Alberta, queens will usually only dig a few inches down.  There are several videos and pictures at the bottom showing founding chambers and how to dig them up.
In locations that get snow, ants will often dig under small rocks or logs and simply turning over rocks or logs can yield founding queens and/or small colonies.

Check Water Sources (Like a pool)
Ants are not the most graceful of fliers and they often fly into water, such as your pool.  Queen are usually quite hardy and once they dry off, they will be fine.  Do not be surprised if they have their wings still, they have not had a chance to shed them.
Some people have mentioned that they leave a light on above their pool overnight and tether several floating objects in the middle of the pool and they occasionally end up with hundreds of queens in the water and on the objects.  Also check the pool skimmer, since that is where most floating objects end up.
Even a kiddie pool has been known to trap queens, especially if it is near a light source.




This is a way to get the queens to come to us.
Ant queens are attracted to UV light when flying at night.  Your setup can be as simple as replacing the bulb on your porch light and walking out every 10min or so to see what has arrived.  Or it can be as complex as a portable unit that catches any queens that fly into it.  Some people have noticed that larger queens often fall short, but can be found on the ground in the immediate area.
Putting a white sheet up will increase the effectiveness of the UV bulb.  There are also handheld black light units out there for under $30. 
Some people take a white bed sheet and a handheld UV light into their backyard, they drape the bed sheet over some object like a fence or railing and lean/hang the blacklight against it.  They then just wait or walk around and look for queens that may have fallen short.
Queens flying to a blacklight source often take time to shed their wings, or may not shed them at all.
Yes, you will get other insects coming to say hi.  You can ignore them or collect them for ant food if you have larger colonies.

Many people have told stories of wandering into large parking lots or tennis courts at night that have one bright light, and finding dozens of queens running around on the pavement.

Inside Logs (more successful in northern locations)
Pulling apart rotten logs, or peeling the bark off of a dead tree can often yield some wood-dwelling species.  Even cracking open hollow twigs can sometimes yield a queen or a small colony.  A hammer can come in handy, as the claw on the back makes it much easier to dig through a log.  Be careful not to squish any queens.

Digging up a colony
I am not going to go indepth on this one, it is covered more in the Beginner's Guide and numerous other threads.
There are potential problems with collecting an entire wild colony, such as stress, potentially not catching the queen, mass worker die-offs, the queen is already older, as well as ensuring you are are not doing any harm to the environment or collecting a rare species.  Some species will also dig very deep, for example, some Pogonomyrmex have been found with nests over 5 meters deep.
Some species, like Myrmica in areas that get snow, only dig about 4" down and often only dig beneath rocks and lifting a rock can yield an entire colony.

I know a handful of species can be slowly and carefully flooded out of their nests, such as Solenopsis invicta and Linepithema humile.  Here is a link from a research group.  Most species will drown if you attempt to flood them.

Pitfall traps
Pitfall traps work with some species, if lined with an escape barrier.
A jar or any deep container buried in a low spot in the dirt works. You are likely to catch other insects as well.  Do not leave pitfall traps unless you plan to check them at least once a day. 
Not commonly used as it tends to catch many other insects that can kill any queen ant that falls in before you realize that she is even there.



In the end, finding an ant queen comes down to being patient and keep looking.  Some months of the year there will be few to no queens flying.  Perhaps you can find another hobbyist who can show you some good anting spots, or perhaps you can purchase a young colony from someone in your area.



Other General Links that may interest you
These, and many other interesting links, can be found in the List of Handy Links that is pinned in the General Section.
Link to Ant Mating Chart - http://www.formicult...g-chart/?p=1004
Link to Beginner's Guide - http://www.formicult...-for-beginners/
Link to Various Setups for Founding Queens - http://www.formicult...ounding-queens/
Link to Pictures of Formicariums & Outworlds - http://forum.formicu...-and-outworlds/
Link to What to look for when anting (How to find queens) - http://www.formicult...y-mated-queens/

Various Videos & Pictures:

 Queen on sidewalk: 

 Founding chambers: 

 Digging Up a founding chamber: 


 Queens in Water: 


Queens pulled out of a pool by Gregory



Pictures of Blacklight Setups: 
Drew's Black Light Build - http://www.formicult...ck +light +trap
Drew's blacklight on his truck

Portable blacklight with a car battery




More Videos are posted in the 3rd post.



Most of these pictures and videos are not mine.  They come from various members on this forum, with several coming from other sites and forums.

Edited by Crystals, July 31 2017 - 7:57 PM.

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#2 Offline AntsTexas - Posted October 9 2015 - 12:56 PM


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nice :)

Ant Queens found:


Solenopsis Invicta,  Solenopsis xyloni,  Brachymyrmex depilis/Sp,  Myrmecocystus Mimicus,  Pogonomyrmex barbatus,

Forelius pruinosus,  Camponotus sayi, Dorymyrmex insanus, crematogaster ashmeadi,



Ant Queens i have going right now:


camponotus sayi, solenopsis invicta, Myrmecocystus Mimicus, Forelius pruinosus

Pogonomyrmex barbatus, and some others (no i.d.)


YouTube:  AntsTexas


Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/cdockray1


Facebook page:  AntsTexas

#3 Offline Crystals - Posted October 9 2015 - 1:37 PM


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 Other Videos: 


Queen and male pulled from pool
Pogonomyrmex queen shedding her wings
Pogonomyrmex queen digging founding chamber
Finding ant queens/colonies in Alberta (Canada)

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#4 Offline William. T - Posted October 9 2015 - 3:21 PM

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Great resource!

Species I keep:


2 Lasius cf. Neoniger 30 workers

3 Camponotus Pennsylvanicus 35 workers

1 Camponotus sp. 35 workers

20 Tetramorium SpE 30 workers

10 Pheidole Sp. "Brown' 30 workers

9 Crematogaster cerasi 35 workers

1 Pheidole sp. 25 workers

1 Tapinoma Sessile 1300 workers

1 T. Sessile 220 workers

3 Lasius Interjectus 15 workers

3 Formica sp. "Metallic" 

4 Formica sp. "Dull"

1 Pheidole sp. "Red" 25 workers

2 Crematogaster sp. 25 workers

15 Lasius Neoniger

1  Tapinoma Sp.

#5 Offline antmaniac - Posted October 10 2015 - 2:23 AM


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Very good summary!

#6 Offline dspdrew - Posted October 10 2015 - 9:06 PM

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This is a copy of a post I made on another thread a while back that should probably be here also. Some of the content and pictures were already used in Crystal's post, so I'm sorry if some of it's a bit redundant.


The nice thing about desert "anting" is that there is tons of open undisturbed dirt that allows you to see their founding chambers. This means you don't have to know exactly where it's going to rain, but where it has already rained, since you can still dig the queens up for the next few days. That info is much easier to get, and a lot more accurate. In the desert there's pretty much only one thing that triggers mating flights, and that is rain. As a matter of fact, I don't even see hardly any ants out at all until it rains. But after the rain comes through, that place is just crawling with ants.


The first couple storms of the monsoon season that blow through, you can be almost 100 percent sure something will be flying after. If the storm comes through in the morning, and the species flies in the morning, then they will most likely be flying the next morning. If the storm comes through in the morning, and the species flies in the evening, then they'll most likely fly that evening, and so on. Generally they will wait for the ground to start to dry up a bit on the surface before flying. Clouds also seem to have an affect on morning fliers in the desert. if it rained the day before, and there was enough time for the ground to start drying up a bit on the surface, but it's still cloudy the next morning, they might not fly yet.


Unfortunately, in the desert there are not many rain gauges, as a matter of fact, there's not much of anything really. Also, the only weather history that seems to be kept and easily accessed is info for the major airports, therefor, when you know there is storm activity in the desert, just watch the Wundermap, or any other doppler radar website. Wundermap is great, because now they actually let you go back and watch the last 12 hours of radar, so you don't have to keep checking it over and over throughout the day (Unfortunately they ruined the website; it's garbage now). If you see an area of activity, just estimate the amount of rain falling, and if it's enough to puddle on the ground, then it's probably enough to trigger a flight. Below is the key for the coloring on the radar map. Based on how intense the rain is, just imagine how long it would have to be over a given area to produce some puddling and soak down pretty far into the ground. Obviously, really heavy rain wouldn't need to last very long to achieve this, whereas light rain would have to fall for a few hours. I've found that it usually doesn't take as much rain to trigger mating flights of smaller species, and takes a lot more to trigger flights of larger species like Myrmecocystus mexicanus. There are a few species that don't really follow this "rule" though. Camponotus fragilis for instance will fly with hardly any rain at all, and they're fairly large.


Color key for precipitation on a doppler radar map

Light green:  Light rain, or light rain aloft not reaching ground
Dark green:  Light to moderate rain
Yellow:  Moderate rain
Orange Heavy rain
Red:  Severe rain or rain and hail

Purple:  Intense rain and hail


Once you know there is a spot that received enough rain, take note of some cross roads and head right to that spot the next day if you want to hopefully catch a flight while it's happening. The radar is amazingly accurate, but sometimes can be off by 5 miles or so. Most of the time I did this, it has been spot on. It really is amazing how on your way to the spot (if it was a very small isolated storm), everything around you will be just absolutely bone dry, and then just in the middle of the bone dry desert, all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, there's mud tracked all over the road, and huge puddles everywhere. The accuracy amazes me every time. You can also go up to a few days later too if you just want to dig up founding chambers. After lots of trial and error, I have found that up to three days after you can find queens without excessive digging. Any more than three days, and you might be doing a lot of digging, depending how hot and dry it has been since the day of the flight. For me, the success rate has been around 30 percent on average, but much much worse more than three days later.


Here's a video of me digging up a founding chamber of a Myrmecocystus navajo queen in Pinyon Pines, California. This place is probably the easiest place to dig up queens of anywhere I have been. The ground is just soft sand as far down as I have dug, and the ant population is very dense. The day I was digging these up, there was a founding chamber about every four feet.


Pinyon Pines





When you are there within a day after they flew, they can be as easy as this to dig up, usually requiring nothing more than a simple scoop of a trowel.


This is a video of me, kellakk, and Chromerust digging up Veromessor pergandei and Myrmecocystus creightoni queens near Palm Desert.




You can see some good pictures of founding chambers in Crystal's post.


A black light is also a very good way to find queens. Any time you suspect they may be flying, just run a black light, and see what shows up. Insects are attracted to UV light, so they will fly right to you, making finding queens this way very little work. I'll run a back light and just sit there for an hour or two just plucking them off the sheet that the light's shining on.




Most of the queens you catch with a black light will probably still have their wings. I don't know exactly why they don't tear them off, but I think they're probably just too mesmerized by the light to remember or even care to do so.


As for the mountains and foot hills, things are a bit different. I can only speak of the mountains and foothills of Southern California though, because that's where I'm from, but I know many of the members here are too, so this should be pretty relevant for them.


In the low elevation mountains and foothills, I have found that there really aren't many large mating flights, but more of a longer drawn out period of random spurts of flights (with the exception of Solenopsis spp. and a few others). Most of the queens I've found in the foothills were wandering around at night, usually on really hot and humid evenings in the spring time and summer time. Like the day the first storm blows through the desert, the very first, really hot evening in Spring will be one of the best days for the foothills. Rain doesn't seem to be as much of a factor in these areas as it is in the desert. I find it's easier to spot queens at night with a flashlight, but I've cut back a lot on doing this because I'm usually alone at the time, and a lot of these areas are major mountain lion spots. Considering I would come home with maybe one or two queens on a good night, I've decided that it's just not worth the risk of being eaten. Instead what I do now, is sit in my truck and run my black light. This is not only a lot safer, but like I previously said, a lot less work too. The bad thing about the foothills is you have to be there when they're flying. You don't get the luxury of showing up a few days after the flights because you really aren't going to find founding chambers around there. You might find a few places where you can actually see the dirt, but the majority of the land is covered with such thick brush, that it's impossible to see anything.


This was one of the only spots in the foothills where I was able to dig up founding chambers, and they were Dorymyrmex insanus. This happened to be on a trail, which is usually one of the only places where there are large bare areas where you can see the dirt.




The higher elevation mountains (where pine trees grow in Southern California), is sort of like the foothills and lower elevations, only colder, and there seems to be much larger mating flights. It's also a lot more like "anting" up North or back East. Information on how to look for queens in those kinds of places is abundant because there seems to be a lot more people in the hobby that live in those places. On this forum though, there is a relatively large amount of people from the Southwest. Basically what you will hear a lot, is talk about flipping rocks and breaking open logs. This definitely applies to places up North and back East, as well as the higher elevation mountains here in the Southwest. The first really hot day in April, we walked up on some major Camponotus mating flights up in the mountains. In late summer, we showed up in the middle of some big Lasius mating flights. You can have some luck showing up a few days after a flight, because it's not as dry up there, and queens will hang out under rocks and logs for a while sometimes.


Here is a video of a high elevation species, Camponotus laevigatus digging a founding chamber in the giant rotted pine logs that they live in exclusively.



These are very easy to find if you are there at the right time. They will nearly always be found on these giant logs.

Edited by dspdrew, October 15 2017 - 7:19 PM.

#7 Offline Simtoon - Posted October 10 2015 - 9:27 PM



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Thanks mate, has helped me a lot in Spring at the moment so very excited to catch queens 

#8 Offline Tetramorium - Posted May 11 2016 - 7:18 PM



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I like the blacklight method, although I am wondering if it will attract stinging hymenoptera such as wasps. Thoughts?

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#9 Offline Crystals - Posted May 11 2016 - 7:30 PM


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I like the blacklight method, although I am wondering if it will attract stinging hymenoptera such as wasps. Thoughts?

I don't think I have ever seen wasps or bees flying around after dark unless their nest was disturbed.  I don't recall any people black lighting mentioning them either.

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#10 Offline dermy - Posted May 12 2016 - 1:24 AM


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I like the blacklight method, although I am wondering if it will attract stinging hymenoptera such as wasps. Thoughts?

I don't think so, since they will usually be sleeping in their nests.


Take this from me and my scary experience, wasps can and will fly at night time if their nests are disturbed.

#11 Offline dspdrew - Posted May 12 2016 - 1:35 PM

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I get wasps and bees on my black light sometimes.

#12 Offline Subverted - Posted May 12 2016 - 4:16 PM


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Ichneumon wasps are super commonly found at lights at night... Occasionally you also get a few day active wasps/bees that are attracted to the light.

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#13 Offline EnderzATwar411 - Posted September 24 2016 - 9:42 AM


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Where do i buy black lights...

#14 Offline Mdrogun - Posted September 24 2016 - 9:45 AM


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Where do i buy black lights...


You can buy them from stores like menards or Home Depot. Heres a link to the ones I have



Ready for Nuptial flights!

#15 Offline antgenius123 - Posted January 4 2017 - 2:36 AM


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Nice source
Currently own:
(1x) Camponotus Sp.
(1x) Pheidole aurivillii (?)
(1x) Monomorium Sp. (?)


#16 Offline StopSpazzing - Posted July 31 2017 - 7:29 PM


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First off thanks for a great guide!


Second, the "general Anting Kit" link is incorrectly typed: missing ':' in the url.



Tools for Collecting Queens:
Depending on how you are planning to catch your queen will determine what tools will be best.  In general, you will want various containers, a small shovel, and featherweight forceps.
Here are two threads that go over things to catch queens and a general Anting Kit



Don't Be A Spazz

Have you been to the Ant Keeping Wiki?

#17 Offline Crystals - Posted July 31 2017 - 7:58 PM


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First off thanks for a great guide!


Second, the "general Anting Kit" link is incorrectly typed: missing ':' in the url.




Thank you.

Thanks for pointing that out as well. I have corrected it.

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