This journal was originally posted on a small Polish forum. I've decided to rewrite it in here due to rarity of prospering colonies of Camponotus fallax in captivity. I'd like to show how I keep my colony for future keepers of Camponotus fallax - and also to show off on an international board.
The journey began on 27.04.2019. The day before was first warm day of that year, so local ant keepers speculated that this species is going to fly. At the time I believed they fly late in the evening, spend the cold night hidden and venture to found a nest in the morning. I started searching for queens climbing up trees on sunrise with a friend. He has found two queens, but I wasn't lucky. We decided that it is not worth searching anymore at around 10:00 and I started heading home, still looking at the trees I was passing. On 10:25 I've found a queen climbing up a tree, around 1 meter above the ground.
In 2021 I have witnessed C. fallax flight and it wasn't really in the evening, they were flying at around 16:00-17:00.
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I have placed her in a regular test tube setup. I have seen many people trying more sophisticated setups with cork/bark/wood placed inside the tube, but I do not think those are needed. What's actually important is to keep the tube warm - if I recall correctly she was in 27-30°C range at all times. She was also placed in complete darkness and wasn't disturbed much - I checked on her once a week at most.
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In their first season 11 workers were born, none of which died prematurely. I think that this is an amount that is in upper range of first season numbers, as the queen was caught very early in the year - C. fallax flights happen up to the first half of June. At some point during this season I have either moved them to a tube with cork divider or added one to original tube - frankly speaking I do not remember.
I couldn't overwinter them in a fridge in that year, so they have spent a long time in diapause just under my window, in around 15°C. When the temperatures outside dropped to around 0-5°C I have placed them on my balcony, packed in some insulation and covered from the sun. After 1,5 months, around New Year, I took them back under the window for a week and then placed them in room temperature until they went out of diapause.
In the second season they started growing much more quickly compared to the first season, but it still wasn't a rapid tempo in general ants world. They're from Myrmentoma subgenus, after all.
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2020.03.08 First major worker appeared. Much sooner than I expected.
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2020.03.10 Another one appeared. Just look how ridiculously small does the nanitic look next to them.
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2020.04.19 They started using the tube leading to the outworld as another chamber of the nest.
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Soon after this photo I moved them to a formicarium with cork nest. It's called "Brand" and is quite popular in Poland. It has huge issues with poor ventillation and I wouldn't recommend copying my exact formicarium choice, however a cork nest seems to be a very good choice for them. I haven't taken too many photos in that time. By June 2020 they were already in stagnation and on 23.06.2020 I have placed them in a fridge. Before you shake your head thinking "but it's far from winter!" - keep in mind that ants kept in apartments get unnaturally constant and high temperatures all year long, with artificial lightning as well. I am convinced they do not know what is the time of year outside.
I have decided to experiment and take them out after just a month. Shortly speaking, it was a mistake, the colony wasn't ready yet and they have stayed in diapause for 3 more months, eventually starting their third season on 23.10.2020.
They quickly dug some chambers which were not visible from both sides even though the cork is just 10 mm thick.
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2021.01.02 New year is welcomed with a massive amount of pupae.
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2021.02.04 They are slowly slowing down with the amount of brood. Or they have moved more of it out of my sight. I can't tell.
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2021.03.25 Diapause time. Part of the colony lives now in a piece of cork bark I have placed as a decoration in their outworld.
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The colony went into the fridge on 10.04.2021.
I have given them a proper time in the cold his time, taking them out after full 3 months. It definitely was better for the ants, as they went out of diapause much sooner this time. The first pupa appeared 3 weeks after they were taken out of the fridge - quite a difference from 3 months last season.
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2021.08.11 A lot of large pupae appeared. Can you guess what's about to happen?
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2021.08.23 Yup, alates! I was honestly surprised, because they come from overwintering larvae. This would mean that a gyne spends actually TWO winters within the nest before flying - once as a larva and once as a winged adult. These large pupae appeared too soon to hatch from this seasons eggs.
And a new nest. This time it's a nest I highly recommend (Zwierzyniec from Anthillshop - unfortunately that's a small, Polish only shop).
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At this time the colony was still occupying the old nest and the piece of cork bark. In the next photos they were all forced to move to the new nest - yes, by brute force of tearing the old nest and bark into shreds. I was really surprised to learn they were using almost all of the area of the old nest, but they could skillfully chew tunnels in such manner that you couldn't spot a single missing grain of cork from any side. And I remind you, it was just 10 mm thick piece of it. It goes well with my observation of wild colonies - that Camponotus fallax nests mostly in the bark of trees unless the wood is quite rotten already. They are adapted to making thin nests.
2021.08.28 Lots of alates. All of them are female.
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2021.08.28 An overview of whole colony.
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2021.10.19 The colony is preparing for winter rest. Few pupae are still present, but no eggs in sight.
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2021.11.01 I have spotted a single male alate. I suspect he could hatch from one of the last pupae of the season - unlike the females, which came from first ones.
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The colony has finished their fourth season and was placed in the fridge at the beginning of December 2021. I have roughly counted them: there is around 400 workers, 40 alates and 850 larvae. My plan for their fifth season is to place them on my balcony in early spring, allowing them to wake up at the same time as the wild colonies do. I hope to witness the alates flying off to mate with wild colonies. I currently live about 500 meters from the place I caught the queen, so I am not worried that I'm about to introduce some foreign genes into the pool.
Some general tips I have for other keepers:
1. Give them a good source of heat. In their first two seasons, when they were still in the test tube they were constantly kept in 27-30°C. In their third and fourth seasons I was strongly heating part of their nest and they didn't move away from it until the temperature reached around 37°C. But never heat the whole nest, allow them to run away if the heat is too strong. That's why I didn't go with such high temperatures while they were in a test tube - they had nowhere to run.
2. They can live in quite dry nests, but they don't mind high humidity. I have overwatered their new nest when I first attached it and they happily moved part of the brood in chambers with droplets of condensed water as soon as the new nest was heated more than the old one. Nevertheless, always give them access to fresh water, so they could water the nest if they need to.
3. Don't check on them too often when they are still small. They seem to be sensitive to light - which also is consistent with my observation of wild colonies, they are the most active right after sunset.
4. Don't catch queens walking near trails of workers, even if they are wingless. They seem to drop their wings and take on duty of worker/freeloader easily. None of queens caught in such situations even tried to start a colony, not even when broodboosted.
5. There is nothing wrong with hibernating ants as soon as they hit diapause, but hibernate them for 3 months.
Feel free to ask any questions! I'll be happy to answer them.
Edited by Kowal, January 13 2022 - 4:42 PM.