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RPT's Camponotus Journal

camponotus winter maintenance

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#1 Offline rptraut - Posted February 15 2023 - 3:23 AM

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RPT's Camponotus Colonies - The Greenhouse Colony

 

I have written about my Camponotus pennsylvanicus colonies and their formicariums before in the Formicariums and Outworlds section and various other posts.   Someone suggested that I write a journal about my oldest colony, the Greenhouse colony, so I'll use this journal to tell you about them and the other Camponotus colonies that I keep. 

 

The Greenhouse colony is the oldest ant colony that I have, including all the other ants that I keep.  I tried many times since I was young to keep ants, with varying success.  Usually, the life of a colony was short lived as I rarely found a queen and, to be honest, sixty years ago, there was very little information available about ant keeping and only Uncle Milton's ant farm to go by as an example of a formicarium.  More recently I've been fortunate to find entire colonies, mainly in firewood, and came close to actually installing them and keeping them but something always caused them to fail.  Once, I unknowingly killed an entire colony by using toxic glue in their formicarium.  But, I found this forum, learned about ant keeping and began to develop my own ideas about how an ant colony should be kept.  I hope you will find this journal a place to learn from my experience.

 

In the fall of 2020, I was fortunate to find the Greenhouse colony in an old attaché case that I had thrown on the "to be burned" pile years before.  I opened it to check one last time before throwing it on the fire and realized that a fairly large carpenter ant colony was living in it.  I plugged up their access hole and put them in my garage for hibernation.  The formicarium that I designed for them is shown below.  Below that is a picture of how it looked when I opened it up yesterday for winter maintenance.  It is made out of a drawer insert for silverware that I bought at the hardware store.  I drilled holes in it with screens for ventilation, holes for a venting tower and a water tower, and holes between the dividers tor the ants to move between chambers.  I also added some dividers to section off a small area for the queen and her entourage.  I cut a piece of acrylic for the top and tried to make it fit tight enough to make escape impossible.  Small spaces are inevitable, so to eliminate them I caulked around the outside edge.  Of course, I would need to be able to remove this cover in the future, so before I put on the clear silicone caulking, I liberally applied Vaseline to the inside edge of the bottom section.  I didn't put any on the acrylic lid so the caulking would stick to it and not to the side because of the Vaseline.  After the caulking had cured, I ran a sharp knife through the Vaseline around the edge to free the caulking and it lifted out perfectly.  The silicone is flexible enough that when the lid is replaced it slides in place easily and no gaps. 

 

2023-02-13 015.JPG

 

The next cover is red cellophane that I find is very effective with Camponotus to reduce stress while being observed.  I don't find it works as well for other types of ants and I believe my Camponotus queen can see light or something because she high tails it for cover as soon as I lift the lid.. This is why I have a black out cover on the right hand side as the queen hangs out there.  I think a safe refuge for the queen is a must if you want to observe the colony and not interrupt egg laying.  I feel quite confident that the queen is doing well when I see lots of brood and nest activity.  I don't need to see the queen.

 

  2023-02-13 002.JPG

 

Yesterday I did the winter maintenance with this colony.  I did this last winter and it was very successful so I'm doing it again.  Initially, this formicarium was too big for the size of the colony, but I wanted to put them in something that would be big enough to last them for a number of seasons.  The first season I kept these ants in this formicarium it was completely empty, so as you can imagine, they used a large part of it for garbage and had a very messy nest.  So, last winter I cleaned everything out and filled the empty chambers with wood shavings.  I have to stress that it isn't sawdust, it's pine shavings from a planer which is less dusty and is in bigger pieces so the ants can carry it easily.  I was aware of some comments in other posts about wood shavings being transported into the outworld and making a mess, so I installed a second access tube and attached a small garbage outworld to it.  I put some wood shavings and some of their garbage in it so they would get the idea.  Also, in spring instead of hooking them up to the outworld right away, I fed them sugar water and food in their entrance tube only.  

 

As soon as spring warmed up they began rearranging the furniture and moving shavings into the garbage outworld.  After about a week, I felt they were ready and hooked them up to the outworld.  They did move some shavings into it, but most continued to be put out with the garbage.   Wood shavings are easy to vacuum out of the outworld anyways and there was very little garbage in the nest.  The shavings I cleaned out yesterday were fairly clean but were quite wet, so I cleaned everything out and put in clean shavings, some of which I soaked in water for nest humidity.    I also drilled two more access holes between dividers and made some repairs to the water tower where some really small ants had managed to escape through the screen.  Throughout this entire operation the ants stayed unaware and undisturbed, one of the beauties of keeping Camponotus.  When they're hibernating. they are completely oblivious to disturbance.

 

2023-02-13 007.JPG

 

After all the repairs had been completed, I reassembled the formicarium.  I use a blackout cover with an observation port cut into it that I keep covered with a piece of black felt.  Finally, I keep this colony in my greenhouse and there are times late in the day when it is in direct sunshine.  To prevent it from becoming overheated, I keep it covered with a white ventilated top.

 

2023-02-13 016.JPG

 

It's hard to know just how old the Greenhouse colony was when I found it, but since then I have raised other colonies from queens and I realize that it must have been in that attaché case from the beginning when it was thrown on the junk pile. Probably three years because their winter huddle was about the size of two golf balls.  Their winter huddle yesterday didn't look that much bigger, but I know there are guard posts in their outworld where groups of ants are overwintering away from the main nest.  

 

2023-02-13 017.JPG

 

The colony is going to spend the rest of the winter in my garage, mainly because it stays a cold, consistent temperature, something I can't expect in the greenhouse.  I think it's important to have as little variation in temperature during hibernation as possible to reduce the risk of the ants waking from hibernation prematurely and lately our outside temperatures have been too much like spring for mid February.  

 

2023-02-13 018.JPG

 

To finish this entry, I'll describe the Camponotus pennsylvanicus colonies that I currently keep.  I estimate that the Greenhouse colony has seen five seasons and at one point last season I would have sworn there were at least a thousand workers when I lifted the lid.  I have four colonies that are two seasons old with about 20 workers each, and two colonies that after one season have seven workers each.  This is a picture of the brood pile of the Greenhouse colony on July 11th last year.

 

2022-07-11 021.JPG

 

This is the summer location of the Greenhouse colony.  The nest chamber is on the right, the garbage outworld is in the centre and one of their outworlds is on the left.  Tubing connects them to two other outworlds further to the left.  You might notice coiled tubing in the centre of the setup.  This outworld is divided in two but they have to travel through three feet of coiled tubing to go from one side to the other.  They also have to travel through a total of ten feet of tubing to reach the second and then the third outworld, the location of the sugar/water.  I can feed them meat and insects in any of the outworlds.

 

2022-07-11 015.JPG

 

I'm not sure what the protocol is in this type of forum, but if anyone has any comments or questions about this or any of my other posts, please let me know what you think.  I welcome your feedback.

RPT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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My father always said I had ants in my pants.

#2 Offline Full_Frontal_Yeti - Posted February 15 2023 - 9:11 AM

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Great read, thanks.

Also giving the "big picture" was a real key for me. I see lots of posts with images of out worlds and nests, but all up close with no way to understand what the total package setup is/how it all looks and fits together as a whole.


I had to put a little screen vent on my tubing to the otuworld right by the nest exit, as it was collecting a bit of condensation from the nest humidity. Do you get that sometimes in your setup or is their nest exit able to be away from the more humid parts of their nest?

Edited by Full_Frontal_Yeti, February 15 2023 - 9:11 AM.


#3 Offline rptraut - Posted February 15 2023 - 10:50 AM

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This is my first journal and I'm pleased to hear that you enjoyed this entry and thank you for your question.   

 

If you look very closely you can see that I installed vents (Ants Canada type) along the tubing and at the beginning and end of the tubing.  I put them there, not so much for the condensation, but because the tubing can get very warm in the sun.  These ants are kept in a greenhouse.  Although the nest section is mostly in the shade, some of the tubing does get sunshine and can get warm enough to kill ants, I'm sure.  So, I put in the vents for heat dissipation, reducing the condensation in the tubing is probably a nice side benefit.   I also put in larger tubing between the nest and the outworld which probably increases air circulation as well.  I put in the larger tubing because the ants were having difficulty moving larger food items, (crickets, grasshoppers etc) through the smaller tubing from the outworld to the nest.  Again, better air circulation is probably a nice side benefit.

 

I used a venting tower in this setup because it helps to pull air through the nest as the hot air rises.  The ants are quite capable of blocking off the tower and air inlets with wood shavings to regulate the temperature and humidity inside the nest.  They also open it up when they need more air and the wood shavings make it easy for them to do this.  They have also used the shavings to build walls inside the nest.  No wonder we call them "Carpenter ants"!


My father always said I had ants in my pants.

#4 Offline rptraut - Posted March 12 2023 - 12:24 AM

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Camponotus Winter Storage

 

Quite a few years ago I was lucky enough to find an old water cistern under a breezeway at the back part of our house.  I turned it into a root cellar as it's basically a concrete tank that is about six feet (two meters) under the surface of the ground.   Right now it's a constant 9.5 degrees C at 79% relative humidity.  As you can see by the pictures below, I used a trap door to access the cellar, and stairs that are more like a ladder to get down into it.  Although it's deep, it isn't very wide.  All of my ants are stored in the cellar for hibernation, some are stored on shelves, while the smaller ones are boxed up and stored together.  I usually cover them with newspaper as it can breath, it keeps humidity in, and keeps the dust off the formicaria.  

 

This is the breezeway between two outside doors.

2023-02-28 009.JPG

 

With the trap door open, you can see the root cellar and a pipe which is part of the ventilation system. 

 2023-02-28 001.JPG

 

Larger formicaria are usually stored on trays to make handling easier.  I put most of these colonies in the cellar at the beginning of November and I check them every two weeks for hydration.  Two weeks ago I took out some colonies that needed a head start.  The remaining ones will be taken out at the end of March.  

2023-02-28 003.JPG

 

Smaller colonies and founding formicaria are boxed together.  I put a piece of cardboard on the bottom of the container and keep it moist.  My colonies keep quite nicely in my root cellar like this over winter.

2023-02-28 008.JPG

 

 

 


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My father always said I had ants in my pants.

#5 Online ANTdrew - Posted March 12 2023 - 3:27 AM

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That looks like an absolutely ideal setup for diapause!
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"The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer." Prov. 30:25
Keep ordinary ants in extraordinary ways.

#6 Offline ColAnt735 - Posted March 12 2023 - 5:45 AM

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I agree that setup is perfect.
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"If an ant carries an object a hundred times it's weight,you can carry burdens many times your size.


#7 Offline rptraut - Posted March 12 2023 - 6:58 PM

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For years I've stored vegetables, fruit, and bonsai trees in this root cellar.  It seemed a natural for ant storage as well.  


My father always said I had ants in my pants.

#8 Offline rptraut - Posted March 20 2023 - 2:14 AM

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My Camponotus Colonies

 

In a previous post you met the Greenhouse Colony so in this entry I'll show you the rest of the Camponotus colonies that I'm keeping right now.  The photo below shows the colonies, plus I have one other queen and workers from last season that are in a test tube.  The colony on the left is from a queen that I found last season, housed in a natural founding formicarium.  The other colonies are two seasons old and were all developed by queens I found.  This is how they looked when I pulled them out to check them during diapause.  Colony one, (second from the left) and colony four (extreme right) had brood chambers attached late last season which they began to use so I left them attached for hibernation.  The brood chambers are an attempt to see if the ants will use a larger nesting area while still having just the original outworld.   I plan to do something different with colonies two and three. 

 

2023-02-28 004.JPG

 

 

Colony three has always been a more vigorous and faster developing colony than the others.  At the end of the first season, she had eight workers while the others had six or seven and at the end of the second season she had at least 25 workers.  I decided to make them an all-in-one formicarium that was worthy of such a dynamic colony.  I used an Exo Terra Faunarium and it has all the usual additions. 

 

2023-03-02 001.JPG

 

 

In the front is a feeding port and at the right front is the sugar/water feeding tube.  To the left is an oasis with the fill port at the front.  On the left there is also a fill port for the water tower in the nest.  On the extreme right is a tube for garbage, with some shavings in it to get them going.  I mounted a piece of wood to the inside back that I had made chambers in with a router.  I decorated it with a picture of a chicken coop, just the kind of place where these ants like to live.  In the outworld portion there is a feeding platform, water tower, and lots of places to explore and occupy the ants.  If you look very closely you can see that I have siliconed a piece of heavy cellophane across the entire top to provide an overhang which I treated with mineral oil for escape prevention.  I cut an access hole in the center for feeding and cleaning.

 

I used a blackout cover on the back, when removed you can see the chambers that are routed in the pine.   I tried to make chambers that reflected the way I saw my Greenhouse colony using their nest area.  I loosely filled the chambers with wood shavings so the ants would be somewhat limited in the space available to them and hopefully keep it clean.  Sponges along the bottom absorb water from the overflow of the water tower, to humidify the nest.  

 

2023-03-02 004.JPG

 

The photo below shows how I intended to connect the colony in their founding formicarium to their new home in the coop.  

 

2023-03-02 009.JPG

 

 

It took the ants about four days to remove the appropriate amount of shavings and move their brood and queen into their new housing.  I was then able to remove the founding formicarium, clean and refurbish it, and then install the colony that was still in a test tube from last season.  It only took them one day to make the move.  

 

2023-03-11 001.JPG

 

Both colonies have settled in nicely and are raising brood.  Now to figure out some housing for colony two, something a little grander than a chicken coop I think, maybe a castle, hmm, I'll have to see what I can do......

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


My father always said I had ants in my pants.

#9 Online ANTdrew - Posted March 20 2023 - 4:46 AM

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Healthy colonies! Nice work. 


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

#10 Offline rptraut - Posted April 1 2023 - 10:01 PM

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Coop Colony Update  02AL23

 

Just a quick update on the progress of the Coop Colony as they settle into their new formicarium.  They seem to be progressing nicely and their brood pile must be getting quite close to eclosing, 

 

 

2023-04-01 001.JPG

 

 

 


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My father always said I had ants in my pants.





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