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My Messor barbarus colony


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#1 Offline Ernteameise - Posted April 1 2023 - 8:57 AM

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Hello,

new ant keeper here.

I only very recently got back into it.

In my youth, I kept a small colony of Formica polyctena (wood ant) in a large homemade Formicarium/ Outworld in my room (for about 3 years) and even won the state science fair with my studies I did on them. I had always been fascinated by ants, even as a little kid!

 

Now fast-forward 30 years, and I am rediscovering my love for these animals.

I actually was looking online for another shrimp tank / Wabi Kusa to display in my living room, but then by pure accident, I came across all these amazing ant setups.

So I decided to get back into it!

 

I did some research (getting out all my old ant books, including the classic, “The Ants” by Hölldobler and Wilson, watched tons of Youtube videos) and haunted some forums), so I could decide on what I wanted to do.

I also thought it would be great to join this forum and start an ant keeping journal- to keep all my information, success and failures in one place and to also receive some input, constructive critisism and have some nice chats and discussions with all of you, the more experienced keepers.

It will also be a great place to come back to and to document the growth of my colony.

 

I wanted to start with a beginner species, and I remembered the cool harvester ants, which I watched during a holiday in Spain. So I relatively quickly decided on keeping Messor barbarus. This is also a quite pretty species, I have to say!

 

338878145-629279705705183-28974887919517

 

As for which setup, in the end, I bought a small starter set from Antstore (because it really looks pretty and professional!) and after watching some videos from Bruma Ants, I also wanted to try out an acrylic nest (just in case you are wondering about this weird mix). So on one shelf in my living room, I set up the AntCube, connected the acrylic nest with a tube to the AntCube, installed a small heating mat at the back of the DigFix- farm of the Cube and then set about looking for my colony.

 

338848370-546761294266330-37377384262658

 

I also added a couple of LED spotlights to the top of the shelf- these are not for permanent lighting, but for me to feed and clean and to take pictures and to watch the colony. They are off most of the time, especially when I am at my full-time job.

 

On several forums, it is recommended that beginners start out with a larger colony, larger than the usual queen and 10 workers which are sold online. I have seen that on a German trading side, German ant keepers were selling ants, so I contacted one of them. I was very positively surprised by this transaction- the seller was very responsible, he obviously cares for his animals very much, and I had to send him pictures of my setup and my credentials and he asked many questions to make sure I was up to it. I have heard very bad things about animals being sold online (or buying puppies at car boot sales!), so what a nice experience this was. The German keeper sold me a small established Messor barbarus colony with around 150 workers for my starting setup. He even sent me a small plastic cup with the excretions of the ants, to add to my new formicarium, to establish a toilet site and to keep their home scent.

 

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We had the ants shipped overnight, and the transport went smooth and they arrived at my place safely and I only found ONE single casualty after arrival.

 

338879803-1900516003642855-6310272671467

 

For the first few days after arrival, for some strange reason, the ants decided to live in the connection tube connecting the AntCube with the acrylic nest.

 

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A rare glimpse at the queen:

 

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They never were shy, they immediately took food and water, they used their plastic cup toilet and they started digging in the DigFix of the cube.

I was pretty sure, they would move into the AntCube and enjoy the warmth of the heating mat.

 

338815253-3129924937307036-3201707451063

 

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In my living room, it is 20 degrees Centigrade, and it can become warmer if the sun shines in the afternoon (the ants are kept outside any direct sunlight, though). I have a flat under the roof, so in deep winter, the living room will only have about 16-18 degrees centigrade (energy saving!!!) and in summer, especially a hot summer like last years, it can be around 30 degrees centigrade. I am not planning on using the heat mat on hot days, though. Looking at these temperature ranges in my flat, this should actually be pretty ideal for keeping Messor barbarus!

But then, what happened?

 

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The ants for some reason defied my expectation and instead of moving into the heated spa area, they moved into the acrylic nest. The acrylic nest! Which I thought would be end up as seed storage or rubbish dump!

Anyone has any ideas why?

 

I have been feeding them a whole range of mixed seeds (from the Antstore, some bird seed and seed the seller of my colony sent me), they also got some sugar water (which is not popular at all and only lone individuals visit on occasion), they got some pieces of organic walnut from our family orchard, pieces of organic egg from my dad’s chickens and I also bought them some protein fruit jellies (which they ignore). They even had some steak and a piece of chicken last week, which they both swarmed.

 

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The harvesters are very interesting to watch, they appear to be very clumsy. It took them a while to figure out how to pick up a round seed and how to transport it.

 

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They are also not very shy or stressed or even aggressive- when I open the lid, I think they by now mainly expect to be fed. I had been asked at work if these ants would bite. I said yes, the big majors could break the skin (since they also crack seeds). To demonstrated to my colleagues, I actually tried it out and had a large major climb on my fingers- but nothing really happened. The major got bored and started cleaning herself. So I reported back to work that my ants were not really the biting type.

 

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So this is what we are at today- one week after arrival.

The ants live in their acrylic nest, a small detachments digs some tunnels in the DigFix, a few workers patrol the outworld for food.

They even have started to create some rubbish dumping sites:

 

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Edited by Ernteameise, April 1 2023 - 9:02 AM.

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#2 Offline ANTdrew - Posted April 1 2023 - 9:45 AM

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An excellent setup and first update to your journal. I look forward to following!
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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.

#3 Offline Ernteameise - Posted April 1 2023 - 10:06 AM

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I have also noticed one of the majors who is very diligent with her guard duties.

She has been sitting on this rock for days now, always alert, always checking all the passing ants.

Really cool when I can pick out certain individuals and see which different roles they play!

 

Guard.jpg

 

Guard3.jpg


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#4 Offline Ernteameise - Posted April 2 2023 - 5:35 AM

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Today for the first time, I removed the red cover from the acrylic nest, since I was curious. I only did it for a few seconds, since they got a fright and I did not want to stress them anymore. But this is my colony right now, on the Second of April 2023.

They still have not moved into the nice cosy heated DigFix nest. But I also do not want to force them to do something they do not want to do, so as long as they like this, they can stay where they are. As I said, my current room temperature ranges from 20- 22 degrees centigrade depending on if it is a sunny day or not (and today is wet and dark outside).

 

Colony-in-acrylic-nest.jpg

 

 

I just love how strong and mediculous these ladies are. They even sort their seed according to size and shape!

 

Fruitfly-Seed-Transport.jpg

 

Today, fruitflies were on the menue. Since Messors are no hunters, I had to kill them beforehand, because otherwise the flies would have ended up in my living room.

They needed just 20 minutes to carry them all to the nest!

 

Fruitfly2.jpg

 

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How to get a large mass into the tube?

 

Fruitfly-transport.jpg

 

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Coming through! Delivery for the Queen!

 

Fruittfly-nest2.jpg


Edited by Ernteameise, April 2 2023 - 5:36 AM.

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#5 Offline Ernteameise - Posted April 5 2023 - 9:30 AM

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This morning, when I let some fresh air in while getting ready for work, I caught a half-frozen fly on my balcony, so that became breakfast for the colony.

They quickly carried it off to the nest.

 

0504-Fly.jpg

 

I also dared to have a another look under the red cover of the acrylic farm, just to see how the brood is doing.

I can see some brood, larvae and puppae, in the left and right chambers, and you can also see the queen in the right chamber.

They have also stored some of their seed in there.

I am new, and so I am not a very good judge, but I think they are doing okay?

I just still find it strange that the prefer to live there instead of the other farm, but maybe that is due to the red cover? Or maybe the humidity with the plaster mushroom humidifier is better?

 

0504-Kolonie2.jpg

 

I also love these guys doing their seed sorting.

They really store seed according to size and shape.

This is so cool.

Here you see the corner for small brown seed

 

0504-K-rner-sortieren.jpg

 

Also, it is said everywhere that harvester ants do not take sugar water, but I can see the occasional worker drinking from the sugar water. And I can definitely see that the volume is getting less and less and I need to refill soon.

So, yes, while they are not super enthusiastic about it, they still take a drink every now and then. I also offer normal fresh water right next to it in the arena in a test tube, so it is not thirst.

 

0504-Zuckerwasser.jpg


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#6 Offline VenomousBeast - Posted April 5 2023 - 10:56 AM

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This is an awesome journal! I love all the pictures and well organized structure! I look forward to more!

I have a question regarding the Digfix substrate. What would you say it's made out of? I've been wondering this for years, maybe you can enlighten me!


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Keeps:

1:Pogonomymex occidentalis

4: Tetramorium immigrans

2 Reticulitermes flavipes


#7 Offline Ernteameise - Posted April 5 2023 - 11:28 AM

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This is an awesome journal! I love all the pictures and well organized structure! I look forward to more!

I have a question regarding the Digfix substrate. What would you say it's made out of? I've been wondering this for years, maybe you can enlighten me!

Thank you!

This is what I strife for, since this is exactly what I love to look at myself.

This is why i like this forum so much, you can do these amazing ordered journals.

 

As for your question:

Well, in an interview, the Antstore owner answered this question (I think it is in that video where Ants Canada visits the Antstore).

It is sand contained in a resin foam matrix.

When you pick it up with forceps while cleaning, it is very soft and light (lighter than sand grains) and it is kind of fuzzy/ flaked, similar to artificial snow flakes which you use for decoration.

When you have the Digfix substrate in your hand, it is very soft and brittle and very light.

It however soaks in water and retains moisture.

It is actually a quite unique material.

 

In my case, the ants seem to enjoy digging in there, and they have already created tunnels, but they have not really moved in yet. The ants also use the material to cover the walls with it and creating their environment with it.

 

Here is how it looks like:

 

This is how I set it up before any ants were in the antcube (note the Seramis red clay at the left side, this is where I planned to water the farm).

Before the ants:

 

Digfix3.jpg

 

This is what the girls have made of the place so far (and yes, I am aware my watering of the upper left corner was a bit enthusiastic!);

after I released the beasts:

 

Digfix1.jpg

 

Digfix2.jpg


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#8 Offline VenomousBeast - Posted April 6 2023 - 3:42 AM

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This is an awesome journal! I love all the pictures and well organized structure! I look forward to more!

I have a question regarding the Digfix substrate. What would you say it's made out of? I've been wondering this for years, maybe you can enlighten me!

Thank you!

This is what I strife for, since this is exactly what I love to look at myself.

This is why i like this forum so much, you can do these amazing ordered journals.

 

As for your question:

Well, in an interview, the Antstore owner answered this question (I think it is in that video where Ants Canada visits the Antstore).

It is sand contained in a resin foam matrix.

When you pick it up with forceps while cleaning, it is very soft and light (lighter than sand grains) and it is kind of fuzzy/ flaked, similar to artificial snow flakes which you use for decoration.

When you have the Digfix substrate in your hand, it is very soft and brittle and very light.

It however soaks in water and retains moisture.

It is actually a quite unique material.

 

In my case, the ants seem to enjoy digging in there, and they have already created tunnels, but they have not really moved in yet. The ants also use the material to cover the walls with it and creating their environment with it.

 

Here is how it looks like:

 

This is how I set it up before any ants were in the antcube (note the Seramis red clay at the left side, this is where I planned to water the farm).

Before the ants:

 

Digfix3.jpg

 

This is what the girls have made of the place so far (and yes, I am aware my watering of the upper left corner was a bit enthusiastic!);

after I released the beasts:

 

Digfix1.jpg

 

Digfix2.jpg

 

 

Wow!! Thanks so much for the quick response! And a detailed one at that!! I've wanted to recreate the digfix material for a while now for my own personal use since it's such a cool material and rather genius. I'm one step closer to that, so thank you! I've been looking for that for a few months now. :lol:  


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Keeps:

1:Pogonomymex occidentalis

4: Tetramorium immigrans

2 Reticulitermes flavipes


#9 Offline Ernteameise - Posted April 7 2023 - 1:59 AM

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So today is a public holiday in Germany, which means I have some time to play with my Messors.

I tried out and documented with pictures several different food items to see how popular they were.

I already know they like seed of any shape, size or colour (well, they are harvesters) but I wanted to see which of the other items I offer are the most popular.

 

Today I offered:

- 1 small piece of pollen pellet (sold at the Antstore as source of protein)

- 2 freshly killed flies (it is still cold outside and they had seeked shelter on my balcony)

- 2 broken up sunflower seed

- 1 small piece of walnut

- 1 small piece of boiled egg (white and yolk)

 

Something immediately popular just after dropping it in are broken up sunflower seed

 

0704-Food4.jpg

 

These sunflower seed are even more attractive than freshly killed flies which are given at the same time

 

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Boiled egg (white and yolk) is also apparently more attractive than freshly killed flies:

 

0704-Food7.jpg

 

And pollen pellets are completely ignored, however, walnut also finds some love, even if it is not extremely popular

 

0704-Food-3.jpg


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#10 Offline Ernteameise - Posted April 7 2023 - 10:17 AM

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And I can add another favorite:

a tiny piece of a liver dumpling.

 

Liver dumpling soup is a German regional favorite food and many of us just love it as a "feel good" meal. It is a hot beef broth with freshly chopped chives and parsley and the "liver dumplings" (these are made from ground liver, raw egg, breadcrumbs, parsley, chives and seasoning). Even the most fussiest of my nieces and nephews who won't eat anything still go for this soup.

 

Anyways, on cold, dark and wet days, this soup is a great pick-me-up, so I thought I share a tiny piece of my dinner with the girls. I would say this experiment was a success.

 

0704-Food-Leberkl-schen.jpg


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#11 Offline ANTdrew - Posted April 7 2023 - 10:24 AM

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Yummy liver! I bet they would love bone marrow, too.
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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.

#12 Offline Locness - Posted April 7 2023 - 10:53 AM

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Ants eating better than me


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#13 Offline Ernteameise - Posted April 12 2023 - 11:40 AM

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While browsing online, I have seen that harvester ants, especially Messor, seem to like Quinoa seed.

So when I did grocery shopping today, I also bought some organic Quinoa seed to try it out with my Messors.

These seed were immediately popular.

 

1204-6.jpg

 

1204-7.jpg

 

1204-8.jpg


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#14 Offline Rrar - Posted April 12 2023 - 5:03 PM

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You know, feeding insects from outside isn't advisable as they could contain pesticides


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canada = boring!!!!!

I want attaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!

also: Camponotus ca02 ( probably not possible though)


#15 Offline T.C. - Posted April 12 2023 - 8:10 PM

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Meal worms are frequently favored by the species
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“If I am killed for simply living, let death be kinder than man.” -Althea Davis

#16 Offline Ernteameise - Posted April 12 2023 - 11:12 PM

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You know, feeding insects from outside isn't advisable as they could contain pesticides

Yes, this would be true if I collected insects in the vineyards or fields.

The orchard and the garden of my family are however organic, so there is a lesser chance for pesticides there.

But I am not living with my parents, I live 60km away in a different village, and my landlords are organic farmers and there is only forests and paddocks and organic veggie fields around the village / house, so I am not very worried that the flies I caught were laden with pesticides.

 

If anything, I am more worried that I might introduce parasitic mites if I feed wild caught insects.

 

This is why I resorted to feeding save protein- cooked organic egg and chicken.

I know, people say one should buy mealworms and other insects and then freeze them and then shortly boil them and then feed-

but honestly, eggs are more appealing to me (if mainly for animal welfare reasons) and my ants LOVE them.


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#17 Offline Ernteameise - Posted April 14 2023 - 10:24 AM

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I have seen on the German forum that ants also appear to like ham.

I tried it out on both my Messors and the acorn ants.

Well, I can say it is a success with the Messors- they enjoy their organic eggs and ham.

 

140423-4.jpg

 

140423.jpg

 

Previously I have also tried out steak, and they also like that.


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#18 Offline Ernteameise - Posted April 14 2023 - 1:22 PM

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OMG. I can't even.

My Messors are just such pigs when it comes to food!

I fed some juicy ham to my girls tonight.

Just looked back in and I am laughing out loud.

So they did NOT bother cutting the ham in pieces. No! They got all the strong majors and now try to wrestle it into the tube.

They are still at it.

These girls are not the sharpest tools in the drawer.

 

140423-HAM.jpg


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#19 Offline ANTdrew - Posted April 14 2023 - 5:36 PM

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One of the downsides of ant keeping is that the healthier your colony is, the more they trash their nest and setup.
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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.

#20 Offline Ernteameise - Posted April 15 2023 - 2:17 AM

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One of the downsides of ant keeping is that the healthier your colony is, the more they trash their nest and setup.

Yes, I have seen on the internet that people say that "Messor" is exactly the right name for these ants, because they love nothing more than making an absolute mess of their enclosure.

Mine have already dug up all the Seramis granules which I had added to the Digfix nest as hydration system and distributed them all around the outworld.

 

However, that being said, I am absolutely amazed by this concept of the "Ant Toilet".

I actually have not seen that anywhere on the internet yet!!!

But the keeper who sold me the Messor colony swears by it and send me this little plastic cup and told me to put it near their nest- it has their excrement and pheromones on and they will use it and will not excrete all over their nest this way.

And it really works!

Not sure why nobody else on the internet is talking about this. Is this such a closely guarded secret?

 

150423-Messors-toilet.jpg

 

Also, the ham finally made it to the nest.

This is how the nest looks this morning.

 

150423-Messors-Nest-2.jpg


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