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Ant Keeping Health Guide

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#1 Offline rptraut - Posted October 4 2023 - 11:41 PM

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A Work in Progress 

This guide is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of all things related to ant health but is an outline of the factors affecting ant and human health that I have gained from observations of my ant colonies and the suggestions and comments given by the contributors to this thread

 

I have tried to write this guide in general terms that would apply to ants and ant keeping, no matter what the speciesIt would be great if others could fill in the details that apply to individual speciesLinks would be a good way to do thisPlease also supply a brief overview of the subject matter of the link

 

Serafine has written a guide about ant health issues that can be found at  antkeeping guide - ant health issues - General Ant Keeping - Ants & Myrmecology Forum (formiculture.com)   

 

Ant Keeping Health Care Guide   

  

Cleanliness and Sanitation

Cleanliness and sanitation are the cornerstones upon which these recommendations are basedBacteria, viruses and fungi are ever present in our environment.   To start with, keep your ant keeping area clean and tidy.   Your hands should be washed and cleaned before tending to antsGloves can also be worn.  For healthy colonies, instruments can be cleaned with a disinfectant like rubbing alcohol ( 70 % isopropyl alcohol USP).  Flaming, heating or boiling can also be used to sterilize.   Washing utensils and feeding trays in hot soapy water, then rinsing and drying them, is usually sufficient to eliminate most pathogens.  

 

Separate implements should be used for each colony or if the same implements are being used to feed all your ants, they should be disinfected between colonies.  Dead ants and waste should be removed as soon as possible and not allowed to accumulate where molds and mites might grow.  To avoid cross contamination, separate tools should be used for the removal of waste and the handling of ant foods

 

Be aware that bacteria, viruses and molds can be airborne and can be inhaled by the ant keeper while using a pooter to clean up wasteAn industrial filter should be used to reduce this potential, or better yet, attach a vacuum cleaner to the pooter or use the vacuum alone.   Small vacuums used to clean computers work well for this.  Tweezers and/or brushes can often be used safely for spot cleanup of waste and garbage. 

 

Be aware that chemicals produced by some ants i.e., formic acid, can be inhaled through a pooter which is very dangerous for your lungs and is not recommended.  Ants can bite and many species of ants can sting.  Allergies to either may be a concern for the ant keeper.

 

 

Food Safety 

All food presented to ants should be free from harmful pathogensThis can be done by boiling insects for three seconds or by using human or pet foodstuffs which are known to be disease freeBoiling will also ensure that insects used for ant food are free from mites and mite eggs.   Feed only organic honey and fruit, or ones that you know are free from pesticides.

 

Offer your ants a wide variety of foods and insects and provide them with all the protein, carbohydrates and fats that they require.  Don’t overfeed as uneaten food promotes mold growth and mite infestation.   Feeding your ants pet food and human food can provide the vitamins, minerals and micronutrients that aren’t supplied by insects.  Reptile supplements can also be used for the same purpose.  Fruit offered to your ants will provide minerals and vitamins.   

 

Be aware that household insecticides, i.e. fly sprays, can also kill your ants.  Flea and tick collars or powders on pets may also be a source of insecticide that will kill your ants.   Wash your hands after handling your treated pet, before tending your antsAlso, be aware that loose fur from a treated pet can contain insecticide.   insects captured in your home and outside may have been exposed to chemicals hazardous to your ants.  Only collect feeder insects from areas where you know chemicals have not been used and that you know are safe.

 

It has been reported that some ant species, ie Camponotus require urea which may be supplied by bird droppings or urea fertilizerTree (pine) sap has also been reported to be important to some species to produce bactericides and fungicidesThese needs may not have been clinically proven but seem possible based on observation. 

 

Sugar/water and water 

Sugar/water and water should always be available and changed regularly. Sugar/water is usually mixed in a ratio of three parts water to one part sugar, by volumeLiquid in feeders should be refreshed when empty or every three days and feeders should be replaced every seven daysSugar/water should be refrigerated until used.   

Fresh water should be supplied constantly, even when you’re on vacationCare should be taken not to flood ants as they can drown. 

 

Ventilation, Heat and Humidity 

Temperature, hydration and humidity in the formicarium are important and should satisfy the needs of the species you’re keeping.   Ant rooms tend to be well sealed to prevent escapes and as a result have little air movementA small fan can be used to increase air movement in the ant keeping area which helps ventilation and prevents mold growth. 

 

Be cautious when using glues and caulking as some produce toxic fumes that will kill ants.  

 

Moving and Handling Ants Safely

Moving ants safely from one area to another can be accomplished in a number of ways.  They can be gently "dumped" from a test tube into a formicarium.  They can be coaxed to move into a new nest by keeping it dark while they're being encouraged to move from the old nest by lighting it brightly with white or UV light.  Ants will often simply move from one nest to another, given enough time and incentive. 

 

Ants can be captured with a pooter (avoid formic acid) or picked up with a Size 20 flat paint brush and moved.    Soft or featherweight tweezers can be used to gently pick them up.  A licked finger will often pick up a renegade ant.  Gently blowing on ants trying to escape while feeding will often make them retreat or freeze.  

 

Containment of ants can be accomplished by minimizing the size of openings, by using tight fitting joints and lids and appropriately sized screens, and by the use of barriers like petroleum jelly, vegetable or mineral oil, talcum or baby powder, or fluon.   Formicaria should also be designed to keep pests like other ants and mites out.   

 

Care should be taken to avoid overheating ants.  This has occurred by leaving them in a sunny window for too long, leaving them in a closed vehicle in the sun, overheating them on a plant germination mat or by leaving them in a mailbox on a hot sunny day.

 

Access to ant keeping areas should be out of bounds to other pets like inquisitive cats, dogs with large wagging tails and unsupervised young children.  Handle test tubes and ants with care over a table or bench.  They're less likely to fall on the floor when you drop them, and you will drop them.  When you do, be careful as broken test tubes are sharp and will cut you.

 

Diapause  

Diapause is a winter rest period which is important to the long-term health of some species living in cold areasAn adequate rest period, at the right temperature and humidity for the species, should be provided.   

 

Be aware that freezing will kill most ants.   

 

Isolating New and Sick Colonies 

New colonies should be isolated from others until you are sure they are disease and pest freeIsolation might also be a wise preventative measure for any colonies brood boosted with wild pupae

 

Every effort should be made to reduce the possibility of mite infestation.    Mites can be carriers of disease and a mite infestation is often reported before a colony collapse.  Boiling insects will eliminate mites and their eggs, but mites can also migrate into a colony or be brought in by other ants, in soil, or possibly on brood used for boosting.  Isolate any infected colony immediately at a safe distance that mites cannot migrate to other colonies.  Predatory mites are available that can be used to eliminate trash mites.  

 

Any colony exhibiting disease symptoms should be removed to an area with a separate air supply to prevent mold spores from spreading.  Quickly disposing of dead ants and waste from infected colonies into a covered container will also help prevent the spread of mold spores.  To prevent reinfection, reused formicaria, tubing, feeders etc. should be sterilized with boiling water or disinfectant or simply disposed of. 

 

Separate implements, food, sugar/water and water should be used to feed infected colonies.   For infected colonies, a stronger disinfectant for utensils may be necessary which will kill bacteria, viruses and fungi.  These are available from pharmacies and veterinarians.  Care must be taken as these chemicals are toxic, so gloves and masks are recommended.  Follow all other safety precautions.   Take care as strong disinfectants may damage plastic, vinyl, and brushes.  These disinfectants and their fumes can also be toxic to your ants, so minimize their exposure.   

 

 

Record keeping 

Records can be kept for each colony to evaluate the advances or declines of each and monitor any significant changes.   Dates of major events should be noted, i.e., date queen found, date of first eggs, larvae, pupae and workers, beginning and end of diapause etc.  Changes in feeding behavior or brood development should be recorded for future reference.  

 

 

 

Well, that’s what I’ve got so farPlease feel free to correct, update, provide links or otherwise improve the information in the Health Guide as much as possibleAn informative Health Guide will be of benefit to all ant keepers. I appreciate your assistance.     

RPT 


Edited by rptraut, February 2 2024 - 9:37 PM.

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My father always said I had ants in my pants.

#2 Offline Ernteameise - Posted October 5 2023 - 9:28 AM

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Sadly I am totally swamped with stress and work in the real world and next week will be even worse.

However, I will come back to this when I have my head free and have a closer look and think.


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#3 Offline UtahAnts - Posted October 5 2023 - 11:39 AM

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Good guide, we definitely need something like this for common diseases and mold!

 

However, I would not recommend not using a pooter for waste pickup unless you have an industrial grade filter, and even then you still risk inhalation of small pathogens.

 

Additionally residue from a strong disinfectant in the formicarium could be dangerous for the ants' long term health - I've never had problems with a good washing from water alone.


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#4 Offline Full_Frontal_Yeti - Posted October 5 2023 - 11:53 AM

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I too would suggest not using a pooter/aspirator to clean the ant's space, but to use a regular vaccume instead.

 

My method is to conenct the smallest tool, comonly the crevive tool, to the vaccume hose.

Then I jam a length of 3/8" ID tube, bweteen 12"-24" long, into the end of the crevive tool, about 2" in. It fits tight but without pinching the tube closed.

I then just cup and uncup my hand over the remaining gap around the tube in the end of the crevice tool. This will increase/decrease the amount of suction happening at the end of the 3/8" OD tube.

 

The flexible tube and 3/8" size make it easy to vaccume the entire outworld space quikly.

Though if you have many ants it will be best to evict them for the space before cleaning. When i had around 100 or less i could spot vaccume around them, but now at > 200 i just got to move them out first.

I use a pooter for that, as the fast way i know to round up a hundred+ ants.


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#5 Offline M_Ants - Posted October 5 2023 - 12:02 PM

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You can also connect your aspirator to the vacuum. 


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Veromessor pergandei

Veromessor andrei

Crematogaster sp. 

Pogonomyrmex cf cali and rugosus

Various Pheidole

C. yogi 

https://www.youtube....FG7utFVBA/about


#6 Offline bmb1bee - Posted October 5 2023 - 12:21 PM

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I usually only use pooters/aspirators for catching colonies rather than trash cleanup. For trash cleaning, I usually just pick up most of the trash with tweezers and dump it out while leaving a small bit there for them to recognize where the trash goes. The pooter I use is actually not by mouth and is connected to a handheld grease pump, so I don't have to burn my lungs with formic acid when I collect stuff. It is rather difficult to adjust the strength of the suction though.


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#7 Offline Serafine - Posted October 6 2023 - 1:30 AM

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Just use a flat brush. Size 20 is about perfect.


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#8 Offline rptraut - Posted October 6 2023 - 10:56 PM

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Hello UtahAnts, Full_Frontal_Yeti, M_Ants, bmb1bee, and Serafine;

 

Thanks very much for all your comments and suggestions.  I've edited the text to incorporate your suggestions.  While doing so I realized this guide is just as much about the safety of the ant keeper as it is about the safety of the ants.  That's thanks to your input!

RPT


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My father always said I had ants in my pants.

#9 Offline 100lols - Posted October 7 2023 - 12:19 AM

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I just wanted to extend a thank you for all the efforts from RPT and everyone else who contributed. I hope this information continues to expand over time!
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#10 Offline rptraut - Posted October 9 2023 - 12:56 AM

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Updated today with more information on mites, the use of organic honey and fruit, overheating of ants, and safe handling.

 

Hello Ernteameise and PurdueEntomology;

 

I look forward to your comments.

RPT


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My father always said I had ants in my pants.

#11 Offline Ernteameise - Posted October 9 2023 - 9:49 AM

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My 2 cents:

 

As Utah Ants mentions:

- Be careful with pooters without filters, if the colony is infected with mold for example, or the rubbish you try to clean is moldy, you could breathe that in. This is NOT healthy for your lungs. It might be better to use a small battery driven hand vacuum (like you use for cleaning computers) if it is a large colony with lots of rubbish, or just use clean brushes for cleaning; there are many cheap brushed to be bought at dollar stores, so you could even have a brush for each colony to keep things sanitary. Or you could use moist cotton buds.

 

- I know, it was me putting the strong disinfectant forward. But that was only meant for when you have a infection in the colonies. For example mystery die-offs that affect several colonies and there could be a virus. Then yes, a strong veterinary grade disinfected makes sense. If you have healthy colonies, this can do more harm than good. Because most of these disinfectants are toxic. Surprise! Well, yes, they have to be, because they kill germs. Repeat exposure often enough, you can kill even bigger things. There is a reason why veterinary technicians wear gloves and filter masks when using disinfectant on larger areas. Plus, these disinfectants also damage materials and might destroy brushes, plastic and similar.

So yes, strong disinfectant when there is an infection, cleanliness and soap and water with healthy colonies. If you are removing dead ants, it also won't hurt if you flame or boil the forceps which you used afterwards (in healthy colonies).

 

-So actually, the strong disinfectant should go into the quarantine and isolation paragraph.


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#12 Offline rptraut - Posted October 10 2023 - 2:09 AM

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Hello Ernteameise;

 

Thank you for your comments and suggestions.  I hope my revisions have clarified the disinfectant issue and the safe use of pooters.  I really appreciate your help with this Guide.  

RPT


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My father always said I had ants in my pants.

#13 Offline rptraut - Posted February 2 2024 - 10:18 PM

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Hello Everyone;

 

Today I edited the introduction and included a link to a guide written by Serafine regarding ant health issues.  

  

RPT


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