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AntidepressAnt's Camponotus substitutus Journal

plaster camponotus

31 replies to this topic

#1 Offline AntidepressAnt - Posted January 4 2024 - 4:15 PM

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I'm trying to keep ants for the first time and would appreciate some input.

 

I know test tube setups are the go to method for keeping queens in the initial stages of a colony, but I really wanted something that could also work as a small formicarium. I got some plastic food containers, used a needle to make holes in the lid, and used plaster as material. I've read plaster of Paris formicariums often don't last very long, so I tried finding Hydrostone, but couldn't. Maybe this brand just isn't available around here. In the end I bought a special kind of plaster used by dentists, "type III plaster", which is supposedly considerably harder than common plaster. Has anyone here used this material? Well, if it ends up not being all that durable I suppose I can deal with it, this is just meant to be used during the founding stage anyway.

 

I used a screwdriver to carve a single chamber in the plaster. I also dug a kind of tiny "pond" in the surface, which I'm using to pour a bit of water to hydrate the nest. It sucks up the water very fast, but on hindsight I wish I had made some better hydration method, because I have to open the lids for this and the ants appear to dislike it.

 

20231231-154303.jpg

 

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I used some aluminum foil to keep the chamber dark, and released my two queens (apparently Camponotus).

 

20240103-162241.jpg

 

20240103-162243.jpg

 

So, I have some questions:

-How often am I supposed to hydrate the nest? I've read Camponotus prefer relatively dry nests, but I'm not sure what that means here...

-My queens have been in this setup for a few days. They sometimes are underground, but I often see them on the surface as well. Is this normal? Should I wait? Or should I try to coax them into entering the chamber and plug the tunnel with cotton or something?

-They don't require any feeding at this point, right? When should I try offering something, when the first workers show up?

-How long does it usually take for queens of this genus to start laying eggs? From what I've researched carpenter ants are considered slow growing among ant keepers, but most of the info I was able to find was about species that need hibernation and whatnot, and mine are tropical ants.

-Is there any way to know if they are fertilized or not? I've read wingless queens have a higher chance of having mated, and other places say that's a myth. I decided to catch one winged and one wingless queen.


Edited by AntidepressAnt, January 4 2024 - 4:19 PM.

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#2 Offline rptraut - Posted January 5 2024 - 12:00 AM

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Hello AntidepressAnt;

Congratulations. Your first attempt at constructing founding formicaria look pretty good. I have kept queens in similar setups.
I live in Canada, so my experience is with North American Camponotus ants. Your tropical ants may respond differently, however, I suspect Camponotus ants can be treated similarly worldwide.
If these were my queens, this is what I would do.
First, I would supply them with two small pieces of cotton or sponge saturated with water and sugar water in a small feeding tray. I find my queens always appreciate a drink of water and this way they can fuel up before going into their founding chamber.
Second, I would provide them with some material that they can use to plug up the entrance to their founding chamber. This can be anything from the material you find on the forest floor to wood chips or something similar. When they’re ready, they will plug up the entrance to the chamber and feel safe and secure inside it and get down to the job of laying eggs and raising brood.
Third I would put a piece of sponge in the hole that you’ve made for hydration. I think it’s very true that Camponotus ants prefer a dry nest. I have one colony that I didn’t hydrate at all this past season in the nest. They had drinking water, but no hydration in the water tower and they survived quite nicely and did very well. Make a slightly larger hole in the plastic lid so you can hydrate the sponge with a blunt needle or something similar. This way you won’t have to remove the lid to hydrate the sponge. You can tell when the plaster is wet as it will change to a darker colour. As long as some of the plaster is that dark colour I think that’s probably adequate hydration. If I keep the humidity high inside the container by keeping that sponge constantly moist, my queens are fine. You will have to judge what is best for your rainforest queens.
Lastly, once the queens have sealed themselves in the founding chamber, I would remove the feeder tray but continue to hydrate the sponge and not disturb them otherwise, for at least four weeks. You won’t need to feed them until you see nanitics (first workers) which can take quite a while. You will know for sure that a queen is fertilized when she produces female worker ants. Otherwise they don’t lay eggs or produce only males. I consider myself lucky if my founding Camponotus queens produce six or seven nanitics. I think they will produce more in warmer climates.
Remember, Camponotus queens can eat their brood when disturbed so disturb them as little as possible. Good luck and let us know how they make out.
RPT
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My father always said I had ants in my pants.

#3 Offline ANTdrew - Posted January 5 2024 - 3:15 AM

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All this advice above is excellent. I second the idea of making a larger hole in the lid that you can use for hydrating. Plug it with cotton or a small rubber stopper.
Have you checked out this Spanish language ant forum?
https://lamarabunta.org/
There are members from South America on there that could offer more species specific advice. Good luck!

Edited by ANTdrew, January 5 2024 - 3:17 AM.

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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.

#4 Offline AntidepressAnt - Posted January 5 2024 - 5:34 AM

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Thanks for the advice, guys! Ironically, my Spanish is terrible, even though it's a much, much closer language to my native Portuguese... I guess because I've been studying English from childhood, unlike Spanish.

 

I put some paper napkins drenched in sugar water into bottle caps and placed it in the overworld. I have a question, though, how often should I change it for a new paper (or cotton) and sugar water combo?

 

20240105-101254.jpg

 

I'll make the adjustments to the hydration system later today, or perhaps early tomorrow. I'm thinking of using the same screwdriver I used to carve the chamber, heating it until it can melt a hole right through the plastic.



#5 Offline rptraut - Posted January 5 2024 - 10:58 AM

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Hello Again AntidepressAnt;

 

Thanks for getting back to us and letting us know what you're doing to improve your setup.  This way we can fine tune it and provide the best environment for the success of your queens.

 

I think you misunderstood my description of the water and sugar/water feeder.  I use two separate balls of cotton or sponge, one for water and one for sugar/water.  Most often, I see my queens drinking water before beginning their founding.  My Camponotus queens don't always drink sugar/water, but they will often have a good drink of water.  I've had other types of queens (ie Brachymyrmex) that will fill up on sugar/water, so I offer it and water to all my queens before founding, even in a test tube.  All they need is to fill up once and they're ready for founding.  The feeder can be removed after she's had a good drink.  More details are available here Feeding Time at the Zoo - General Ant Keeping - Ants & Myrmecology Forum (formiculture.com)

 

Your idea to make the hole in the lid with heated metal is a good one.  I use a dental irrigator to hydrate my colonies and it has a very small tip.  A hot nail would make a large enough hole for it to fit into.  If you make a hole large enough that escape is a possibility, fill it with cotton or a plug.  

 

Don't forget some loose material for the queen to block off the founding chamber.  My queens have used wood chips, soil, and/or moss (whatever is available) to seal off the founding chamber, pulling it into the tunnel until they're happy.  I think this is a very important step in the founding stage as it satisfies their instinctive need to pull things into the entrance and block off the founding chamber, making it feel secure.  Perhaps this is the reason some queens can't settle in a test tube and resort to cotton pulling.  When I have queens like this, I put them in a setup like you've made.  They seem happier and have founded colonies. 

 

Good Luck and let us know how things are going.

RPT


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My father always said I had ants in my pants.

#6 Offline AntidepressAnt - Posted January 5 2024 - 12:30 PM

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Oh, yeah, I get it now. They certainly have shown no interest in the sugar water so far. I can replace it with pure water, I was thinking they could drink it from the water I use to hydrate the nest directly... I even noticed that early in the night, often little "dew drops" form on the plastic in the chamber (but not outside it), won't they drink from that? Or does that mean the nest is too moist to begin with? During the day this condensation disappears.

 

I will provide the material, I'm thinking of getting a dry leaf from the yard, washing it, then shredding it into little pieces, you think that would work?



#7 Offline rptraut - Posted January 5 2024 - 3:14 PM

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Hello

I'm sure that ants drink condensation, I sort of count on that during diapause.  I know that I have observed my queens often are thirsty when I get them.  Providing water to them at this time ensures that they have access during a critical time.  Sugar/water will help fuel them through founding, but not all of my queens drink it, often Camponotus queens will ignore it but they will drink water.

 

Shredded leaves sound fine but remember, these queens have come from nature where they have access to every piece of crud out there.  Mine use rotten wood, soil, sawdust, wood shavings, etc.  Give them an assortment, let them feel like they're doing something, dirt is beautiful to an ant, this is their natural way and they will plug up the entrance or tunnel.  This method is very different from raising ants in a test tube.

RPT


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My father always said I had ants in my pants.

#8 Offline AntidepressAnt - Posted January 5 2024 - 3:50 PM

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Very good point, guess I got a bit paranoid there... I suppose when you try to make an enclosed home for little creatures like ants it's easy to get a delusion of control, realistically these setups already have assorted tiny mites, fungus, man-made chemicals, etc., trying to micromanage it is pointless.

 

I added shredded leaves and wet sawdust, the dark and light brown materials respectively:

 

20240105-202147.jpg

 

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Hopefully thiss will encourage nesting. I think I already messed with them too much today, I'll leave the new hydration system for later.


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#9 Offline rptraut - Posted January 5 2024 - 10:58 PM

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Hello AntidepressAnt

Looks good, give them some drinking water and a hydration sponge and see what they do.

RPT


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My father always said I had ants in my pants.

#10 Offline AntidepressAnt - Posted January 9 2024 - 6:18 AM

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Guys, bad news. The nesting materials are quickly molding.

20240109-110201.jpg

I haven't noticed the queens moving them at all so far. They do seem to spend more time underground now.

Edited by AntidepressAnt, January 9 2024 - 6:19 AM.


#11 Offline ANTdrew - Posted January 9 2024 - 1:05 PM

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Remove it. I say just leave the bare plaster. Any substrate should be carefully sterilized beforehand. Adding springtails in can help control mold, but they may stress a founding queen.
"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 AntidepressAnt - Posted January 9 2024 - 4:41 PM

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Yeah, I did my best to take it all out. There's still a bit of the sawdust I couldn't remove since it's just powdery.



#13 Offline rptraut - Posted January 9 2024 - 5:34 PM

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A scattering of dry sawdust is all they need. Mine prefer a dry nest.
RPT
My father always said I had ants in my pants.

#14 Offline AntidepressAnt - Posted January 29 2024 - 2:03 PM

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Good news, one of my queens has a brood pile. It's probably difficult to see it in such low-quality pics, but I promise it's there!

 

20240128-162557.jpg

 

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I also made new, improved starter formicariums for the next time I catch some queens. They are similar to my older ones, but smaller and with a separate side chamber for hydration. I'm going to make a hole connecting to it so I can add water without disturbing the ants. Several plaster formicariums I've seen on the web use a similar method.

 

20240113-184706.jpg

 

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Sadly, even though it's supposed to be the rainy season around here, there's been little rain where I live, so I couldn't witness one good nuptial flight since...

 

 


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#15 Offline rptraut - Posted January 29 2024 - 7:33 PM

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Hello AntidepressAnt;

 

Good to hear from you and thanks for the update.   I can see the brood; it looks like more than the usual six or seven eggs that my Camponotus queens lay first time around.  I don't imagine yours need to have a winter rest, they must forage and raise brood all year round.  What happened to the other queen?   No matter, at this point a 50% success rate is great first time around.  

 

This is a critical time for founding queens and the time when they don't like to be disturbed.   Make sure she's well hydrated, cover her up and disturb her as little as possible, once a week should be plenty to check the hydration.  Being patient now will pay off big time in the end.  

 

May the rain gods cry for you.  

RPT


My father always said I had ants in my pants.

#16 Offline ANTS_KL - Posted January 30 2024 - 3:05 AM

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Keeper from a tropical region here to help haha, sorry I haven't seen this. What you're doing so far is great, however in the future I highly recommend you to try using a bare container with damp paper towel coating the bottom. You can rehydrate the paper towels by simply opening the lid and dripping water. Usually the ants won't mind, the only thing that really affects ants is heavy vibrations. As for the queen herself, so long as you keep the setup hydrated consistently, she'll be fine. As for your rain dilemma, don't be fooled. Tropical ants can and will fly at any time of the year, so just keep searching. Example, here where I live in Malaysia, some species like Tetraponera rufonigra and Polyrhachis spp. in the Myrma subfamily will fly only when it is extremely hot and dry. (Post editor seems to be broken, it isn't present here, so I can't change the fonts or anything. If you're seeing this, ANTdrew, could you check with dspdrew? I think it's a small bug :P)
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Young ant keeper with a decent amount of knowledge on local ant species.

YouTube: https://m.youtube.co...uKsahGliSH7EqOQ (It's pretty dead. Might upload again soon, don't expect my voice to sound the same though.)

Currently kept ant species, favorites have a star in front of their names (NOT in alphabetical order, also may be outdated sometimes): Camponotus irritans inferior, Ooceraea biroi, Pheidole parva, Nylanderia sp., Paraparatrechina tapinomoides, Platythyrea sp., Anochetus sp., Colobopsis sp. (cylindrica group), Crematogaster ferrarii, Polyrhachis (Myrma) cf. pruinosa, Polyrhachis (Cyrtomyrma) laevissima, Tapinoma sp. (formerly Zatapinoma)

Death count: Probably over a hundred individual queens and colonies by now. I cannot recall whatsoever.

#17 Offline AntidepressAnt - Posted January 30 2024 - 4:33 AM

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Hi guys. My other queen is still here and looks fine, she just hasn't laid any eggs as far as I can tell. I definitely will keep looking regardless of weather. 


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#18 Offline Mushu - Posted February 10 2024 - 5:14 AM

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Keeper from a tropical region here to help haha, sorry I haven't seen this. What you're doing so far is great, however in the future I highly recommend you to try using a bare container with damp paper towel coating the bottom. You can rehydrate the paper towels by simply opening the lid and dripping water. Usually the ants won't mind, the only thing that really affects ants is heavy vibrations. As for the queen herself, so long as you keep the setup hydrated consistently, she'll be fine. As for your rain dilemma, don't be fooled. Tropical ants can and will fly at any time of the year, so just keep searching. Example, here where I live in Malaysia, some species like Tetraponera rufonigra and Polyrhachis spp. in the Myrma subfamily will fly only when it is extremely hot and dry.

(Post editor seems to be broken, it isn't present here, so I can't change the fonts or anything. If you're seeing this, ANTdrew, could you check with dspdrew? I think it's a small bug :P)

If you’re referring to the edit button being greyed out it still works if you click it.

Edited by Mushu, February 10 2024 - 5:23 AM.


#19 Offline AntidepressAnt - Posted February 14 2024 - 4:06 PM

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Alright guys, my queen has her first workers!

 

20240214-204656.jpg

 

Also, today I put a napkin soaked in sugar water in the outworld again. For the first time an ant went there to investigate and apparently drink - but it was the queen who did it! Is that normal? The workers didn't leave the nest at all. Another thing, should I offer protein-based food now?

 

I didn't mention it here, but some days ago I released my other carpenter ant queen. She wasn't laying any eggs, I think she was unfertilized, and she was uninterested in sugar water, so I feared she would just starve to death if I kept her here. Chances are slim but maybe she got another chance to mate.

 

Also, I've been reading this thread and I think it became more of an ant keeping journal. Could some moderator rename this as "AntidepressAnt's Camponotus substitutus journal" and move it to the adequate place? Sounds better than creating another thread and posting some of the same stuff I already posted here there.


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#20 Offline futurebird - Posted February 14 2024 - 4:28 PM

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Very early on sometimes queens will take food and forage very very close to the nest. If you aren't blocking light to their hide she might not even see it as not part of her nest. (You could make a paper cylinder to set the nest in to help her to have dark, it will make her more calm. )

 

But it's not the worst if she goes out only a few times. But as time goes on she should become very attached to staying in and letting her daughters do that. Since she's the biggest ant she can also serve as a kind of "replete" during these early days of the colony. I love colonies at this stage, they are so shy and careful since it's a hard time for them in the wild. But with care you can make the path easy for them. 

 

If you are giving them water regularly that's great, but it might be a good idea to get a water feeder or a small test tube with cotton so you can constantly offer water and not bother them for up to a week. If you don't want them to move into the tube you can get short ones like this. 

 

nsHa6zp.png

 

or just find a small bottle and fill it with water, block with cotton and place it on its side so the cotton stays wet for a long time. If it is very dry the small bottles can dry out in just three or four days... so they might need to be changed. I love the cave design and how it lets you view in the nest. My only concern is that they have a way to drink water whenever they feel they need it since they aren't in a test tube with water. 


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Starting this July I'm posting videos of my ants every week on youTube.

I like to make relaxing videos that capture the joy of watching ants.

If that sounds like your kind of thing... follow me >here<






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