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Results From Two Feeding Experiments by RPT

feeding meat insect alternative

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#1 Offline rptraut - Posted January 14 2024 - 12:37 AM

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Results from Two Feeding Experiments

 

This past season I carried out two feeding experiments, one with a Camponotus colony and the other with a Myrmica colonyI should start out by saying that these colonies were of average intelligence and medium sizeBoth had laying queens and were raising brood during the time

  

For most of the season these ants were fed almost every day for both experimentsExcept for vacation times, they were fed six days out of every sevenIn both experiments, feeding was done on a platform so the ants had to climb up where I could easily observe themI tried to gauge the hunger of the colony by the number of workers out foraging and their activity in the feeding areaBy feeding them in the same place every day they learn where to find their food and when they were hungry, they went there looking for it, so it was an excellent way to monitor just how badly they really wanted that protein or sugar.  

 

 

Meat Only Diet for a Camponotus Colony 

 

The first experiment was with a three-year-old Camponotus pennsylvanicus colony, which I fed only meat products to for the entire seasonThey are in a formicarium in which I wanted to deal with absolutely no garbage or trash from insects etc, so I fed them only meat products which produced little, if any, trash throughout the whole seasonThese meat products included, cooked chicken meat and liver, raw pork, cooked turkey meat and liver, ham, canned dog food, sardines, salmon, and egg yolkI had absolutely no problems with this colony all season long and they produced three nice batches of brood and have a nice egg and larvae pile that they’ve taken into diapause this winter.   

 

I also fed this diet to my other Camponotus colonies, but I included insects in their diet more as a treat than anything elseAll colonies had water, sugar/water, some fruit and all grew very well this season. 

 

 

2023-06-06 006.JPG

This Camponotus Colony survived quite nicely for a season eating meat products and no insects.

 

 

 

Dry Sugar Option for a Myrmica Colony 

 

The second experiment was with a Myrmica colony. In this case I used an artificial flower as their feeding platform where I placed dry granular sugar every day.  I fed their protein in a different location.  These ants also had sugar/water available to them, but they seemed to prefer the granular sugar and in fact, were often waiting for it every day in the flower.  They accepted it readily and took the sugar/water very little.  They primarily depended on the granular sugar for their carbohydrate, as far as I could tell. 

 

Unfortunately, this colony fell victim to the disease that affected many of my colonies this summer.  They didn’t continue this experiment for the entire season, but I think I saw enough of their reaction and their feeding behavior to believe that, had they been healthy, they would’ve continued enjoying the granular sugar throughout the summer. 

 

 

Conclusions 

 

In the first experiment, I observed that it's possible to keep a healthy colony of Camponotus ants for an entire season without feeding them any insects. This was accomplished by feeding them a variety of meat products, properly presented. This affords the ant keeper many advantages including less trash, fewer problems with diseases and pests, no cost for insects, provides a varied diet, dog food contains micronutrients and vitamins, and meat is easy to process in large amounts for large colonies of ants. You may be thinking this is fine for a large colony, that small colonies won’t accept it. I usually feed cooked chicken liver as the first protein I give a colony in the test tube. It has never been rejected.  

 

In the second experiment I observed that Myrmica ants will readily accept dry sugar instead of sugar/water.  There may be many instances where this option will come in handy for the ant keeper. Dry sugar could be fed to ants that constantly want to plug up their liquid feeders with trash. Dry sugar could be fed to ants in test tubes to reduce the potential for small ants drowning. I also found that ants would hunt for sugar grains, so I sprinkled some in a dry area for them to search for, just to keep them busy.  There is one other consideration if feeding dry sugar. Sugar grains will draw moisture from the air, after an hour or so, a sugar grain becomes a small drop of highly concentrated liquid sugar. This provides a highly concentrated energy source, but, If not completely cleaned up, it can promote mold.

 

Meat products can be substituted for insects in Camponotus' diets. I have fed these same meat products to all my ant colonies with varying success. Cooked chicken and turkey, both meat and liver are readily accepted, and I've always found dog food to be very popular. Dry sugar is accepted by Myrmica ants and may be acceptable to many other types of ants. It's a viable alternative to sugar/water and may be preferable in some cases.  

 

What success have you had feeding meat products or granular sugar? Any other alternative foods that you've tried?

 

I'm happy to answer any questions you may have.

RPT

 

 


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#2 Offline Ernteameise - Posted January 14 2024 - 3:14 AM

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Oh wow, this is great.

Thank you for the experiment and the write up.

I have no experience with sugar (but I will certainly try this year when the girls wake up) but I also have tried to feed non-insect protein.

My Messor have taken egg (white and yolk), ham, liver pate and roast chicken. They LOVE roast chicken.

Fish food (I have betta fish) has been ignored, even the gel insect larva you can buy for fish.

Raw chicken and pork also were a no-go.

For this year, one of the guy who also had a stall at the vet conference, selling powdered special food for exotic animals (for example for emergency hand feeding) gave me a packet of carnivore rescue formula, to try out if my ants will take it. You mix it with water into a paste and feed it. I will definitely try that out when the girls come back from hibernation.


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#3 Offline ANTdrew - Posted January 14 2024 - 2:02 PM

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I love this. While I plan to continue prioritizing insect protein, I think I will try more dry sugar, especially with my Aphaenogaster. Keep experimenting!
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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 BleepingBleepers - Posted January 14 2024 - 2:12 PM

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Nice study. As you know, I keep the CA02 Camponotus.

 

So far, I haven't had any real success in pork or beef. Mines seem fond of chicken and are especially fond of seafood.

 

Makes me wonder how a full on seafood diet would hold up lol.

 

And I do recall discussing about using dry sugar, especially should I need to go on vacation, but I've mostly forgotten to test it out, thanks for the reminder. Though definitely to remember to keep the water in there as sugar dehydrates and they'll need the balance. I do find it interesting that my ants do NOT like a concentrated sugar water. They like it diluted one parts sugar to 3 parts water. I've even had some look at it reluctantly until I added a drop or two of water in which then they started to drink. They definitely don't seem to like pure honey, but diluted honey, they're okay with (still prefer sugar water tho)

 

I'm not too surprised on the findings as I think camponotus are quite the adapter and are use to scavenge and survive off of whatever they can find, even scraps in a kitchen.

 

I have found it interesting that you can also train them on certain foods. Like I've trained mines to readily accept roaches now, before they weren't so keen on it, and now they don't like crickets or fruit flies, they just eat roaches. Whereas I see other people with colonies that I'm pretty sure have a preference on mealworms and crickets.

 

I noted this and a few other stuff in my journal. But pretty interesting, keep up the research! Wish I had more space for ants. I do my own bits of experimenting with food and even sugar water, though I have my limits as I only have two ant colonies.


Edited by BleepingBleepers, January 14 2024 - 2:16 PM.

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JOURNAL: Camponotus CA02 - First Time At Ant Keeping CLICK HERE

JOURNAL: Ectomomyrmex cf. astutus - Ant Species #2 CLICK HERE


#5 Offline ANTdrew - Posted January 14 2024 - 2:44 PM

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Nice study. As you know, I keep the CA02 Camponotus.

So far, I haven't had any real success in pork or beef. Mines seem fond of chicken and are especially fond of seafood.

Makes me wonder how a full on seafood diet would hold up lol.

And I do recall discussing about using dry sugar, especially should I need to go on vacation, but I've mostly forgotten to test it out, thanks for the reminder. Though definitely to remember to keep the water in there as sugar dehydrates and they'll need the balance. I do find it interesting that my ants do NOT like a concentrated sugar water. They like it diluted one parts sugar to 3 parts water. I've even had some look at it reluctantly until I added a drop or two of water in which then they started to drink. They definitely don't seem to like pure honey, but diluted honey, they're okay with (still prefer sugar water tho)

I'm not too surprised on the findings as I think camponotus are quite the adapter and are use to scavenge and survive off of whatever they can find, even scraps in a kitchen.

I have found it interesting that you can also train them on certain foods. Like I've trained mines to readily accept roaches now, before they weren't so keen on it, and now they don't like crickets or fruit flies, they just eat roaches. Whereas I see other people with colonies that I'm pretty sure have a preference on mealworms and crickets.

I noted this and a few other stuff in my journal. But pretty interesting, keep up the research! Wish I had more space for ants. I do my own bits of experimenting with food and even sugar water, though I have my limits as I only have two ant colonies.


Edited by ANTdrew, January 14 2024 - 5:40 PM.

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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 rptraut - Posted January 14 2024 - 3:58 PM

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Thanks for all your comments;

When I was a boy I would bury a dead mouse or bird beside a Formica ant colony. A week later I would find a perfectly clean skeleton for my collection. This was the inspiration for the experiment.

I know there is variation in food preference among colonies of the same species, and that a colony can be “trained” to eat food they don’t particularly like. I fed canned dog food to all my Camponotus colonies, but the test colony was the only one that really ate it. It became one of their daily rations and just part of the routine. I’ve basically trained mine to eat everything I can that isn’t an insect so feeding them is so much easier. Canned dog food etc is way simpler. I feed all my colonies sugar/water -3 parts water to 1 part sugar.   I wanted this parameter to be consistent.

It seems to me that Myrmica ants might be particularly well suited to this type of experiment as they don’t seem to require as much sugar as other ants. I wasn’t quite right when I said sugar was their only carbohydrate source. They prefer fat and will opt for it over sugar any day. Canned dog food and raw ground pork are two of their favourites. Add a little sugar and they’re quite happy.

Your post is great to read and I appreciate you responding. I look forward to hearing about the various alternate foods that you've tried.
RPT


Edited by rptraut, January 16 2024 - 1:15 AM.

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#7 Offline BleepingBleepers - Posted January 14 2024 - 6:06 PM

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(Comment Removed) - ByBleepers 1/15/2024 9:00 AM
RPT

 

Ah, so indeed, that was what the reply was about? I had a hint it was but was trying not to overanalyze it too much.

 

I can be a huge scatterbrain, putting down thoughts before I forget them and I try my best to edit my posts often, but some days I'm just not 'together' as others.

 

I just read my post a few times, I don't think it was anything that severe, no :thinking: ? If it's something 'big' that I miss, feel free to PM me, always up for constructive criticism and improving. Though I can only improve so much, my mind isn't as good as it once was and I do feel like I'm falling apart more than I am capable of holding together  :blush:

 

And it's all good regardless, guys, I hold no grudge and always hold the good over the bad. Sorry as well for derailing your main subject rptraut . Keep up with the experiment, would be interesting to see the results long term.


Edited by BleepingBleepers, January 15 2024 - 9:01 AM.

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JOURNAL: Camponotus CA02 - First Time At Ant Keeping CLICK HERE

JOURNAL: Ectomomyrmex cf. astutus - Ant Species #2 CLICK HERE


#8 Offline rptraut - Posted January 15 2024 - 12:11 AM

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Hello and thanks for all your comments;

 

Just a few points for clarification. 

 

The Myrmica colony depended on the granular sugar as their primary carbohydrate from a sugar source.  No nectar or honey was offered, and I saw them take very little sugar/water.  They seemed to prefer fat.  Fat is a more concentrated form of carbohydrate, containing as much as 2.5x the amount of energy as sugar.  In the natural world, fat is highly desirable.   I think their favourite foods are canned dog food and raw ground pork because of the fat content.  Liquid fats, lipids and oils, are fats that are in a liquid state.  They are also highly concentrated forms of energy and may account for the fact that some Temnothorax colonies have been kept alive eating only peanut butter, deriving energy from the sugar and peanut oil. 

 

I fed the meat products to my Camponotus, Myrmica, Tetramorium, and Tapinoma colonies with few problems.   Temnothorax and Lasius colonies were picky but did eat chicken meat and liver.  Small colonies seem to be more particular about what they'll accept, or perhaps larger colonies are just more desperate for protein and will take anything available.  The trick to feeding meat is the presentation.  I freeze it and shave it thinly across the grain so it's easy for the ants to break up and carry away (see "Feeding Time at the Zoo" for more detail).  We don't eat beef, so I've never fed it to my ants but it's worth a try.  I'd start with raw ground beef.  Who knows, your Formica colony might enjoy mouse meat, anything is worth a try!

 

You may have read in my journal about the illness that afflicted some of my colonies this past season (see "Journal of My Afflicted Colonies").  This was another reason I started to feed more meat products to all my colonies, to cut down on the number of insects I would have to supply and treat (boil etc) and reduce the chances of my colonies contracting a mite or disease problem from feeder insects.  Also, I find it difficult to know exactly how much actual food my ants are getting from a piece of feeder insect, and because of this, it's difficult to pick a piece that provides enough food that will be used up in a day by each colony.  With shaved meat pieces, I can pick exactly the right size for the colony and know that it's all good food.  The added bonus is no garbage.  My ants seem to be able to differentiate between chicken meat and liver and turkey meat and liver, treating them like separate food items that can be fed regularly without boring them.  Add in some raw ground pork, canned dog food, fish, and egg and you've got a week's menu and no insects or trash.  

 

My ants also enjoy meat on the bone, especially a broken chicken thigh bone with adhering meat and marrow.  They'll take days to scour it clean and it keeps them fed and busy while I'm away on vacation.  Chicken neck bones are also well received, mine particularly like the nerve that runs up the center of the spine, taking days to clean it out.   

 

I think you'll find that feeding meat products to your ants is easier for you and safer for your ants.  What do you think?

RPT


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#9 Offline ZATrippit - Posted January 16 2024 - 7:07 PM

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Thanks so much RPT, this is a very interesting experiment!

I've heard before that it's a bad idea to use dog food as a primary food source for ants as it contains very little protein for them, is this true?
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#10 Offline rptraut - Posted January 17 2024 - 6:31 AM

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Hello ZATrippit;

Thanks for reading my post. I hope you found it useful.
I feed dog food as part of a menu that includes many other protein sources and I feed it once a week. My dog died recently so I don’t have a label to quote you the protein content, I can only assume that if it has enough protein for a dog, it must be enough for an ant. I can tell you that, except for some Camponotus colonies, my ants accept it readily. Remember, this is canned dog food. I tried other types of pet food, cat food, fish food etc but my ants seem to prefer dog food. Take your cue from your ants. Try different things, see what they like. If you’re dubious about the protein, read the label and pick one that you’re happy with. I just feed mine the cheap stuff from the dollar store. I think some of my ants like it for the fat as well as the protein. Thanks for your question. It makes all the time it takes to write these answers worthwhile if I it’s helping you.
RPT
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#11 Offline ZATrippit - Posted January 23 2024 - 12:23 AM

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Thought I would add this excerpt from 'Ants of New Zealand' by Warwick Don, Page 107:

'Moore (1938) describes some observations and experiments he made on "Monomorium nitidum" [Synonym for M. antarcticum]... 'After a few days in captivity the ants showed such a decided preference for roast meat that they have been given no other food for a year!' However, the colony suffered from a deficiency of essential nutrients. He noted that the production of workers appeared normal, but the development of only deformed females (potential queens) suggested that females 'are more sensitive to unfavourable or variable conditions to feeding, etc. ...' than workers or males. Moore found it difficult to understand why this should be the case.'

Of course, there are more variables to why this could be the case, but I think it's something to look out for.

Edited by ZATrippit, January 23 2024 - 12:24 AM.

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#12 Offline rptraut - Posted January 23 2024 - 5:00 AM

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Hello ZATrippit;

Thanks for the info. I’d probably look a little deformed too after a year of eating nothing but roast meat! But seriously, everything in moderation is a good rule to follow in your life as well as your ants. Mine enjoy a variety of foods, and get a variety of nutrients as a result.

I was happy to see them eat dog food (not just because I can buy it in a can and I don’t have to boil it) because, as pet food, it contains added vitamins and minerals that might not be available in an all meat diet for my ants. I also gave my experimental colonies fresh and dried fruit for vitamins and minerals as well. Just no insects. I’ll probably continue feeding them only meat products next season, they’re still in the same “no trash allowed” formicarium.

I’m also going to feed more meat to my other colonies. I know ants have been found enjoying dried dog food so I want to see how useful it might be for vacation feeding. Feeding meat makes keeping ants so much easier, I want to feed insects as a treat, not a staple of their diet.
RPT
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#13 Offline Ernteameise - Posted January 23 2024 - 10:25 AM

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I could imagine that it is not only the protein that plays a role, but also composition of fatty acids.

I think we ant keepers look too little into the fat side of things.

Fat is important- not only does it contain fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, K), fat is also what all of our cell membranes are made from. Low quality fats and fats with a high content of saturated fatty acids will damage every singe cell in our body. This is one of the reasons why a human diet that is very high in red meat is unhealthy, at least in humans that have not adapted to it (Inuit for example seem to fare better than Caucasians or Pacific Islanders).

I think besides a different amino acid distribution in meat compared to insects (which could be alleviated by varying the source of meat), mammalian meat will also contain a higher percentage of saturated fatty acids. As compared to bird meat and insect meat.

I also found a scientific paper supporting my theory:

https://www.ncbi.nlm...es/PMC10509705/

So one should pay attention to provide the more healthier unsaturated fatty acids and maybe supplementing when feeding a meat diet to ants.


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#14 Offline rptraut - Posted January 23 2024 - 7:48 PM

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Hello Ernteameise;

 

Thanks for your comments.  I think one of the most interesting things I observed during these experiments was the interest of the ants in fat.  The canned dog food and raw ground pork were the two foods that obviously contained fat.  All of the rest of the foods were lean meat.  We don't eat much red meat, so I don't feed it to my ants.  As I said, I started to feed all my colonies the meat diet with insects being fed only once a week, usually crickets, flies or earwigs.  The only food that was rejected by my colonies was the few Camponotus colonies that didn't like dog food, but the test colony and one other ate it with no problem.  Small colonies, particularly Lasius, took chicken and turkey, (meat and liver) but nothing else.  They preferred flies.  The rest of my colonies got meat five days out of seven.  I fed insects one day a week and they fasted one day a week.  They seem to have survived quite nicely and none of them contracted the disease that threatened to wipe out all of my colonies.  

 

I'm not convinced that feeder insects are an ideal food source.  To be really nutritious, feeder insects should be gut loaded, or fed things that will be beneficial to the animal they're being fed to.  If mealworms and crickets' guts are full of oats, how nutritious is that for ants?  To be honest, my ants don't get all that excited about them and I'm not going to go to the trouble of gut loading.  Feeding meat is just so much easier.  My gut tells me that a piece of cooked chicken liver has to be more nutritious than mealworm any day.  Throw in the added benefit of less disease or mite problems and meat feeding has become a desirable option for me. 

 

I hope, if nothing else, these experiments have shown that there's an opportunity for all ant keepers to try feeding alternate foods to their colonies.  Meat products are easier to handle, produce less trash, are readily available, nutritious, and are readily taken by my ants.  Maybe yours will enjoy them too!

RPT


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#15 Offline Mushu - Posted February 4 2024 - 4:24 AM

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Thanks for sharing the info from your experiments. I think if we compare the nutritional info of protein food and understand the needs of the species studies we can gauge what foods we can try(as long as they take it and are not specialized feeders). Of course each each colony may have their own Individual preferences.

I’m curious if anyone has tried force feeding something they did not readily take and after some time the ants took it because they perhaps needed to. The reason I mention this is, my buddy has quite a few honeypot colonies and he had bought a fruit fly culture. Because he did not want to waste the culture that was producing quite fast and the colonies were not exceptionally large he started feeding them every day. What he noticed was he did not gain the same replete/ worker ratio during that time. It appears as if perhaps they focused on processing the protein more. He has since reverted to 2 protein feedings a week and noticed an increase in nectar repletes again back to his normal ratio. In other words, will ants take anything if they are forced to, excluding specialized feeders.

On the subject of a mealworm being gut loaded with oats compared to chicken, I perhaps wouldn’t look at it that way. The oats are processed and the nutritional value of the mealworm is in its body parts. The gutloading is additional value in unprocessed food with the worm to get reptiles/etc the nutrition they need. Like dusting flies. Just like how a cow eating grass is not necessarily not nutritious. In general however farmed animals compared to free range do have a bit different nutritional profile. Just like farmed salmon compared to wild caught. They basically have less of everything that a wild salmon has.

I too don’t see fat mentioned as much regarding ant nutrition and am also a believer that it may have a more important role than we currently think. As ants scavenging different types of insects and animals in the wild surely get fat in their diets as do larvae chewing on insects parts.

Edited by Mushu, February 4 2024 - 4:33 AM.

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#16 Offline PurdueEntomology - Posted February 4 2024 - 5:10 AM

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So  (Test: C. pennsylvanicus , n=1; Control:  Camponotus (spp. ?), n= ?) in this experiment and the number of colonies tested was indeterminate I would hold off on conclusions.  The outcome of the experiment offers anecdotal information to be shared and considered by others.   An optional (in my opinion) design would have been with the following parameters:  Test: n=5 colonies, Controls: n=5 colonies, same species with equivalence in worker number, no brood and a single queen in each.  With this scenario you would need 5 trial colonies to achieve a 95% confidence in the validity of your results while allowing for a 50% probability of variation being observed between control and trial.  That is saying 2.5 test colonies would have actually demonstrated statistical difference: decrease in egg production, increase in egg production, number of new workers + or -, or what ever you are using to quantify as a measurable/observable outcome.  I would set a 3-4 month time limit and then taken measurements of all 10 colonies and then looked at what the numbers say.  Not being pedantic or fussy just reminding us that quantification ensures confidence in the knowledge we share.  I am still looking for a good response to some one who has kept Lasius claviger and the diet provided, my posting herein is just an excursion.


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#17 Offline rptraut - Posted February 4 2024 - 8:03 AM

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Hello Mushu;
Thanks so much for all your comments. If nothing else, these experiments have generated discussion and challenged some common practices and beliefs. In that regard I consider these experiments to be a success. Thanks for your input.

Hello PerdueEntomology;
Thanks for reminding us about the importance of research. You’re absolutely right. My observations are just the observations of a small scale ant keeper. Take them for what they are. I offer them as sort of a precursor to a full blown experiment -to prove that it can be done and that the subject won’t die. That’s why I didn’t give too many details in the original write up. I wanted it to be about the concepts, not hard and fast numbers. I leave it to each ant keeper to decide how these ideas might fit into their system and if someone can get a masters or something doing the replicated trials, so much the better. Isn’t that another benefit of forums like this. People get ideas and you can do the research. It might also make a great science fair project.
RPT
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