Hello everyone! I have just recently become interested in ant keeping, and am looking for a formicarium to buy. I have seen many suggestions to DIY, however, I would like to buy one that I know will work for my first formicarium. The two most well known brands of formicariums that I have seen for sale are AntsCanada and TarHeelAnts. If you have other brand suggestions, please let me know.
Starting with AntsCanada, they have the Omni Nest, Hybrid Nest (genus specific nests), and the Omni Nest Vertical. I have seen a lot of problems with the Omni Nest vertical in online reviews (flimsy manufacturing, difficulty watering, etc), and will likely avoid that one. I did not, however, see many reviews on the original Omni Nest or the Hybrid Nest. Here are a few things I have noted: The hybrid nest has a few issues, including the front glass (it can allow smaller species to escape unless you silicone it, which will then make the nest much harder to clean), the current 5-6 week backorder, the current lack of the large sized hybrid nests, the inability to open separate compartments like you can with the Omni Nest, and the fact that you need to disturb the entire nest to replace the humidity medium under the nest. For the Omni Nest, I have read that the water medium can evaporate very quickly, there is a way for small ants to escape through the water medium chamber, there is no cover included to keep the nest dark, there is no built-in area for a heating cable (though you can likely use a heating pad under one part of the nest), and there are less entrance ports available than in the hybrid nest.
Now to TarHeelAnts. The 3 formicariums I liked the most were the Phalanx, Fortress, and Stronghold. The Fortress is just a smaller version of the Stronghold. I like that the Stronghold has two outworlds (so they can be switched and cleaned), so I will exclude the Fortress. Both the Stronghold and the Phalanx seem to be nice setups. I like that the pieces attach together well, especially the Stronghold, and I really like that the water towers and Nestmates decrease how often you need to water the nests. What I don't like is that they do not include a cover to darken the nest, they appear to be harder to connect to other nests/outworlds than the AntsCanada formicariums (maybe that is just in my head though), and the material would be harder to clean when reusing the nest (when compared to the acrylic of the AntsCanada nests).
All this being said, I think any of the above nests would be fine for my first nest. I did not see many reviews online, however, and do not want to buy a setup before hearing nonbiased testimonials if possible!
A little more information about my situation: I am located in north central Florida and have never owned an ant colony before. I plan to catch my own queen(s) so that I know it is a local species, and because it would be more rewarding to catch my own. I would like to have a Camponotus sp. and a Tetramorium sp. since they are good beginner species, however, I will likely raise whatever species I can find when nuptial flights start in a couple of months. There are a lot of Solenopsis around here and I would like to avoid them as their sting hurts and they are not typically recommended for beginners. If I only catch Solenopsis queens and cannot find any others, however... I may still try to use them.
Other questions: I understand that nuptial flights typically occur in the summer (though maybe all year around in warm, wet places like Florida?), and that it is best to keep a queen in a test tube until she has 20-50 workers. For those reasons, I know I have a long time before I need to buy a formicarium. I have, however, thought of stealing a queen from an established colony (if I can find their queen, or convince the colony to relocate the queen into a test tube and then capture her). Is this an okay practice? I am not sure how a queen will do if she suddenly goes from a full nest of workers down to maybe a hundred or so that I can capture along with her. Back to the nuptial flights, I have found some winged males after brushing the dirt off of some established ant mounds (I know, I'm so mean!), and am wondering if that means that nuptial flights will be happening soon. How soon before flights occur do the winged males start to appear in the nest?
Sorry for the long post and I thank you all in advance for your help!