How to start/ set up an ant colony

SkyeSpider

Spider Queen
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My wife got me my first ant farm for our anniversary. It's one of those neat gel ones like the ones NASA took into space several years ago. We stocked it with mail ordered harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex sp.). I'm REALLY enjoying watching these little guys!

Now, I've been in the bug hobby half my life, and I'm currently working on my entomology degree (I haven't gotten to ants, yet). That said, I've never even though of setting up a colony.

Watching an episode of Dirty Jobs a while back, I saw a really neat set up for leaf cutter ants that had tubes running between small containers. How hard would it be to put one of these together? Had anyone done it before who can give me advice and a how-to?

Where should I buy ants from? I'm having trouble finding ways to get a queen ant to ensure the colony continues.

I'm really excited to do this as a fun summer project :)
 

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myrmecophile

Arachnolord
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The short answers are.
1. The gel nest are ok for short term observations nests only, they do not fare well over long term.
2. You will not be able to legally acquire any sort of complete colony, your best bet will be to collect your own or better yet find a nest founding queen.
3. Leaf cutters forget about it. However the enclosure style is very doable and a very cool idea.
 

SkyeSpider

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Thanks for the reply!

1- Yeah, I know it's short term. It was a really neat way for her to motivate me to try some new arthropods, though. The amount of teamwork I can see in only 30 ants is flat out amazing.

2- Any advice on collecting? I've never collected anything other than arachnids and myriapods.

3- I'm not really interested in leaf cutters specifically, it was more the enclosure build. It's like one of those tube-filled hamster cages I loved as a kid– just this time with bugs!

The short answers are.
1. The gel nest are ok for short term observations nests only, they do not fare well over long term.
2. You will not be able to legally acquire any sort of complete colony, your best bet will be to collect your own or better yet find a nest founding queen.
3. Leaf cutters forget about it. However the enclosure style is very doable and a very cool idea.
 

demasoni521

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look for AntsCanada's videos on youtube. They have tons of informational videos on caring for ants, capturing princess ants (so they develop into queens so you have a PRODUCING colony), feeding, etc. Just type AntsCanada on the search bar.
 

What

Arachnoprince
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2- Any advice on collecting? I've never collected anything other than arachnids and myriapods.
http://antfarm.yuku.com/topic/6908/Mating-Chart-2008-2011
Will provide you some good info. That forum will also be your ~best source of information on the web for this.

Why is that? Are they high maintenance?
There are no native species in his state, I believe, which makes them persona non grata there according to the USDA/Aphis (ants cannot be sent legally between state lines without permits individuals cannot get).

Personally, having tried and failed at starting many colonies... Good luck. I have given up, and it takes a lot to get me to that point with a bug. The farthest along I have gotten is 3 workers with the queen and her brood, then something always goes wrong. :eek:
 

Travis K

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I helped build a science fair project that was an ant display. I built a 30"x20"x1" acrylic and wood enclosure. Then in early February when the ground was still slightly frozen I went to an ant hill and removed a bunch of the substrate and ants. Then we separated the ants from the substrate and added the substrate to the enclosure. After that we added the ants and brought them in to get warmed up.

After a couple of days they had all kinds of tunnel networks going on, and even started laying eggs. The teacher asked me if if she could keep it for awhile and then I never saw it again. I have thought about building another one for my own kids this time but not sure if it is worth destroying an ant hill.

Not sure what the species is/was but the kind we have her in Eastern Washington will construct large hills up to 3' tall and 4' or 5' wide.
 

desertanimal

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Leaf cutters are VERY high maintenance. They are also escape artists. You have to keep the humidity for their fungal chamber just right, and that's a challenge. And they seem to eventually chew through just about everything you try to keep them in. I have a myrmecologist friend who keeps both Pogonomyrmex and Acromyrmex set up in the lab. The pogos are easy to keep. The Acromyrmex are always chewing out, and the colonies' fungi crash everytime she leaves town and has someone else take care of them. If you want an ant colony, talk to your local myrmecologist. He or she should know when the mating flights for your harvester species should be. Also, if you find a couple army ants and drop them down a harvester nest, you will cause a mass evacuation and can collect the queen that way. I don't recommend Messor, if you have those in your area. Although they are stingless harvesters, which is appealing, we found that they are much more sensitive about humidity than the pogos and didn't do well in culture.

Collecting queens is either very easy or very hard. If your timing is right and you're in a breeding area on the right day, you can collects hundreds to thousands of newly mated queens. If you're just a little late, you have to look around for fresh holes and dig them up. Many of those holes will be empty. It's definitely easiest when you just pick them up as they're running around on the ground looking for a place to dig a hole. Also, if you do collect, collect quite a few new queens and set them up in nest chambers. You will have some attrition, even in the best set-ups.
 

Introvertebrate

Arachnoangel
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Thanks desertanimal. Great info. Would it be safe to assume that any ants collected in a temperate region such as Ohio would require a dormant hibernation period in the winter? Maybe they only live for one summer season, and the eggs and pupae over winter.
 

myrmecophile

Arachnolord
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The army ant trick does indeed work well but in most cases good luck finding them. Yes fairly common in Az during the monsoon but not other times. Although a colony of local species may not actually "need" a dormant period they will probably take one regardless of your plans. Messor pergandei is actually quite easy provided you keep them on the warm side and do not over dry them. Have never tried M. andrei but they should do ok as well.
 

desertanimal

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Yeah, the Messor pergandeijust didn't "take" in the test tube brood chamber set up, and only did well in a more traditional frame set-up with actual soil, which is a bit more hassle if you're taking care of more than a few colonies. Plus, I love that the pogos do well with the test tube brood chamber in boxes with just plaster of paris "substrate," because I love how well you can see the brood in that set-up. I think the soil helped the Messor not dry out. I'm sure they'd do great if you gave them a 10gal with real substrate. I was trying to set up colonies for use in grade school classrooms, so I really wanted everything to be super visible, and Messor was definitely not as good for that as the pogos. (Turns out none of that mattered anyway, bc grade school science teachers weren't interested in having something they had to take care of in their rooms.)

Another good thing about Messor is that they are terrible climbers. No sting, can't get out. Two big plusses, really. And they are really handsome ants, besides. If you could keep them in the test-tube, substrateless set-up, I'd have some myself.

Sorry introvert--I know jack $ about temperate species. Sounds like myrmecophile is your go-to person there!
 

SkyeSpider

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To everyone who posted in here: Thank you! Lots of very useful information. I really appreciate it! :)
 

echostatic

Arachnosquire
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This is definitely the time of year to find your queens. Here in Texas I've already caught a couple of carpenter ant species, and I expect to see the red imported fire ant flying before long too. Those queens are impossible to miss, I caught about 11 of them last year without trying. I even had one progress to a colony containing tens of thousands of workers and alates. (The others were frozen) I recommend carrying test tubes at all times and keeping your eyes glued to the ground for the next several months.
 
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