Features Of Keeping An Ant Colony At Home

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Ants are also invertebrates that can be kept as pets. The care is very different from most invertebrates because in ants you can not keep one individual but only a colony. The fact that all ants work together and distribute the tasks in the colony makes it one of the most fascinating types of invertebrates to keep.


Ants belong to the Hymenoptera group, just like bees and wasps. All ant species live in colonies, there are no living species. In the colony the roles are strictly divided; the queen lays eggs, the workers take care of the larvae, build the nest, and bring food back to the colony. In some species of ants, there are different types of workers, shown by their size or shape of the jaws, which only perform specific tasks.

Once a year a colony produces new queens and males that can start a new colony. These leave the colony in so-called bridal flights. There are about 22,000 species of ants on Earth. Ants are very successful and can be found almost everywhere; if you calculate the biomass of all animals on Earth, 15 to 25% of them consist of the biomass of ants. Genetically Ants have a haplodiploid sexe determination system. A full mouth full, but it means that male ants arise from unfertilized eggs and female ants from fertilized eggs. Male ants have only one of each chromosome pair, whereas females (just like humans) have two of each chromosome.


The system of ants with a queen who lays all eggs and workers who do all the work is called eusocial and is very special in nature. For a long time, biologists have been amazed at the functioning of the eusocial system, because it seems very susceptible to abuse. An animal that breeds will spread its genes to the next generation. An animal that does not receive offspring will not do so. The genes in the maid who ensure that she will help with the raising of the boy of the queen will not go to the next generation via the maid. And even stronger; What if a worker in the colony no longer works, but lays eggs herself? She then uses all other workers, while she passes on her genes for 'laziness' to her descendants.

In the next generation, there will be more ants that lay eggs themselves instead of helping the queen. Although the debate between biologists is still about the precise functioning of the system, it is clear that eusocialism persists because the workers help their families to expand. The so-called 'inclusive fitness' and 'kin selection' ensure that colonies with good cooperation will start more new colonies than the colonies with 'lazy' workers who lay eggs themselves. Because eusocialism has existed for so long, it is not even possible for workers of most ant species to lay eggs at all.

Appearance and Species

Everyone knows what an ant looks like. Six legs, two antennas, a three-piece body with head, thorax, and abdomen. However, there are many different adjustments to this building plan in terms of the size of the body and the proportions between the body parts. Ants come for yellow, black, red, and brown color. The most famous species that are kept as pets are the black road ant Lasius niger, the harvest ant Messor barbarus, and the red ant Myrmica Rubra. Lasius niger is the most famous ant because of its abundance in gardens, terraces or even your kitchen cupboard.

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This ant is black in color. The red ant Myrmica rubra is also known since this species also occurs in the garden and can bite. The harvest ant Messor barbarus is an ant from southern Europe that does not occur in the Netherlands. This ant is a favorite because he has different types of workers, small minors, and large majors and because he eats seeds. Housing for ants Ants can be kept in a simple test tube until the colony is large enough to move to a formicarium. The test tube consists of sugar water, then a thick cotton bud, then the ants, and as closure a cotton bud. This is not a nice type of housing, but it works well for a colony with a maximum of about 25 ants. A more attractive housing for an ant colony is called a formicarium.

A good formicarium is made so that the ants feel comfortable and that the owner can observe the ants in the colony. The activity of the ants in the colony is in fact the most interesting of keeping ants. The inside of the nest must be dark for the ants, otherwise, they will not function properly due to stress. A formicarium of two parts; the nest itself and the so-called 'outside area'. In the nest, there are tunnels or materials in which the ants themselves can dig tunnels. In the outlying area, food is offered for the ants and the ants bring their waste automatically. Because there are many ways to build good formicarium, I only describe one example here. There are more types to build and also many types of formicaria ready-to-buy.

Formicarium Construction Plan

This is an example you need this formicarium; a square tin, plastic tray or earthenware bowl, transparent rubber hose (diameter approx. 1 cm), gypsum powder, play-doh clay, and a glass plate that just does not cover the entire surface of the tin or the tray. The size of the container must be at least 20 x 10 cm for a small ant colony, with a height of about 5 cm. A larger surface is also possible and is necessary for large colonies. With the clay, you can make a tunnel system on the glass plate as shown in the image. Make sure that the rubber tube serves as a tunnel to the outside world.

Also, make a few grooves from the side of the glass plate towards the center, these become water channels so that the colony can be kept moist from the outside. Then fill the can with plaster (gypsum powder and water, as on the packaging) and hang the glass plate in the plaster. The clay is therefore in the plaster, but should not sink completely. When the plaster has hardened, you can lift the glass plate and remove all the clay. If you then put the clean glass plate back, you have hard plaster filled with tunnels filled with air. This is a formicarium with one water slot.

You can drip water twice a week in the water channels. This runs through the channels towards the nest, making it humid. If you consistently maintain this, the ants will notice where it is too dry and which places are too humid. They will move their larvae and stock to places that are favorable to them. The nest is therefore covered with a tin or plastic container and must be protected against light. Ants can work through plaster, so make sure that the ants can not crawl out of the tin/tray. You must connect the nest to an 'outside world' with the rubber tube. This can be a closed glass or plastic container, or an open container whose rim is smeared with teflon or paraffin oil so that the ants can not run out. At the bottom of the outdoor area, you can sand and in this area, you put the cap with sugar water and the food down.


What ants eat depends on the species, but generally, ants can be fed with dead or living insects and a solution of honey or sugar with water. Pieces of fruit, pieces of meat, pollen, or syrup are also eaten by ants. Messor Barbarus also eats seeds in addition to insects and sugar water; including millet, dandelion seeds, grass seed, weed seed, and other small seeds. The sugar water can be made by mixing 7 parts of water with 1 part of sugar or honey. This can be offered to the ants in the outside area of ​​the formicarium in a cap of eg a coke bottle or beer bottle. The dead or living insects, such as fruit flies, small crickets, flies, and moths, can be done in the outlying area. The ants find this automatically. Unusually Invertebrate also sells fruit flies to feed on ants, see the webshop. Humidity and temperature The desired humidity for the colony of ants depends on the species. The humidity in the outside area makes little difference, but inside the nest, the humidity must be constant. By building the described formicarium, the ants themselves can choose at which humidity level they store their larvae or food. The temperature for an ant colony may be between 20 and 28 ° C, with a somewhat colder at about 15 degrees at night. The nest can be heated with a heat mat or lamp. The lamp should not give light in the nest itself, only on it so that the heat reaches the ants. Lasius flavus, or yellow meadow ant, with their larvae

Development Duration and Growth of the Colony

The development time of an ant from egg to worker depends on the type and the ambient temperature. In general, you can count for about two weeks. The growth of the colony depends on the amount of eggs the queen lays, and the success of the development of these eggs. This in turn depends on the ambient temperature, the amount of food, and the quality of the food. Proteins, to be fed as insects such as fruit flies, are important for the colony to grow well. An ant colony becomes as old as the queen; this can be about 3 to 10 years. Maybe even longer for some species. Buy ants or find them yourself You can buy an ant colony or find one yourself in nature. With both options, you can choose between a queen with workers/hatch or only a queen. If you only buy or find a queen, you do not know if she is fertilized (this is not visible). If she is not fertilized she will never start a colony. When buying, I, therefore, recommend buying a queen with brood. If you yourself go into nature to catch ants, I recommend looking for a young queen who does not yet have a colony.

In June, July and August there are regularly large winged black ants to be found; these are young Lasius niger queens looking for a place for their own litter. If you catch it, you will not damage nature. They are also easy to find in the summer and this kind is good to keep as a pet. Some ant species are protected in the Netherlands. It is forbidden to catch, trade, or keep these ants. For example, the red forest ant Formica rufa is protected. Do not let ants loose in the wild. You can not 'graze' an ant colony into free nature, because they will move their entire colony into nature and not return to the formicarium. Some species that are kept as pets do not occur in the Netherlands; letting go means that nature is disturbed.

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