Adopting an ant colony can be an intimidating process. In this section, you'll find simple answers to common questions.
Why do people keep ants?
Similar to other pets, ant colonies behave as organisms that thrive under proper care and affection. Unlike other pets, however, ant colonies consist of many individuals that are each programmed to carry out their own tasks for the benefit of their family. Worker ants on their own may not seem particularly interesting, but as a whole, ant colonies function as complex, intelligent societies with sophisticated mechanisms, many of which humans have yet to fully understand.
In addition to the sheer beauty of these magnificent creatures, there is evidence to suggest that maintaining and observing an ant colony provides therapeutic stimulation for those who suffer from attention and learning conditions such as ADD, ADHD, OCD, and dyslexia.
Who adopts ant colonies?
Anyone can adopt an ant colony, but most of our customers are either involved in research or are invigorated by science and inspired by the natural wonder of ants. The popularity of ant-keeping as a hobby is rapidly increasing among animal lovers as students and professionals of all ages are becoming involved.
What's so great about the queen?
Although worker ants are integral to the success of a colony, every egg is laid by the queen and she is ultimately responsible for all growth. Without a queen, the worker count will dwindle away and the colony will perish. After mating only once, queen ants can lay anywhere from tens to hundreds of eggs a day, and thousands of eggs a year.
What's a nuptial flight?
When a colony reaches the right size, the queen with lay eggs that eventually become winged male and female reproductives called “alates”. On particularly warm days during spring and summer months, these alates will fly out of their nests and mate in mid-air with alates from a nearby colony of the same species. This process is referred to as a “nuptial” or “mating” flight.
Once mated, male alates will fall to the ground and die within twenty-four hours. Mated female alates, however, have a long journey ahead of them.
What is a claustral chamber?
After a nuptial flight, a newly-mated female alate will forcibly remove her wings (similar to how humans cut their hair or trim their fingernails), and begin to dig a small hole underground where she will establish the foundation for her new colony. This is referred to as a "claustral" or "founding" chamber. The young queen will seal the entrance of the chamber and in the coming weeks, she’ll lay and nurture eggs that metamorph into pupae and eclose (technical term for 'hatch') into workers.
A colony’s first set of workers are called “nanitics” and are usually smaller than later generations of workers. Nanitics will forage for food and help feed the colony, but one of their primary purposes is to assist the queen in nursing brood.
What is brood?
‘Brood’ simply refers to baby ants: larvae and pupae. Eggs that are laid by the queen will hatch into larvae that feed on lots of protein until they become pupae, at which point they will continue to develop and finally ‘eclose’ into workers. Depending on the species, availability of protein, and living conditions of the colony, brood can take anywhere from three to six weeks to fully develop into workers.
How long do ant colonies live for?
Although worker ants typically have very short lifespans of only a few months, a colony will survive for as long as the queen does. This may be anywhere from three to five years, but in some extreme cases, queens of certain species have been known to live for up to 30 years in captivity.
What is the difference between genus and species
In simple terms, ‘genus’ refers to a grouping of genetically similar organisms; a ‘species’ is a group of genetically identical organisms within a certain genus. For example, the genus ‘Camponotus’ typically refers to all Carpenter Ants, while the species 'Camponotus pennsylvanicus' refers only to Black Carpenter Ants. In writing, genus is capitalized while species is not, and both words are italicized.
Often, defining characteristics of ants differ more between genera than species within that genera, so it is occasionally acceptable to make generalizations about more than one species in a genus. For example, although they are genetically distinct, Camponotus pennsylvanicus and Camponotus chromaiodes are both closely related and exhibit similar tendencies. That said, it's always a good idea to specify both genus and species, as there do exist extreme cases in which distinct species within a genus are vastly different.
Which Species is Right for You?
Selecting a species to adopt is an important process that is similar to choosing a dog breed. Some ants prefer a quiet, laid back lifestyle, while others can handle more than a little bit of excitement.
Once you've covered the basics, this is a good place to begin your search. More details can be found under each colony's product page.
Brachymyrmex, commonly known as Rover Ants, are incredibly tiny. At a maximum length of a mere two millimeters, Brachyrmex can be hard to see with the naked eye and tricky to raise from just a queen. With meticulous care colonies can flourish, and it is well worth the effort.
Contrary to popular belief, Carpenter ants won't break out into your house and nest in your walls. In fact, they prefer to nest in only rotting wood, so if you do happen to find a colony sharing your living space, it's a good indication that you've got a slightly bigger problem on your hands...
Camponotus are slow and steady growers, but they are some of the largest ants in the world and are wonderful for beginners. Due to their popularity, Camponotus species are frequently sold out, so be sure to reach out in advance to reserve a colony!
Colobopsis are some of the most ambiguous and mysterious ants in the country. Minor workers of this genus have evolved to resemble workers of tree-dwelling Crematogaster species, while major workers are famous for their flat, textured heads that they use to plug up their colonies' nest entrances in hollowed out branches and twigs.
Sometimes referred to as 'St. Valentine's Ants', Crematogaster species have distinctly heart-shaped gasters. A personal favorite of ours, Acrobat Ants have a fun, lively disposition, and their colonies can reach over thousands of workers in the first few years of captivity. Due to their high demand and elusive nature of the queens, Crematogaster are highly sought after.
Common in warmer climates, the Dorymyrmex genus contains brightly-colored and very friendly ants, including Dorymyrmex bureni, a unique species that has a surprising symbiotic relationship with humans. D. bureni play a crucial role in the maintenance of agricultural establishments in the Southeastern US, as they prey on invasive parasites that are known to destroy crops.
Another highly sought after genus, Formica are a wonderful option for the experienced ant-keeper. Workers are large and aggressive, although in early stages of development, Formica colonies can be very timid and are quite susceptible to stress.
Unanimously respected as fantastic beginner ants, Lasius are a very popular option for novice ant-keepers. Nuptial flights take place in early September, frequently falling exactly on Labor day, granting them their other common name: Labor Day Ants.
EUROPEAN FIRE ANTS
The Myrmica genus contains an invasive species called Myrmica rubra, sometimes known as European Fire Ants, that are known by hikers and explorers for the powerful punch that their stings' pack. Among myrmecologists, however, Myrmica, are known for their particularly messy taxonomy and are infamously difficult to accurately identify. Unlike queens of many other species, Myrmica queens are semi-claustral and are known to leave their nests to hunt for protein during the early stages of their colonies' development.
The invasive Nylanderia fulva is one of very few species that has evolved to develop an antidote to protect against the venom in Red-Imported Fire Ant (RIFA) stings, solenopsin. Unfortunately, they are no less destructive than fire ants, and are a common household pest in the Southeastern United States.
Native species of Nyladeria share the same resourceful and clever mindset as their invasive cousins, but prefer the peace and quiet of forests and meadows. Colonies are small and often nest in fallen twigs and sticks.
Pheidole, Big-Headed Ants, are often regarded as some of the loveliest ants to keep and are adored for their major workers, who have large, armored heads and powerful jaws that they use to crack seeds and tear apart exoskeletons of prey. Although seemingly macho, however, Pheidole workers are very little and not nearly as intimidating as they sound.
FALSE HONEYPOT / WINTER ANTS
Known for their bulbous gasters that are used to store liquids, P. imparis are very unique and are the only Prenolepis species native to the United States. Unlike other species, P. imparis are also unusually active in the winter and are often the very first ants to conduct nuptial flights. There are records of P. imparis nuptial flight as early as January!
Although harmless compared to their invasive cousins, RIFAs, Solenopsis molesta are just sneaky. Colonies occasionally nest underground directly beside nests of other species, invading their nurseries and stealing developing brood. Under perfect living conditions, colonies can explode in population, but they can be sensitive in early stages of foundation and require much attention.
ODOROUS HOUSE ANTS
Despite being one of the most common household pests, Tapinoma sessile are notoriously difficult to keep in captivity. Colonies have been known to nest in the most obscure locations including wall clocks, light bulbs, and even behind computer screens, but for some unknown reason tend to perish very quickly standard test tube setups and formicaria.
With colonies rarely exceeding ~150-200 workers, Temnothorax are the perfect desktop ants. Ideal for tidy and meticulous ant-keepers, wild Temnothorax will occasionally house entire colonies in acorns, granting them their fittingly charming common name: Acorn Ants.
Similar to Red Imported Fire Ants in the southeastern United States, Tetramorium immigrans (formerly Tetramorium Sp. E) are just as ubiquitous in populated areas, but not nearly as dangerous and make wonderful beginner colonies. Pavement ants are tough and aggressive, but won't sting and rarely ever bite. In addition to durability, colonies are very flexible when it comes to feeding, and some well-regulated heating can have tremendous effects on grown rate.
How do you raise an ant colony?
Taking good care of your colony is simpler than it seems. This section will cover some of the critical elements of ant-keeping.
Ant colony housing is typically broken up into two main components: formicaria and outworlds. A Formicarium is an artificial nest that an ant colony lives in. An outworld is foraging space attached to the formciarium for the colony to explore and look for food in.
At Antsylvania, all of our foundress queens and young colonies are raised in standard test tube setups. It's always a good idea to provide an outworld for your colony, but you'll only really need to consider purchasing a formicarium when the test tube is jam-packed with workers!
An effective outworld can be anything from an empty plastic container to a grand-scale, breathing terrarium with live plants and animals. We recommend you go for something a little simpler, with enough decorations to make your colony feel at home, but not so many that it seems overcrowded.
When your colony is large enough (typically anywhere from 20 to 50 workers, depending on the species), it's time to think about getting a formicarium. Here's where it can get slightly tricky. There are many kinds of formicaria, some of which may be more suitable for your colony than others. With so many options, it can be easy to get lost in the world of funky shapes and sizes.
At the end of the day, whichever formicarium you choose for your colony is up to you, but we would be more than happy to offer some recommendations. Feel free to shoot us an email at any time, and we promise to get back to you within 48 hours.
Hydration is often considered one of the most critical elements of successful ant-keeping. Without water, your colony will perish very quickly. Luckily, test tube setups are equipped with built-in water reservoirs, so there's no need for any extra accommodations.
All ants require two main kinds of nutrition: carbohydrates (sugar), usually in the form of nectar or fruit, and protein, preferably in the form of insect meat. Young workers and brood feed almost exclusively on protein for growth, while adult workers prefer to consume sugar for energy while foraging.
When it comes to what foods your colony might enjoy, feel free to try different things. We recommend you do stick with raw insect meat for protein, however, as it is very concentrated and the healthiest option for your colony. You can purchase feeder crickets or fruit flies at your local pet store.
You can also catch your own feeder insects; spiders, beetles, and houseflies work wonderfully. Just be sure to freeze them before feeding to get rid of any unwanted parasitic bacteria or fungi.
Contrary to popular belief, ants do not require darkness in their living enclosures. That said, we do recommend keeping your colony in an undisturbed, peaceful, and preferably darker location. This will make the moving process much simpler when your colony has run out of room in their current living enclosure.
An ant colony's growth rate is dependent on many factors, temperature being one of the most important. Simply put, the warmer it is, the more eggs your queen will lay and the faster your colony will grow. Heating lamps, cables, and pads are all great options and can be purchased in the 'reptiles' section of your local pet store. Just make sure there's a way to regulate temperature!
80°-90° F is a good range. Depending on the species, you may be able to up to 95° F or higher, but try not to go overboard, as very high temperatures can be dangerous for your colony.