FAQ

Ask me anything, using the contact form, and I shall do my best to answer and publish your query.

What sparked your interest in ants and ant keeping?

I've always been fascinated by insects - they're in the garden and easy to observe. I've learned a little about bees and social insects over time (my 'uncle' kept bees when I was a lad). I once saw a restaurant with a glass formicarium showing the underground tunnels of an ant colony, and of course I've seen ants at the Natural History Museum.

It was only when I realised you could buy ants online and that there were so many species available that my interest was sparked. I found some websites, was very impressed with all the British ants being kept by enthusiasts, but I didn't want to keep ants that spent all their time underground. Then I came across tree dwelling ants, like Leaf Cutters (of course) and finally hit on Crematogaster rogenhoferi (Thai Tree Ants) and felt I could keep them nicely.

I'm a very impulsive person, and very much enjoy learning every detail about any new project, so I threw myself into researching Thai Tree Ants and general ant care; a few days later, once I'd convinced my partner that I knew what I was doing, I bought everything I needed and we built the formicarium. It was an impulse decision that I've never regretted, but I do recognise my ongoing and long-term commitment to caring for my colony. You have to consider diet carefully, and what you'll do when you go away on holiday.

Seeing as your formicarium is open, how do you stop breeding ants flying around your home?

Believe it or not I didn't know my ants would become princes and princesses every year and grow wings and fly! I built my open-plan formicarium in ignorant bliss, and it was only in the summer that, to my horror, I found scores of large winged ants (alates) pouring out of the nest.

A handful flew around my lounge, landing on shelves and my couch. They seemed dopey, tired and good natured. They were easy to pick up and put back. Another time quite a few took to the air and I didn't know what to do :/

The next year, when the alates hatched in the summer again, they were smaller, and even dopier! They didn't want to fly, an they were no problem for me.

Word of warning - flying ants hatch so they can mate and create new colonies / continue the current colony. I advise everyone to research their species of ant to discover their mating and flying habits. While my ants are not keen on flying, yours could swarm all around the house!

Where can I find ants for an ant farm?

Well, if you mean a proper formicarium or a plaster of paris / wooden farm, then you may purchase a colony of ants (see my links page) or a skilled ant keeper might even catch a pregnant queen while she's flying around!

But, if you've bought one of those 'NASA' blue-gel ant farms then you cannot keep a colony in there (as there would be no food for a queen) so you need to catch a dozen ants from outside your house. Ants might live as long as 8 weeks, but yours might die sooner, so you should be prepared to catch a dozen worker ants every 6 weeks or so.

Do ants sleep?

Yes, kinda, they nap. An ant doesn't have eyelids for its compound eyes, but it does have periods of rest, where its brain slows down and it stops moving. An ant might rest for several minutes during a 12 hour period. Each individual rests as necessary, the whole colony does not go to sleep.

Nick (aged 4) asks; do ants get sand in their eyes?

Your eye is wet and squishy, but an ant's eye is more like lots of cameras all bunched together - their eyes are dry and hard like a camera lens. If sand gets on their eye, they can just wipe it away with their arms. Remember, a single grain of sand might be just as big as their eye, or maybe even as big as their head! 

What do ants eat?

Each species of ant has its preferences, and so you should research your particular species thoroughly. In general, ants may enjoy varies types of fruit, and you should also feed them (slightly squashed) insects that you have caught from your garden. House flies are good too. Honey and 'ant jelly' are very popular with ants.

You must clean up any uneaten food regularly; don't let things rot or go mouldy.

How long do ants live?

Individual ants might love between 30 and 60 days or so. The ones sent out of the nest to forage are generally somewhat older than those kept inside. Queens can live for years, and so colonies can grow and thrive for years.

What is a 'flying ant'; is it an ant at all?

'Flying ants' or 'winged ants' are formally known as "alates" and are a special kind of ant. They are young queens and young males, born with wings so they can leave the nest, fly and mate. After mating the smaller male alates die, and the larger female alates look for a good nest site, and lose their wings and become queens proper.

What can I keep ants in?

Ants will thrive in a good natural habitat. British ants tend to burrow and will need some darkness for their nest. Burrowing ants will want sandy soil or damp sand to dig down into, and they will want some space to forage around in.

Ants do not need a great deal of space, but i personally like to see them with plenty of natural habitat to explore.

One of your main concerns will be security. You may keep your ants in a formicarium in the shed outside, in which case you may be happy for them to 'escape' and forage in your garden. But if you are keeping ants inside then you will want to keep them securely. Different people have different security systems, often making use of an aquarium with a good sealed lid.

Some people place their container into another larger container of water, so that there is a moat, but some ants can walk on water, or perhaps create bridges out of their bodies. Some people have found that petroleum or talc can make a barrier. I use a petroleum barrier and then a moat of vegetable oil and my ants are nicely contained in my lounge.

Can ant keeping be cruel?

I don't know, but I do not like to see any creature in an unnatural environment or too cramped. Those nasty and expensive blue-gel 'NASA' ant farms get my thumbs down.


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