One of the most popular kept species across the UK & Europe.
Messor Barbarus the European harvester Ant.
Found across Southern Europe, North Africa stretching as far as Asia.
I currently keep a Red Headed & a Bi-Colour colony of Messor Barbarus.
Primary records indicate the species to be monogyne (a single Queen within the colony), however examples have been found of colonies being polygyne (multiple Queens within the colony) usually this data has been recorded in captivity, with two or more Queens, this is rare and out of the norm. Possibly in theory due to the stresses of a new environment, adaptive traits for survival. I personally have only ever kept this species with a single Queen.
Queens are between 14mm to 18mm they have a varied colour morph, most known is the Red headed, then Bi-Colour (red head and red thorax) least is all black, this is significant because the majors will often inherit the colours of the Queen.
The minor workers start from around 3mm all the way to the majors being up to 14mm.
This species has Minors, Media & Major workers, all the workers are female.
Queens are fully claustral founding, this means they do not need to hunt for food, they will remain in their claustral chamber until their first workers eclose (emerge from their pupae stage to a fully formed Ant), known as nanitics, these nanitics then have the job of finding vital food to feed a now starving Queen. This is when you should offer your colony some form of foraging area, so the workers can gather vital supplies, for a young colony its best practice to pre crush seeds.
Males only appear during a nuptial flight (mating flight) and have a short life they are all black, with wings, around 6mm - 8mm in size. Their only role in life is to inseminate a virgin Queen, so she can venture off and found a new colony to continue the life cycle and survival of the species.
Colony size can reach up to 10,000 members.
Messor Barbarus have the ability to hibernate but they hibernate selectively in response to the weather, in Southern Europe the species hibernates at 15°c, In north Africa, they do not hibernate as the weather does not reach their hibernation temperatures, studies conducted showed no pro's or con's to this species hibernating, Queens that hibernated laid more brood in a shorter time frame, Queens that did not hibernate laid smaller brood piles over a longer time frame, both colonies grew in equal measure, over the year they was studied.
I judge hibernation by colony response, if they stop foraging during the winter months, then allow them to hibernate, end of November - end of February, do not let the temperatures fall below 15°c.
If the colony does not hibernate, doesn't show any signs of slowing down, then carry on the summer guide lines for temperature range.
Their most interesting trait as the name suggests is harvesting seeds, they store these seeds in underground purpose built chambers known as granaries.
They chew up the seeds, to create a substance that is known as "Ant bread".
Due to this it is a necessity to provide the correct humidity levels within the nest.
You need a variation in nest humidity, with arid chambers for seed storage & humid chambers for brood development & what I dub to be bakery sites (where they make the ant bread), too much humidity in the whole nest and the seeds with germinate in the nest and cause chaos! to arid across the whole nest and they will struggle to care for the brood and create ant bread.
Brood & Bread Chambers -
Messor's need a varied diet of seeds, nuts, grains & insects, some will take carbohydrates in the form of sugars and other colonies wont, sugars are a hit and miss with the species.
Their Major workers double up as seed crushers and butchers for the colony, prior to their arrival its best to pre crush or chop up their prey. their primary diet is granivorous, seeds, nuts & grains.
Here is a list of seeds, nuts & grains, I have had success with feeding to my colonies.
Messor are prone to pests, Grain Mites, often seed fit for the pet trade can be infested, to try to avoid this I tend to use seeds fit for human consumption as they are of a higher quality, regularly cleaning any left over waste or discarded seeds, many seed mixes are available that contain these seeds that I have listed. Its important to feed a mix of these listed seed as each contains different nutrients important to the growth of the colony, Chia seed for instance is high in protein.
Other sources of protein;
Prior to feeding insects its best to dip them in boiling or just boiled water to sterilise the carcass incase it is carrying any unseen mites or parasites. allow to cool to room temperature or douse in cold water before feeding to the colony.
Due to their ability to chew, Ytong, Plaster, Gypsum & Wooden nests are not advised, unless they are encased within a tank, or have acrylic / 3D printed case.
Acrylic or glass nests are highly recommended to contain this species.
Natural set ups come with their own difficulties of managing the humidity and preventing stored seeds from germinating and becoming plants, disrupting the storage area and nest.
AntBoyUK has a specific nest designed for Messors.
This nest focuses on their sensitivity to light, having a black out cover & a red acrylic cover, hydrated chambers for brood and bred production and arid chambers for seed storage.
constructed from acrylic the Messors are unable to chew their way out, the nest is also raised to slip a heat cable underneath, I recommend using a pulse proportional thermostat alongside the heat cable to control the heat, the size 2 nest has two ports, you could slide a thermostat probe into one of the ports.
Messors are sensitive to light, noise & vibrations, these stresses can cause a colony to eat its brood, a defensive response to being nest raided, the brood is valuable protein.