Before I begin, here is a quick summary of Camponotus nicobarensis:
Temperature: Nest - 24-28°C; Outworld - 21-35°C
Humidity: Nest - 50-70%; Outworld - 30-50%
Hibernation: None (although some colonies from northern regions do)
Colony Form: Usually monogynous. Sometimes polygynous. There is speculation that colonies from southern regions are more likely to be polygynous.
Polymorphic: Yes - Queen 12-14mm; Worker 5-7mm; Major 7-12mm
Note: Fast growing compared with other Camponotus species. Mainly nocturnal but are an active species and larger colonies often have a constant presence in the outworld.
Today (28/04/22) I received a founding colony of two Camponotus nicobarensis queens in the post from TheAntLady.
Even though they were only posted the day before, they looked a bit shook up (literally). So I wanted to get them settled as quickly as I could. As I wanted to get them in the warm and dark, I didn't have chance to take many pictures. I also didn't have time to have a proper look for any eggs. But as I couldn't see any, I was worried they may have eaten them with the stress of being sent through the post.
Leaving them in the test tube, I wrapped it in tin foil and placed it on a heating cable (near the open end). This helps prevent condensation and gives the queens a temperature gradient so that they can choose the best temperature for the brood.
Normally, in the wild, nicobarensis are a fully claustral species, which means that they seal themselves into a chamber in order to rear their brood and do not leave even for food. However, in captivity, it is not uncommon for them to accept a small amount of sugar water if given the opportunity. Offering them sugar water within their test tube does have some drawbacks, so it is a bit of a balancing act. Firstly, it is likely that opening the test tube to add sugar water will stress the queen(s), which might cause them to eat their brood. Secondly, any remaining uneaten sugar water might cause the test tube to become mouldy. This can be a danger to the queen(s) and any brood. So you are then faced with the choice of leaving them in a mouldy test tube, or moving them to a fresh one, once again causing more stress to the young colony.
I thought that it may be worth offering my queens some food as I am unsure how long they have already been founding for. I wasn't sure what to do, so I decided to let them settle in for the day while I waited for some more experienced ant keepers to come back to me with some advice.
The advice which I received from various ant keepers was very helpful.
@BigRoss suggested that I get a thermostat, as my "always on" heating cable might be getting too hot for them. He suggested this one from Amazon:
He suggested that I set up a dummy test tube, identical to my queen's. That way I could put the temperature probe in that in order to monitor the current temperatures. I have to say, it is ideal! I can now see exactly what temperature it is inside the test tube and the thermostat keeps the temperature between 26-27°C. It is just one less thing to worry about.
Regarding feeding, Tracie (TheAntLady) suggested that I offer them a tiny drop of sugar water, then leave them alone and try to disturb them as little as possible for a week or two.
So this is what I decided to do. However, I had (what I thought was) a good idea. I thought that if I could avoid removing the cotton from the entrance of the tube, it would be less likely to stress them out. So, I decided on a cunning plan.
I would get a tiny drop of sugar water in a small syringe and poke a needle through the cotton wool, deposit a tiny droplet of sugar water and be done in seconds with them barely noticing.
Pleased with my idea, I proceeded to carefully slide the foil down the test tube. I was delighted to see that there was a small pile of eggs! I am not sure if they were freshly laid or if I had just not seen them before (possibly due to them being scattered previously). Either way, it was a great start. I had planned to take some pictures of the egg pile but unfortunately, it all went down hill from there...
I tried to poke the needle through the cotton and it went most of the way but then started to push the cotton further into the tube. After readjusting the cotton (which caused the queens to move toward the back of the tube, leaving their pile of eggs about half way), I managed to get the end of the needle just passed the cotton wool. Now to deposit a tiny droplet of sugar water onto the side of the tube. I pressed the plunger of the syringe so gently, but to my horror, a droplet (not huge, but larger than I would have liked) spat out the end of the needle and instead of it being just passed the cotton, it landed in the middle of the test tube... right next to the pile of eggs! I was so annoyed with myself, but also relieved that it hadn't actually come into contact with the eggs.
So, now I was left wondering what I should do.
I could just leave them. Would the queens eat some of the sugar water and move the eggs to a slightly safer location? I didn't think the droplet was big enough to drown either of the queens... but I wasn't 100% sure. I couldn't risk it. Fortunately, the droplet was slightly nearer the open end of the tube than the pile of eggs were. So, I carefully pushed the cotton wool into the tube until it was just touching the edge of the droplet of sugar water. Once the cotton had absorbed most of it, I pulled it back into place, leaving the small pile of eggs undisturbed. I slid the foil cover back over the tube returning it to darkness.
I can only hope that my error didn't stress the queens out enough for them to eat the eggs and instead feed on the remaining sugar water.
As I say, I didn't get a picture of the egg pile but here is my current set up:
It is not ideal, but it is only for a month or so until the first nanitic workers eclose, when I plan to move them to a Wakooshi Venus Nest.
I will now leave them for two weeks, completely undisturbed. Hopefully, when I do check on them again, they will have some well grown larvae. 🤞
Ants & The Colonialist