Ant keeping is probably one of the most challenging pet related hobbies, I have kept many different species of creatures, reptiles and animals, none have ever felt as intensely challenging and rewarding as keeping Ants.
However this is from my perspective as a collector, I keep various different native and exotic ant species that all require different environments and have their own unique struggles to contend with, some colonies grow into vast empires! Others are able to deliver painful stings, some are calm and mellow with great joy and ease to keep, I experience a wide spectrum of the hobby through my choices to push myself, my understanding and knowledge of Ants and how to successfully keep them, I don't always get it right, I'm far from perfect, but I am determined.
Ants like Messor species mentioned in the linked video, are so enjoyable to keep, these seed collectors are so docile, some species have small colonies other grow to a pretty fair size just ask my friend Ant Holleufer! their behaviour as a species never ceases to be enjoyable to watch, their greatest challenge is in successful founding, often once matured, they are pretty hardy, their long term food solutions make their feeding regime quite generous compared to other species, harvester ants can stores months worth of food resources at any given time, this makes them great if you are looking for a lower maintenance species to keep.
If you have just started Ant keeping and all these things feel totally alien to you, don't panic, you have plenty of time to learn and the ant keeping community, the vast amount of youtube content and of-course my blog, are all here to help you on your journey of discovery.
The everyday life of an ant keeper, can be as complicated or as simple as you would like it to be, often people catch "Antkeepernitis" an incurable infection that causes the patient to buy multiple colonies of ants and bask in their glory! its sadly quite contagious it speculatively infects around 99.9% of the ant keeping community.
For those beginning this road into the Hobby, start small, start simple, its a journey, its more like the hobby of bonsai tree's than go karting, it takes patience, it takes time, but as with any hobby, the more time you put into it, if you have passion, dedication, you both grow together, you feel the amazing feat of taking a colony from a Queen to an empire, seeing your first workers emerge, or the first time they forage, its a hobby filled with curiosity, just in the early days you have to be careful that you don't get too curious and overly stress a founding colony, i think this lesson only ever really comes with time, experience and a sort of maturity into the hobby, there is probably not a soul alive who has made the initiation into this critical error, failure is not losing a colony, it will happen, this hobby presents unusual challenges, with an incredible amount of learning, not just about Ants and their various genus and species, but about the environment, how to master and control an environment to successfully keep your ants, its about nutrition, lets face it you often end up down a scientific rabbit hole to progress, the famous line of a pokemon master, "Got to catch them all" to do this you have to know the pokemon, what it needs, how to care for it, this is where "Antkeepernitis" kicks in, so be careful!
In the beginning you have a Queen and months of little to no changes, She has to lay brood, the brood has to develop, at this stage if the Queen has a few workers, they have a limited capacity as to the workload they can undertake, between the various tasks they must complete, Ants spend an incredible amount of time, cleaning their environment, cleaning and caring for the brood, foraging for food and the labour intensive task of harvesting that resource and bringing it back to the colony, its a lot of work for a small colony to complete, as the colony grows you will experience more and more of the workers, foraging, they use the youngest, weaker workers, as nursery nurses, they have the numbers to keep a sustained work force within the queens chamber nursing the brood, the queen and doing all of the cleaning, the older more mature workers which will most likely number in the majority, will undertake the foraging and resource management roles, you colony is now developing the logistics it needs to really start to grow and become interesting, depending on the species you care for will ultimately dictate the work load, the size of the colony, the size of their out world/foraging area and nest capacity, whether your using additional live cleaner insects, such as springtails, isopods, beetles, etc.
If you have any Questions regarding Ant keeping or would like me to create any content to help explain or for tutorial and learning purposes, let me know in the comments below!
Lauren Silverman, writing for the National Geographic, has written a very in depth article, about Ant Keeping, the unlikely rise of the hobby, which was brought into the mainstream by Uncle Milton's Ant Farms, the first commercially produced & sold world wide, Ant Formicaria in the late 50's early 60's, In the US these Formicaria were sold with Pogonomyrmex a North American, harvester Ant species, when it reached the EU, they were sold with Messor Barbarus, the European harvester Ant, both species remain to be some of the most popular kept, ant species in their regions.
Certainly the hobby has evolved, it would be unrecognisable to our forebearers, with the choices in formicaria alone, not to mention the growth of the hobby worldwide, aided by the age of technology, the internet, as part of the generation that kept Ants prior to the internet boom, NTL made the internet more accessible for the UK, in the year 2000, with the launch of broadband, dial up was a poor excuse for internet, it would take hours to load a simple Jpeg file.
At that point not much existed in the web, regarding the hobby of ant keeping, really I would say it wasn't until the launch of Facebook in 2004, to put it in perspective, my early years as an Ant keeper came to an end, around 2005.
Fast forward to 2021, we have hundreds of Facebook hobby groups with thousands of members, communities across other platforms, Discord, Reddit, Instagram & the latest craze on TikTok.
Information & knowledge on the hobby is now readily available, youtubers such as Ants Canada & Ants Australia, paved the way for millions into the hobby. I would attribute the internet & technology, to being the biggest catalyst, taking this hobby, from a kid like myself keeping Ants in dirt jars & other home made formicaria, fruitless expeditions to the local library in search for knowledge on how to keep Ants, anything I could find, but content was scarce, to having it all at my fingers tips, through my phone or laptop.
The internet totally, changed the face of the world, opened doors, we have never had so much information readily available to us, now a quick google search can connect you to a whole database of scientific and academia, articles on ants, forums filled with Ant Keepers, video content, more than you could find the time to watch it all.
We have been spoilt by some epic documentary's from the legendary likes of Sir David Attenborough, One of my favorite documentaries to come from the BBC was the Empire of the Desert Ants, narrated by Andy Serkis. Follwing a colony of Myrmecocystus (Honeypot Ants) in the deserts of Arizona, USA.
Its moments like these, when our humble hobby is highlighted to the world, that we as keepers, content creators or ant loving community members, we tend to see an influx of newly emerging keepers into the hobby, perhaps sparking an old childhood interest, others a completely new interest, being left in awe from what they have seen or read.
Articles, documentaries, content creators, inspire people to be a part of the hobby, Its been amazing to see this growth, gaining more and more momentum.
The Ant keeping hobby is not like any other hobby that I have ever taken up, it can be an emotional rollercoaster at times, its certainly one of the biggest learning curves, there is so much to get to grips with, from Latin names, to understanding the differences between species, understanding your local laws, Identifying Queens, capturing or purchasing Queens to start a colony, learning how to create a safe and stable environment, it can feel overwhelming.
My advice to new keepers, join Facebook groups or Discord groups, you can find some listed in the "Our Colony" links page, this will link you into one of your biggest resources & support pools, the community as a whole are very welcoming, most go out of their way to help, give advice or make suggestions, its a unique mix and group of people, from all walks of life.
Terms & Conditions
To enter simply comment on the video, if you would like to show more appreciation please, share the video, show a friend, if you haven't already please consider subscribing to the channel.
I will select winners at random and announce them in the next video, if you win, but are not eligible, due to age, permissions, laws, etc, I will re-draw a new winner in the following video.
Thank you Ants Davey for your generous gift so I am able to offer this competition to the community.
I was due to announce the competition winners in a live stream, since hibernation the Queen has not laid any brood, she has 2 pupae, prior to hibernation which have not eclosed.
I'm not quite sure what is currently happening with the Queen, I'm a little worried to announce a winner and the Queen may not be viable, she had laid brood when she arrived, she ate them prior to hibernation leaving only the 2 pupae.
It could be that a problem has arisen with the Queen through hibernation, I'm not entirely sure the reason, she has not laid since & the pupae have not eclosed.
In theory they should have eclosed by now & she should be well into a few cycles of laying brood.
I would like to wait until the Queen has laid more brood & has some workers, just so that I know that I have done the right thing, she seems in good health, she is actively foraging in the tubs & tubes set up.
I know the competition has been a total shambles on my end and I apologise, I tried to set something up, I was not able to do, then when the pandemic started, shipping became dodgy, I decided to wait a little longer until that all calmed down, months later this is where I currently find myself with the competition.
My proposal is if the Queen is not viable, I will contact Ants Davey & purchase a replacement, to eventually offer the entrants as a prize, he was very kind to offer the first Queen as a prize, she had brood, she was healthy, the fact is her current state could be due to mistakes I have made without realising, perhaps through the hibernation, I've racked my brains, gone over everything a dozen times, quite simply I don't know.
I know those who entered the competition may be feeling disappointed & I totally understand why, I will find a way to make it up to you all, I have the list of entrants saved.
I am still going through the process of learning, setting up the live streams, getting everything in order, I hope this mishap, is something we can all move forward trusting that I will make it happen the competition will be run at some point once I know what's happening with the Queen or have purchased a replacement, it was an honest balls up, I hold my hands up, I over reached in my capabilities and what I hoped to deliver. Lesson learned.
I just wanted to keep everyone in the loop, I have not forgotten, I just don't know what is the best step to take yet, I don't want someone to win a prize just to be disappointed.
My little darlings, have croup, my daughter caught it from nursery, my 6th month old, is well into the frontlines of teething aswell as catching croup from his sister, at this current point in his life, I'm pretty sure he thinks, he has been interned into Guantanamo Bay & is slowly being tortured, he hasn't got a great pain tolerance, so has been making scrooge look jolly.
"Operation Rugrats Down"
Since I got back from work, its been all hands on deck, meaning, again I apologise I'm a little late, releasing the "Ultimate Care Guide to Raising Messors".
I need to re-record some of the audio, playing it back you can hear my dog snoring, for some reason he sounds louder than I do talking, however I was trying to be quiet as it was 3am, the misses & the kids were fast asleep.
This week I should be dropping 2 Episodes to catch up, fingers crossed things chill a little.
As the saying goes there is not enough time in the day!
These are some of the projects, I am currently filming / editing.
If you have never kept ants and know little about them, to understand my dilemma you must first understand, adult ant workers live on a primary diet of carbohydrates, provided in the forms of sugars.
I find myself constantly torn between the socially accepted and what is actually best for my ant colonies, for instance the socially accepted in the hobby is to mix up some cane sugar or honey in water and offer this to your colonies for their carbohydrate needs.
In the wild, this is not naturally a common occurring type of sugar that most species will be interacting with, unless your colony is from one of these major sugar cane producing regions, South Africa, Brazil, India, Mauritius or the West Indies, its unlikely they would be accessing natural cane sugar which is primarily Sucrose, knowing the effects sugars have on humans, our ability to digest them, I wondered how ants cope, especially species that have not evolved to primarily consume these types of natural sugars, not including the diet of Urban ant colonies who often feed on human food waste & products.
Often pondering, does feeding these types of sugars have a negative impact on the colonies long term health?
Speaking to people who had experimented with providing their colonies different types of sugars, I asked if they had noticed any difference in activity or foraging with prolonged use of any type of particular sugars, many reported seeing changes over a week when trying different sugars, improved activity or workers becoming docile & less active, it is commonly advised within the community to rotate using honey or sugar mixes on a regular basis for your colonies best health.
I've been looking at pre-made sugar solutions for ant colonies from retailers and these all fall into the same category of providing the ant colony with one or two types of sugars with no evidence to how they effect the colonies health in the long term, they are not wrong in providing these types of products, there is not much in the way of study on this subject, simply they are following the norm within the hobby, many add vitamins or protein powders to provide the colony additional benefits and still work as part of a healthy balanced diet for your colonies.
Finding better results with some, than I have with others,
I really like the range from AntBoyUK his Honeydew contains added ingredients that are beneficial to a colonies over all health.
Byformica is probably one the most known products, with their Sun Burst Nectar available in the UK & EU from Ants Davey. this is quite a basic and simple sugar solution, it does contain preservatives to balance the shelf life. Despite being advertised as natural wholesome ingredients free from preservatives it contains Less than 0.5% of the following: sodium hydroxide, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, FD&C Yellow #5, FD&C Yellow #6 colourings.
Its primary sugar ingredient is Sucrose, which is the least common type of sugar found in an ants natural diet.
I'm not bashing the company they have a great tried and tested product, ants will consume sucrose when it is offered, it is widely fed to captive colonies, but through the research I am beginning to under take, sucrose is not a good primary source of sugars for your ant colonies carbohydrate needs.
I plan to take a journey to discover the types of sugars that Ants naturally consume in their wild diets, I will be reaching out to institutes and universities, manufacturers & ant keepers.
I want to discover what the best types of sugars should we be feeding our colonies for their best health.
So that as keepers we are best informed to give our colonies the best life.
Explosive growth & Trouble in the Out world!
The Messor Colony, has exploded in numbers, it numbers into the hundreds! In just 4 months from entering their acrylic nest, their out world, has been expanded twice already, the third large out world was given to them, v1 was a half natural set up, they decided to build a satellite nest! This was fine until i saw brood being moved, i knew i had to act.
I created another identical large out world, this time without the ability for them to nest in it,
i got the shock of my life when i was finally ready to make the transfer.
Disconnecting the out world from the nest, and having the new out world ready to accommodate the troop transfer of these ladies.
At my last count the colony had just over 100 workers of varied size, transferring the out worlds i discovered this colony had grown to over 3x that last count! well over 200 workers, carefully transferred using various methods, the cotton ball pick up, the tube placed so they can walk into the new out world but not get out, moving them on the decorations, it was a painstaking process that took in excess of 6 hours to complete!
The transfer complete, the new out world hooked up to their acrylic nest, it wasn't long before i found the colony trying to escape! workers in their droves trying to chew through the pipe connectors! It hit me, they need more space, the satellite nest, the colony was overcrowded.
I had a spare acrylic nest & out world that i could take apart and use sections of it, so they could have a controlled satellite nest, Messor Majors are very destructive, i find its best to keep an eye on them, to ensure the colony is contained!
This will safely give them further housing, they can collect and process seeds in the satellite nest, whilst keeping the Queen, brood & workers vital to nursery duties, can remain within the main acrylic nest.
From such humble beginnings, this colony is truly growing into an impressive empire!
The Hobby Taboo, Keeping Exotic Ants.
I've been asked a lot if i would recommend it to everyone, across the world?
Quite simply, No.
Many live in countries where it may be against the law, or requiring a permit, or even have a delicate eco system.
I would always recommend those new to keeping Ants as a hobby, to start Native, local species, never run, before you can walk, before those steps, you must learn to crawl.
It also in my opinion relies heavily on the maturity of the keeper, the reason they wish to keep these exotic species, its a big commitment to make, as you can't release these species if you decide to change your mind, down the line.
However if the laws permit, the trade is legal, your responsible, experienced, confident you can care for and most importantly contain these species. If all the pieces of the puzzle fit together with your finances and commitment.
Then by all means, enjoy these amazing species as i do.
In the UK where i am from the exotic pet trade, is a huge part of our culture, the laws are pretty relaxed, I've kept and bred many species of reptiles, before stepping back into the keeping of ants and beginning my journey into Exotics.
This happened pretty innocently with a colony of Messor Barbarus. A readily available european species within the UK, i researched heavily into exotic species, the more i learned, i became enthralled, i understand the risks, I'm not willing to keep species such as Argentine Ants, Pharoah Ants, that could harm my environment.
Each species, i have since added to my collection, have been chosen for their adaptation or trait, a personal study, a journey as a hobbyist, learning, appreciating & caring for these colonies. planned, each studied meticulously to get their care requirements right, cost & expenses, to ensure i can make the commitment and keep it.
Its a solid step that you must remain dedicated to and a step not to take lightly.
I do not condone the illegal trade of any exotic species, Arachnids being some of the most commonly traded species on the black market.
Its important to source from reputable traders. No matter what exotic pets your thinking of keeping, do not be afraid to ask for proof of legitimacy.
I do not condone breaking the law or releasing of exotic species into your local climate, the reality is, if a suitable home, can't be found, the Colony must be destroyed, this is the harsh reality of this responsibility.
Where are you currently, in your journey of Ant keeping?
What is it like where your from in the world?
Are you #teamnative or #teamexotic?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject in the comments!
Ants & The Colonialist