Help me be a better King George. How do I properly grow a colony?
August 15, 2011 3:58 PM   Subscribe

I found an ant queen under a pile of compost in the garden. I've taken her, some of her colony, and a few larve/eggs and I put them in a mason jar. They've lived on my desk for about a week. The larve are all gone now, I suspect they've matured. And I just found where they hid the queen and it looks like she's starting to lay again. Now what?

I want to move them to a farm. I have one, but it's small. Traditional Uncle Milton. Any opinons on gel vs. sand? I think I need a bigger one.

The ants are small but I haven't figured out their species. Very tiny, but not like crazy ants. Maybe two millimeters. I've been feeding them sugar and water. Water with mist and a sponge.

The jar is topped with a paper towel held in place with a mason jar ring.

So what kind of ant farm? How big? Medium?


How do I feed them? Sugar okay forever?

Anything I should know about diseases they might get?

Do I clean it?

Most ant farms don't come with queens. Therefore they are usually a deathwatch, not a colony. Previously. What are your best tips on keeping a colony healthy and happy, short of giving them their freedom, of course.

posted by Toekneesan to Science & Nature (12 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I had an ant deathwatch farm that thrived for a very long time. I fed them a moistened frosted flake every week or two. They lived in the traditional Uncle Milton sand farm.
posted by phunniemee at 4:04 PM on August 15, 2011

No, you can't just feed them sugar. Honey and the occasional dead fly will work, though. They also like Triscuits, a lot, but I don't know if those actually count as "good" for them.

Incidentally, I don't know about merely "keeping" them, but transporting an ant queen across state lines breaks one of those pesky federal laws - Which explains why Uncle Milton's colonies eventually die of fungus (they simply get old and die and rot, without a queen and younger generation to clean up the bodies).

Incidentally, with a living queen, you might want to invest in Uncle Milton's biggest and best (or even better, build your own - You can find a good number of DIYs online for that), since the colony actually has a chance (albeit small) of continuing basically forever.
posted by pla at 4:10 PM on August 15, 2011

Oh, and keep in mind that ants can, with enough time, dig through just about anything. Any part of your container you can't see into, assume they have started an escape tunnel through it.
posted by pla at 4:11 PM on August 15, 2011

Thinking about it more, I would look into getting one of the ant villages like this so that they have plenty of room to spread out. When you go to transfer them, stick one end of the tubing down into your ant jar (with the top still sealed, of course) and let them move themselves over at their own pace.

I am so jealous, by the way. Ants are awesome. Have you seen Ants: Nature's Secret Power? Best documentary EVER.
posted by phunniemee at 4:12 PM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure if Uncle Milton's ant farms come with moats, but if not, you want to set it in one (a cake pan or pie dish with about a half-inch of water will do). This will make it into an ant Alcatraz and you won't wake up with a new colony in your desk.

As for feeding them, ants LOVE cat food. LOVE LOVE LOVE. If you don't have a cat, get a few kibbles from a neighbor.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:00 PM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am jealous too. Last summer I found a nice little ant colony in my yard. In a burst of ADD excitement I stopped everything and ran off to make a beautiful ant home out of a double pane window. It took me a few hours and I went back to find that every single ant had since relocated.
posted by InkaLomax at 5:38 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just came in here to say that Rosie M. Banks is 100% right; I have seen ants' penchant for cat food (in this case wet cat food) firsthand. Boy was that fun to clean up.
posted by MattMangels at 6:39 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Does the pet photo protocol not apply here? I want to see them!
posted by amtho at 7:56 PM on August 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Well, I'm a bit worried about how much I've been disturbing them, but I figured a few pics might lead to a species identification. I've put a small set here.

Her abdomen seems to have gotten darker than when I first dug them up. It was noticeably lighter and kind of striped when I first found them. I found the nest when I turned over the compost, but I actually had to dig below the soil surface to find her chamber. I just followed the tunnels until I came across her and her court. Maybe 3 inches below the surface.

I tried to get a picture of the eggs but they are too small to get in focus. There's one there but it might not be easy to make out. I've only got a point and shoot.

Worth noting that they moved her again. She wasn't where I last found her. Not at all surprised but I find it fascinating. I'm beginning to feel guilty about harassing them.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:44 AM on August 16, 2011

Response by poster: Well I moved the queen's whole chamber inside a patch of compost into the regular ant farm I already have. I'm a little concerned in that I haven't seen any eggs or larvae or pupae but perhaps they are some in the patch of wet thatch that makes up her chamber. There seemed to be a few ants in the compost with the queen, and I added all the rest I could find in the mason jar. I'll let you know how it goes.
posted by Toekneesan at 9:31 AM on August 21, 2011

Response by poster: It's only been a few hours and the entire colony has moved below the sand. Problem is, I can no longer see them. Their tunnels are too narrow. They're not like the harvester ant, usually used in an ant farm. The tiny size of these guys is going to make seeing their handiwork a bit difficult.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:09 PM on August 21, 2011

Oh, bummer! I don't know how much you want to invest in these little dudes, but I wonder if you'd be able to see them better through one of the gel farms? (You might even be able to do it yourself on the cheap--the gel is probably just agar, but check first because I don't know for sure.)
posted by phunniemee at 4:13 PM on August 21, 2011

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