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Benefits of Antkeeping: A Unique Pet Choice in the UK

The image features a group of Camponotus Nicobarensis ants inside a Best Ants UK Ant Farm
Camponotus Nicobarensis queen

Ant-keeping, or the practice of keeping ants as pets, has gained significant popularity over the years. With a rich history extending back to the mid-20th century, this hobby is now celebrated by enthusiasts globally for its educational, recreational, and scientific values. For beginners, ant-keeping can be an exciting journey into a tiny world of complex social structures and fascinating behaviours.


Uncle Milton Giant Ant Farm Extra Large Viewing Area do not buy

The classic Uncle Milton's Ant Farm is the first thing that comes to the screen when many people search about keeping ants online. This popular toy is made of green plastic and has clear sides, trees, a barn, and a windmill. The included light-coloured sand appears to be the perfect home for ants collected from the backyard. However, one major issue with keeping an ant farm like Uncle Milton's is that worker ants have a short lifespan due to the lack of a queen and poor quality. If you put a queen ant in there, she will not survive for more than two weeks due to the stress caused by light exposure and lack of ability to maintain the correct humidity. This is why it is recommended to avoid purchasing this product and instead opt for newer, more advanced ant farms and formicaria that mimic ants' natural habitat.


ant farm kit for sale UK

These newer options not only provide a better view of the colony but also create a more suitable habitat for the ants. Some options have temperature and humidity meters pre-installed which makes them super easy to use for beginner ant-keepers. Starting and maintaining an ant colony is now much easier and more educational than in the past when Uncle Milton was popular. The internet offers tons of information on collecting and caring for ants. Anyone can start an ant colony by collecting a queen in their local area. In fact, in the UK alone, there are over 5 different native species of ants available for keeping. Hundreds of thousands of queens are flying during the nuptial flight in July. The colony's survival depends on the queen, who mates during the nuptial flight and then produces young for the rest of her lifespan, which is usually 2 years(fire queen ant) to 28 years(black garden queen ant). Without a queen, most colonies will not survive more than 2-3 months. Ants work together for the good of the colony, focusing on raising brood and producing new ants to support the colony's growth. These interactions are what make keeping ants so fascinating, as they continue to evolve and adapt their habitat to support the future of the colony. You will be thrilled watching how a baby ant tears the cocoon to meet the world.

You may have seen a queen ant with wings without realizing it. Another option is to purchase a queen or colony from a reputable seller. So you've caught the ant-keeping bug and are ready to start your own colony. Before purchasing or collecting your first ants, there are a few things you should know. First and foremost, a queen is essential for the long-term survival of a colony. While they can survive in various environments, in nature, they will dig deeper or move their nest if necessary. Therefore, ant keepers often use specialized nests called formicaria, which provide proper humidity and allow for easy viewing of the colony. These nests can be handmade or purchased online and often come with outworlds, which are additional containers for the ants to forage and expand into. Alternatively, some ant-keepers prefer a more natural setup, using a waterproof habitat filled with dirt, plants, and other natural elements. These setups provide a more realistic view of the ants but will limit the visibility of the nest, larvae, and queen so you'll miss the miracle. Below is a video of Carpenter ants - Caponotus Nicobarensis - one of the fast-growing exotic and beginner-friendly ants. Enjoy the wonders of nature!




In addition to suitable housing, ants also require proper nutrition to survive and thrive. This includes water, sugar, and protein. Water is essential for maintaining humidity and allowing ants to ingest it. Sugar provides the main source of energy for ants, while protein is necessary for the queen to produce eggs and for larvae to grow. Ant-keeping communities are a great resource for finding suitable food options for different ant species. Joining an online community is highly recommended for those interested in ant-keeping. These communities provide vital information and support for hobbyists.



This guide will delve into the benefits of antkeeping, provide essential tips for beginners, discuss necessary ant-keeping supplies, and introduce the most beginner-friendly ant species.

Ant farms, or formicariums as they are scientifically known, are more than just a childhood fascination; they are a window into the complex world of social insects that offer a unique pet choice for adults in the UK. Favoured for their ability to offer an up-close look at the otherwise hidden lives of ants, these transparent habitats have evolved from simple setups to sophisticated ecosystems catering to a range of species available for purchase. Throughout the UK, pet ants have captivated the attention of many as both a fascinating form of entertainment and an educational experience, with a variety of ant farms for adults and ant-keeping supplies readily available. As we delve into the world of ant farms, we will explore the comprehensive advantages of ant keeping from scientific discovery to mental wellness and the vital steps to initiate your own ant colony in your home.


1. The Historical Journey of Antkeeping

Antkeeping's popularity was fuelled by the commercial success of Uncle Milton's Ant Farm in the late 1950s. These early ant farms allowed hobbyists to observe ant behaviour up close, though they didn't include a queen ant due to legal reasons and the setup itself cannot keep the queen ant in darkness, like in nature, also, it is impossible to maintain the correct humidity levels and the lack of proper airflow ends up with mould built up in the tank.

However, modern antkeeping is not restricted to observing worker ants. It has evolved into a far more comprehensive hobby that involves capturing, caring for, and observing entire ant colonies, including the queen.


2. Why Keep Ants as Pets? Benefits of Antkeeping

There are several reasons why people might choose to keep ants as pets, extending beyond simple amusement. Here are the key motivations that often drive the ant-keeping hobby:

Documenting Ant Behavior

Antkeeping allows hobbyists to study ant behaviour, which might be challenging to observe in the wild. This field of study, known as myrmecology, provides insights into ants' social structures, communication methods, and survival strategies. We have more than two hundred schools we are working with on ant projects for students years 7 to 13.

Casual Hobby and Pet-Keeping

Ants make fascinating pets, thanks to their complex social structures and industrious nature. As pets, they require less human intervention to breed, as long as their environmental needs are met. This makes them a low-maintenance choice for those seeking unique pets.


Scientific Purposes and Experiments

Ant colonies serve as excellent subjects for scientific experiments due to their inherent complexity and diversity. Researchers often keep ants to study their behaviours and interactions, which can yield valuable insights into social structures, communication methods, and survival strategies. Because the ants' temperature and humidity needs are different and we're building our nests according to that particular requirement, the vertical and horizontal nests are designed differently. For instance, the queen ant chamber needs different conditions than the first brood stage development chamber which is also different for the second brood stage one, etc.

 

We have tested every single ant farm with

the common beginner-friendly ant species for three years before launching it on the market. This includes daily records and analysis of the ant farm's temperature and humidity levels along with the ants' response to any changes. The hot and cold airflow inside the nest is essential as well. We collaborate with the top science tutors in local and nationwide universities in the UK and abroad.


3. Starting Your Ant Colony

Setting up your ant colony requires a bit of preparation and understanding. Here are the key steps involved:

Finding a Queen Ant

The first step in antkeeping involves capturing a fertile queen ant. These queens can be found following their nuptial flights, which occur during the summer. All you need to be aware of is 2-3 hot days in July plus a rainy day so either after the rain or on the very next day you can expect lots of flying ants. A queen that has removed her wings is likely fertilized and ready to start a new colony.

Housing the Queen Ant


image shows Lasius Niger queen ant and five worker ants in a test tube setup Best Ants UK
Lasius Niger queen ant and workers

The queen should be housed in a secure, dark environment with access to water. A test tube setup is often used for this purpose. The smaller the test tube setup the better. Prepare 4-5 12x100mm test tubes and wait. Use purified water to fill the water reservoir and organic cotton balls. Do not use tap water, never. It's contaminated and your queen ant's first home will be ruined along with your expectations. Use aluminium foil to wrap the test tube, it will help with maintaining the temperature and keep the queen in pitch black. Put it in a no-vibration place, away from daily household activities and make sure the temperature is between 20 and 26 degrees Celcius. Do not disturb the queen during the first month. Check on her every two weeks afterwards. Fully claustral species (ones that do not need food during the initial nesting phase) can be left undisturbed for a month while the queen lays her eggs and the first generation of workers emerge. All the Lasius species are fully claustral. Fire Queen ant is not though so you must feed her once a week with carbs and protein-rich food. The first worker ants are smaller and are called nanitics.

Transitioning to a Larger Housing

Once the first generation of workers emerges and the colony begins to grow, it's time to move the ants into a larger housing, such as a formicarium. You should wait until you have around 10-20 worker ants before making this transition.


4. Caring for Your Ants

Taking care of your ants involves catering to their dietary and environmental needs. Here's what you should know:

Dietary Needs

An ant's diet should consist of carbohydrates like fruits(bananas, grapes, etc.), or organic honey for energy and proteins like insects (crickets, locusts, mealworms etc.) or protein jelly for growth. Uneaten food should be removed promptly (within 2 days) to prevent mould growth.

Environmental Needs

Ants require a specific environment to thrive. This includes an absorbent nesting material, access to water, a heat mat (for exotic ants), and being kept in a dark area to reduce stress.

5. Legal Considerations

Keeping ants can be subject to legal restrictions. In some countries, it's illegal to ship invasive live queen ants which are not native. Always check your local laws before starting an ant colony.

6. Antkeeping in Popular Culture

Antkeeping has gained recognition in popular culture, with internet influencers like AntsCanada playing a key role in popularizing the hobby, thank you Michael. These platforms provide a wealth of information for beginners and seasoned antkeepers alike.

7. Beginner-Friendly Ant Species

For beginners interested in antkeeping, certain species are more manageable than others. The easiest live queen ants and ant colonies for a beginner ant keeper are:

Lasius Niger - Black Garden Ants

Lasius Niger, or Black Garden Ants, are a common species native to the UK. They're easy to maintain and provide an excellent first step into the world of antkeeping. The queen ant's lifespan is up to 28 years.

Lasius Flavus - Yellow Meadow Ants

Also, native to the UK, Yellow Meadow Ants or Lasius Flavus are another excellent choice for beginners. They are relatively easy to maintain and observe.

The queen ant's lifespan is up to 20 years.

Myrmica Rubra - Red Fire Ants

Although their sting might be a bit painful, Red Fire Ants or Myrmica Rubra can be fascinating to keep due to their vibrant colour and unique behaviours. Super aggressive ants, a feast for the eyes. The queen ant's lifespan is up to 3 years.

Messor Barbarus - Common Black Harvester Ants

Common Black Harvester Ants, or Messor Barbarus, are known for their seed-harvesting behaviour. These ants are way more interesting than the aforementioned and provide an exciting opportunity for observation and learning. The queen ant is way bigger, reaching 18 millimetres and is more interesting compared to other beginner-friendly ant species queens. Their main food is seed mix and the workers are very polymorphic, minor, medium and major workers, from 3mm to 15mm. The queen ant's lifespan is up to 25 years.


8. Mental Health Benefits

a large group of harvester ants care for their brood in an ant farm best ants uk
Antie ant farm with Messor barbarus ants

Ant farms not only provide a captivating glimpse into the world of these hardworking creatures but also offer a variety of mental health benefits. Let's explore how engaging with ant farms can positively impact psychological well-being:

Enhanced Focus:

Ant colonies have organized routines and behaviours that can be captivating, especially for individuals, including children with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders. Observing and maintaining these miniature ecosystems requires concentration, which can lead to improved attention spans. Lots of customers reported on improvements in their children's behaviour.

Therapeutic Observation:

Watching ants diligently carry out their tasks can be a calming and meditative experience. Many find this observation to be a natural form of therapy, helping to soothe the mind and alleviate stress and anxiety. Sometimes it works better than visiting a psychiatrist. And it costs nothing.

Emotional and Personal Growth:

Improved Emotional Well-being: Nature-related activities, such as observing ants, are known to improve mood and reduce anxiety. Keeping ants as a hobby can be a relaxing endeavour that enhances emotional health.

Responsibility Development:

Regularly caring for and paying attention to the ant farm helps instil a sense of responsibility. By planning and organizing their efforts, keepers learn the importance of following a schedule to ensure the well-being of their ant colony.

These tiny creatures exemplify the true meaning of teamwork, discipline, and organization. Another intriguing aspect of ants is their ability to communicate with each other. They use a combination of chemical signals and physical movements to convey information. By leaving pheromone trails, ants can guide their fellow colony members to food sources or warn them of danger. This communication system is highly efficient and allows ants to work together seamlessly. And all that is not in front of a screen unlike children nowadays!

Knowledge is power. Learn with us.

Mindfulness and Personal Growth:

Antkeeping necessitates patience and meticulous care, which in turn promotes mindfulness. Keepers begin to understand the value of time and appreciate the significance of nurturing living organisms. The gradual and subtle progress of the ant colony cultivates attentiveness and patience, qualities that can positively impact other aspects of life. Successfully maintaining an ant colony can evoke a sense of accomplishment and connection with nature, contributing to personal growth and mental well-being. Through the simple yet profound act of ant keeping, individuals can develop valuable life skills and find a therapeutic escape from the stresses of everyday life. This hobby serves as both an educational and emotional sanctuary, offering rewards that extend far beyond the boundaries of the formicarium.


9. Low Maintenance, High Reward

Ant farms designed for adults are not only captivating to watch but also a practical and fulfilling hobby. Here's why they are considered low maintenance yet offer great rewards with engaging features. Modern ant farms are equipped with advanced technology that simplifies upkeep. For instance: Bluetooth Humidity and temperature monitoring systems ensure the ant habitat is always optimal for their health and well-being. Lighting controls and heating mats can mimic natural day and night cycles, which are essential for the ants' biological rhythms.

Benefits of the Queen Ant

The queen ant serves as the foundation of the ant colony, providing unique advantages. Witnessing the queen laying eggs offers a firsthand glimpse into the beginning of the colony's life cycle. As the colony grows, the intricate social structure unfolds, presenting endless learning opportunities. Ants are resilient creatures capable of adapting to various environments, making them forgiving companions for novice hobbyists who may be experimenting and learning through trial and error.

Cost-Effective Hobby

When compared to other pets, ant farms offer a more affordable option. The initial setup costs are generally lower than those for cats, which can accumulate significant expenses over time, particularly with unpredictable medical needs. Unlike other low-maintenance pets like betta fish that still require regular water changes and tank maintenance, ants require minimal ongoing costs.

Potential Income Source: For those deeply involved in ant keeping, breeding and selling ants or conducting educational workshops in schools or universities can serve as a source of income, adding a financial incentive to the hobby.

Comparison with Other Low-Maintenance Pets

While dwarf puffer fish and budgies necessitate specific tank sizes or cages, ant farms are compact and can be placed almost anywhere. Hamsters and fancy rats may be social with their owners but have dietary requirements that include fresh produce. Do not forget about the awful smell. On the other hand, ants have simpler feeding needs. Turtles and tortoises are low maintenance but still require a well-appointed terrarium and specific diets. In contrast, ant farms can be established with basic materials and simple food sources. Ants eat everything we do so leftovers from your dinner would be like a feast for the ants. A piece of cooked chicken or beef, even a tiny bit of tuna fish is enough protein source for ants' weekly needs.

In brief, ant farms provide an easy and affordable way to get started with pet ownership. They offer educational benefits, opportunities for community involvement, and even the potential for financial gain. Whether you're embarking on this venture alone or as a family project, ant farms in the UK are a low-maintenance and highly rewarding choice for pet enthusiasts.


10. Environmental Impact and Ethical Considerations

Ant-keeping, although an enthralling pastime, comes with certain obligations in terms of environmental impact and ethical considerations. These are crucial aspects that enthusiasts must be mindful of to ensure that their hobby does not harm the natural world they admire.


Understanding Legalities and Biodiversity:

It is essential to know the legal regulations surrounding ant-keeping, as these may differ depending on the country and species involved. This ensures compliance with local laws and requirements. Ants are an integral part of biodiversity, playing a significant role in agriculture and farming by controlling pests and improving crop yields. This highlights their value within natural ecosystems. By responsibly caring for an ant colony, hobbyists can raise awareness about the significance of ants and contribute to their conservation efforts. This helps others grasp their vital role in our environment. Do not release ants that are not native to your country into the wild.

Contact us and we'll take care of everything.

Ethical Practices for Keeping Ants:

Choosing the appropriate ant species is of utmost importance. It is recommended that ant enthusiasts select captive-bred ants like harvester ants, black garden ants, or fire ants. These species are better suited for captivity and help minimize the impact on wild ant populations.

Creating a habitat that closely resembles the ants' natural environment is crucial for their well-being. This includes paying attention to the substrate, food, water, temperature, and humidity levels.

Ensuring a stress-free environment and meeting the colony's needs throughout its lifespan are essential ethical considerations. By doing so, we prioritize the health and welfare of the ants.


Promoting Environmental Stability:

Being a responsible antkeeper involves refraining from introducing foreign or invasive species into the nearby ecosystem, as this can disturb the native populations and cause harm to the environment.

Informing and educating others about the potential consequences of keeping and releasing exotic species is essential in preventing damage to local ecosystems and preserving biodiversity.

The notion of "what resides in the ground, remains in the ground" serves as a principle to halt the spread of invasive ants and safeguard areas that are already experiencing ecological imbalances.

By following these guidelines, antkeepers can engage in their hobby while upholding the delicate equilibrium of nature, ensuring that their actions contribute to the well-being of the environment and align with ethical standards. By following these guidelines and utilizing the resources available from reputable suppliers like Best Ants UK, you can create a thriving ant colony at home. Joining an online community of ant enthusiasts can further enhance your experience, providing support, information, and a platform to share with fellow ant keepers.


Conclusion

The fascination with ant farms goes beyond a nostalgic return to a childhood hobby. It highlights a profound admiration for the intricate social systems and ecosystems found within a formicarium. Adults and kids who embark on this journey in the UK are rewarded with a plethora of educational insights, mental well-being advantages, and the gratification of owning an eco-friendly pet that requires minimal maintenance. By responsibly participating in antkeeping, enthusiasts contribute to biodiversity while gaining a distinctive perspective on the natural world. As our exploration of these miniature realms draws to a close, it becomes evident that ant farms provide an unparalleled opportunity for personal development, learning, and entertainment. For those inspired to establish their own colony and become part of the thriving antkeeping community, various ant farm kits are available in the UK. With the appropriate setup and a commitment to ethical practices, your foray into the world of antkeeping can begin today, bringing a touch of wilderness into your home.

Long story short, over the last 23 years, we have learnt that ant-keeping is a highly entertaining and dangerously addictive hobby.



FAQs

What types of ants are suitable for keeping in the UK?

In the UK, you can keep various species of ants, such as:

  • Lasius niger (Common Black Garden Ant)

  • Lasius flavus (Yellow Meadow Ant)

  • Myrmica rubra (Red Ant)

  • Messor Barbarus (Harvester Ant)

  • Formica rufa (Wood Ant)

There are also other ant species found in the UK that can be kept. How can I set up an ant farm in the UK?

To start an ant farm in the UK, you'll need:

  • A large plastic container with a lid that can be perforated for ventilation.

  • A Queen ant (with worker ants), can be collected from your garden or purchased online.

  • A mixture of Ant substrate, ideally equal parts sand-loam soil.

  • A source of food such as organic honey, live food or protein jelly.

  • A small piece of Greek sponge for moisture.

  • Digital Temperature Humidity Meter (optional)

  • Step-by-step video:



Am I allowed to have an ant farm?

Having an ant farm is allowed and can be a rewarding and educational pastime. Selecting the appropriate ant species is crucial since each species has different care needs. It is advisable to conduct thorough research on the specific requirements of the ants you intend to keep, ensuring their well-being and contentment in their new habitat.

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