Christmas Special Guest Post by T.S.: My Ant Keeping UK Story
Hello, antkeeping fellows. Today we got one of our most valued customers interviewed. He has agreed to share his experience about his own ant-keeping journey with you. He asked us not to publish his name but his initials.
Best Ants UK: Nice to see you again T.S., tell us more about when and how you start your antkeeping hobby.
T.S.: This short story goes through my journey as an ant keeper from taking a pile of dirt from the field to keeping precise nest setups for exotic ants. To clarify, do not copy some of the things I say as they are not good for the ants and don’t want you to repeat my mistakes. I did these more than a decade ago because I was new to the hobby and had a lack of experience.
It all started with going to a field near me with a box and a small shovel. I would go and find a small mound of dirt and dig it to see a huge colony of Lasius Flavus (yellow meadow ant). There were several of these colonies there and they were all huge. After digging them up I’d get some of the dirt in a box and take it home. I fed them watermelon and other fruits and sometimes insects I found but other than that this was extremely limited and there was no queen so the colony would die eventually.
Best Ants UK: Well, this does sound a bit cruel.
T.S.: I would not recommend doing this as you hurt the colony and you can't see the ants you’ve caught because they are hidden in a mound of dirt and they are going to die at some point. As I said, I was 8 back then.
Best Ants UK:
Fair enough. What was your next step?
T.S.: My next milestone was finding YouTube videos on ants. I watched many videos and found a liking for AntsCanada, Ants Australia, Nordic Ants and a few others but the main one was Ants Canada because of his frequent uploads and quite informative videos.
Now I was just waiting for the nuptial flights this year that were close by. When it came there were thousands of queens flying everywhere near my home in Devon. They were everywhere you looked and this lasted 3 days. Later I found out it was called flying ant day by the people who aren’t interested in ants and how much they hate it but for me it was awesome. It was mainly just Lasius Niger queens (common black garden ant), I caught 3 queens but looking back I regret not catching more as I could’ve easily caught dozens.
I put them in the basic test tube setup and waited for them to grow. After 6 months one had died and one was growing extremely slowly and one was doing alright with 15 workers which is still a bit lacklustre. I later realized that I wasn’t keeping them correctly. You have to keep them in a warm place and not check on them too much, both of which I didn’t do hence their slow growth. I moved the large colony to a small outworld with moist sand for them to dig and some decorations for beauty. Putting them in an old aquarium filled with sandy loam substrate setup where they can dig was a terrible idea. I couldn’t see the ants much because their colony was small and they didn’t have much foraging activity. It was basically like looking at ants outside but in a box instead of outside. There is no point in making a diggable setup unless your colony is really big because you’re just not going to see anything.
Best Ants UK:
Sounds very instructive. You received your first Ant Farm for Christmas when you were 10 years old, tell us more about it.
T.S.: Santa (my Dad) bought me my first nest for Xmas from Best Ants UK in 2015 along with some Myrmica Rubra (red fire ant), keeping these was an absolute pleasure. I now had a decently sized colony so I saw a lot of action and a nice nest to look up on my ants now and again. Let me clarify that this species is perfect for any beginner ant keeper, they are aggressive so take down food and prey fast rather than getting scared by it (unlike some other species I kept later), they grew fast and had lots of brood. The only bad thing about these ants for others is that they sting so it might not be fit for children but it is just like a stinging nettle so no big deal.
Best Ants UK: Wait, have you been stung by these little monsters?
T.S.: Yeah, just once, but I have read about fire ants sting but I did not pay too much attention so one day moving back an escaping worker into the outworld it stung me. As I said, it was not a big deal. I can not even recall if it was or was not painful now.
After about a year and a half, I decided to let them go into the wild because I was getting bored and needed a new challenge, they were also very big by now and were even producing alates (the flying ants) and were flying out the setup while I was feeding them! I left their nest and outworld outside to let them move out on their own (another bonus of getting ants that are native to the UK) but they had other plans. They stayed in the nest for days until they finally moved out because it was cold, I was ready for a new challenge.
Best Ants UK: Fascinating story so far. What was your next adventure?
T.S.: I bought a colony of Odontomachus monticola (trap-jaw ants) from you guys and now this was a big jump for me and I remember you told me to slow it down. I failed to keep these ants due to a lack of experience and lack of research before buying them. These ants use something called gamergates as a queen. I won’t go into detail as it’s a whole topic for itself but it's extremely difficult, almost impossible to keep such ants unless they are native to your area.
I kept these ants for about 4 months until they all died out. These ants were some of the coolest most interesting ants I have ever kept, they are massive and have incredible jaws that snap shut at up to 150 mph. I would put my finger in the outworld to let them snap their jaw on it just to see them get launched back. Same trap jaws do this in the wild to avoid predators, they snap their jaws on the floor to launch themselves away. Overall these ants were incredible but I would not recommend these for any antkeeper in the UK.
The next colony I got was Pheidole Noda (big-headed ants), if you don’t know these ants they are normal ants except that their majors are about 5 times the size of the normal worker with a large head full of muscle to rip parts of insects. These ants are fairly aggressive, grow very fast and have quite a big appetite. They ate everything I gave to them to the bone/exoskeleton and very fast too. These ants use something called swarming to take down prey, swarming is when the ants cover the prey in themselves like a blanket making them even more delightful to keep. It was an incredible colony that I gave away to another ant keeper because I had planned on getting their bigger brother.
Best Ants UK: Interesting. Go ahead, please.
T.S.: I got Carebara diversa (Marauder ants), these are like Pheidole Noda except that you get their major size and times it by 10. Their majors are fascinating due to their gigantic size and incredibly strong jaws and muscly heads. They bite hard and have the smaller ants hitch rides on them, the sizes of their ants vary a lot. The average ant is quite small, a touch smaller than a Lasius Niger. Then there are the ants I call the lesser majors which are about the size of a Myrmica Rubra queen. Then there are majors and super majors which tower over the rest of the ants like giants. The queen however is the biggest in the colony being the egg layer. I’ve never seen a colony devour the food I give like this one. I would give them 10 mealworms per feeding and they would eat them in an hour. I once gave them a boiled chicken wing but didn’t expect them to finish it in a few hours, all that was left were two bones. They grew exceptionally fast, which I had predicted by making a much larger setup than they needed. The setup was a large acrylic box filled with sand loam, rocks and plants. It was a digging setup but this time my colony was large and aggressive so it was fine. The way they died still hurts me to this day. Every few days I would spray their outworld with some water to water the plants and strengthen the sand so it wouldn’t collapse but I forgot one day and the sand collapsed over their heads. It must’ve injured the queen or something similar but the colony stopped growing afterwards and decreased slowly. I hadn’t seen the queen since I introduced them to the setup but It was quite likely that that was the reason why they died out. I wish I had read your emails more carefully and put the jute thread as you advised me for structural support of the substrate.
Best Ants UK: Very sorry to hear that. Frankly speaking, we sent you a full instruction list and a Care Sheet covering all the topics from the Ants' arrival, and food requirements to the Ant Formicarium How-To recommendations. How was your antkeeping road afterwards?
T.S.: By this time I had stopped watching videos on ants because I had kind of seen all there was that’s important on YouTube as they only go to surface level. I also began not liking Michael John Yadan Tumanguil Pestano Tilapia Bustos III (aka Mikey Bustos or AntsCanada) as much because he sort of changed his content so it is more aimed at children making it less informative but I don’t hate him for this because they are the most important part of ant keeping and because such a hobby is educational and isn’t a screen. However, some of his recent work is mind-blowing and useful for the little antkeepers. His YouTube videos are quite entertaining as well.
I began reading more scientific journals with info that wasn’t told anywhere else e.g. did you know the sperm in Gamergates dies when it gets too cold (this can happen during shipping) which is why I wouldn’t recommend Gamergate ants to anyone in the Ant Keeping UK.
I got more colonies after and still keeping leaf-cutters but let’s not delve so deep. Overall this hobby is incredible and isn’t that expensive compared to other hobbies/pets. I would recommend getting into this because it's calming, intriguing, educational, and then again, not a screen if it's for children. That was most of My ant story and I hope to see you with your own ants. Merry Christmas Anties and a Very Happy New 2024 Year. I wish you health and more exciting Ant adventures.
Best Ants UK: Thank you T.S. We do appreciate you sharing your ant experience with our ant-keeping community.
Merry Christmas, Ant Keepers.