Welcome to My Living Ant World Best Ants UK Blog!
Allow us to introduce ourselves. We are a team of 5 passionate ant keepers who dived into ant keeping more than two decades ago. We are like an ant family when it comes to hierarchy. Like the ants in the colony, every member has a different job to do, some collect food, others defend the queen, and everyone in our team does a specific job in a complicated symbiosis to deliver the highest possible quality live ants and ant farms on the market here in the UK. We are raising our colonies from healthy and fertile queens ourselves and we guarantee live queen arrival. We always check and feed your ants before dispatch.
Every single ant farm we offer goes through a very strict and narrow lane from the idea at the beginning sketched on paper, (sometimes on a napkin in the pub), the design process itself including 3D modelling and then the testing period which lasts from one and a half to three years. You might be interested in a few images of our first nests.
Like most of you, I, Pat, the CEO of Best Ants UK, dived into the fascinating world of ants with the common ant species, Lasius Niger, Lasius Flavus and Fire Ants at first and a few months after I went for Messor Barbarus.
About a year later, back in 2003, I decided to get a Formica Rufa aka Red wood ant queen ant as I was amazed by their nest structure and how fast the workers were. Also, did you know that the Formica Rufa queen parasitises the nest of other ants to start her new colony? I achieved very decent results managing to grow a huge colony of these incredible insects.
There are more than thirteen thousand ant species and I can admit that I and my team have been keeping more than 500 of them over the years including harvester ants, carpenter ants, crazy ants, army ants, weever ants, leaf cutter ants, bullet ants, marauder ants and many more, that's why we named the Best Ants UK Blog: Welcome to My Living Ant World.
Once you understand the nature of these lovely creatures it's a simple and joyful journey keeping any ant species no matter the requirements towards their feeding, habitat etc. Everything is possible, indeed.
The oldest colony we are still looking after is a 17-year-old Messor Barbarus colony and they are doing great. I started that colony to prove to my friends that the harvester ants can survive without live food so I never fed them anything but mites-free seeds and sweets occasionally. I have never hibernated them as well, that was another part of the bet I did make with a few of my ant fellas. I keep them in my office where the temperature is not too different from your house temperature, between 18 and 26 degrees Celsius during the summer and between 15 and 22 degrees Celsius during the winter months.
What are the most interesting ant species we've looked after and whether we recommend them or not?
Well, there are hundreds of them. I will put them in a few categories, so let's begin. It's our pleasure to share some of the tips and secrets we've learned over the years.
1. What are the most common species for a beginner ant keeper?
2. What are the most interesting ant species?
3. What are the most dangerous ant species?
4. What are the most difficult ant species to keep?
5. What are the fastest-growing ant species?
6. What are the most beautiful ant species?
7. What are the most expensive ant species?
1. What are the most common species for a beginner ant keeper?
The most common species for a beginner ant keeper are Lasius Niger (Black Garden Ant), Lasius Flavus (Yellow Meadow Ant), Myrmica Rubra (Red Fire Ant) and Messor Barbarus (Harvester Ant).
Lasius Niger, Lasius Flavus and Myrmica Rubra are native to the UK but not Messor Barbarus. Please note that we do not recommend Myrmica Rubra (Red Fire Ant) for children as they sting. It's not a big deal though, it feels like a stinging nettle and they are only doing that if you endanger them.
Keeping any of these ants is a precious time for gaining knowledge for the future. Find out more on how to look after them in detail HERE.
2. What is the most interesting ant species? That's a tricky question. I like brownish-haired women, but you probably like blond, black, or red ones. Many people like the Yellow Crazy Ants (Anoplolepis Gracilipes) named the Golden Empire Ants by Michael (aka Ants Canada, a famous YouTuber with almost 5 million subscribers currently).
We do appreciate his contribution to popularising the hobby worldwide, so thank you, mate. I personally, do not like Anoplolepis Gracilipes as they are small in size, between 4 and 5 millimetres and the queen ant is about 11 to 12 millimetres. I kept them for about a year, the workers were fast and constantly running all around the ant farm but nothing else.
Other highly rated ant species are the Bullet Ants (Paraponera Clavata). These ants are huge, the workers are almost the size of the queen ant reaching 30mm.
They have the distinction of delivering the most painful sting in the world of insects. Schmidt describes the pain as “pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail embedded in your heel”. And on top of all that pain lasts up to 24 hours. Please keep reading further to find out more about my personal experience regarding these ants.
The Odontomachus ants aka Trap-jaw ants should be mentioned too.
These ants have the second-fastest moving predatory appendages within the whole animal kingdom, after the Mystrium Camillae aka Dracula ants. One study of Odontomachus Bauri recorded peak speeds up to 230 km/h (143 mph), with the jaws closing within just 130 microseconds on average.
I had a large colony of these and kept them for one year, but they were interesting for the first two or three weeks. Nothing special af terwards.
A few words about the Leafcutter Ants. No matter the genera, Atta and Acromyrmex, are pretty similar to look after when it comes to climate requirements.
The Acromyrmex is much smaller in size than the Atta queen though. Apart from their ultra-high requirements towards climate and ant farms, another problem with leaf-cutters, especially Atta, is that the colony needs to reach a sustainable size (more than 1000 workers) and have a safe-sized fungus garden to survive for a long period or it will fail. The Leafcutter Ants colony can be limited easily in captivity by reducing the food you provide them.
Well, it's time for my favourite ant species, the Oecophylla Smaragdina aka Asian weaver ants.
They make nests in trees. How? They stitch the leaves together using silk produced by their larvae. Looking at them doing that is the most calming process I have ever seen and it can replace any professional psychologist you might need at some point in your stressful life. I do believe Oecophylla Smaragdina is one of my two favourite ant species when it comes to beauty so find out more about them in the 6th question's answer.
3. What are the most dangerous ant species? The Paraponera Clavata aka Bullet Ants.
I was keeping a decent colony which reached about 80-100 workers for 11 months which was an achievement because the worker's ant lifespan is not more than three months in their natural habitat and about 60-80 days in my ant farm. Honestly, this was my third attempt to keep that species, finally successful. Thanks to Robert, a close friend of mine who lived in Cambodia back then and was kind enough to bring me such a dangerous ant species three times, risking his life as he loves to say over and over again until today. I started my third try with a queen and 11 workers. Their nest structure is so complicated that I had to combine 3 different-sized aquariums and a nest made of drilled grapevine wood filled with oak sawdust at the base and lots of advanced technology including digital temperature and humidity controllers, handmade silicon wall and bottom kanthal heaters, mini fog machine and other gadgets to succeed. They love sweets, no matter organic honey or fruits and locusts. What I learned about these ants is that they are not aggressive and will never attack and sting you unless you provoke them to do so. You have to squish them in between your fingers to death to make them sting you. I did try this with a pair of thick silicone gloves, not like the Mawé Warriors. The only thing I was not happy with was the fact they are nocturnal ants which start foraging after dusk. Anyway, I kept them in my ant room at home and I had to get rid of them because my wife found one escaped ant on her neck waking up one morning. My ant room was next to our bedroom. I have no clue how this ant escaped but no one got hurt, neither my wife nor the ant so that story has a happy ending.
4. What are the most difficult ant species to keep?
These are Harpegnathos venator along with their Australian "cousins" Myrmecia Species aka Bull (Bullgod or Jack jumper) Ants and Carebara Diversa aka East Indian harvesting ant or marauder ant.
Harpegnathos venator ants have very high demands on conditions such as nutrition, temperature and humidity, the same and even higher demands on the Carebara Diversa ant colony.
An interesting fact about the Harpegnathos venator is that Gamergates are present, meaning that every ant could be a queen. Feed them small crickets, cockroaches and flies. Once they get their insect prey they eat purely on the hemolymph so do not give them sweets at all as they do not need any. Knowing they are Gamergates, means some worker ants have spermathecae (can store sperm) and can attract males from outside the colony, then lay eggs and in general act like a queen and can reproduce sexually. The biggest problem with starting with that species is that once someone from China sends the colony here to the UK. The package stays inside a plane's luggage section for 10 or more hours in temperatures so low that the ants barely survive the trip, the stored sperm dies so none of the ants, no matter if they are currently a queen or not, can lay eggs any more. So even if you succeed with their high demands on conditions, in 90% of the cases you decide to look after that particular species, you'll end up with sterile Gamergate ants sentenced to death.
It's important to provide a special substrate, like coco fibre, for instance, to make sure that the larvae can spin cocoons. Queens are 14-16mm long and workers 12-14mm. They are a famous species due to their aggressiveness and especially the fact that they can jump up to 10 centimetres due to evolved leg muscles! They grow slowly and it is hard to start from just a queen so getting one with 10 or more workers has a higher chance of survival.
I brought a Venator colony on one of our yearly ant trips to China and Vietnam in 2017. Starting with a queen and about 50 workers I managed to multiply the colony to around 500 workers for just two years. Bear in mind that keeping them at 28°C average temperature, egg to adult takes around 70 days. Eggs may take up to 25 days to hatch, larvae take about 20 days to pupate, and pupae take about 25 days to emerge into adult ants. The queen laid two eggs daily maximum, most of the days just one. I saw them jumping now and then while hunting and chasing flies and crickets, but never more than 2 inches despite the ultra-large ant farm they were provided with. Their eyesight was so good that every time I went into the ant room to see how they were going or feed them, they spotted me when I was three meters away. It was the same situation with the Bull Ants, both have an exceptional vision. It's been a nightmare to keep Venators. They were so picky about food and left tons of uneaten food which had to be removed daily. At the end of 2019, the queen ant suddenly passed away and this was the beginning of the end of this story.
Pheidologeton diversus aka Carebara Diversa.
They have a really painful bite but do not sting. I did test that with a relatively small major, about 12mm one, and ended up with a cut and blood dripping off my finger so do not try this! Do not get fooled by most ant resellers who sell you the Carebara Affinis instead of Carebara Diversa. The queen's size difference is obvious and can be used as a distinguishing factor as Carebara Diversa queens are around 2.5 cm in size, while the Carebara Affinis are smaller, around 1.7 cm.
I started with a queen and just 50 tiny workers I got from Malaysia in 2019 and raised a colony of more than 5000 workers sized from just 2mm to 8mm along with a few dozen giant majors, some about 20mm, in just a year. It's been a challenge though. Egg to worker takes about 26-30 days keeping those ants at 30 degrees Celcius average temperature. For the majors, it takes more time, around 45-50 days. The ant farm has been upgraded several times. The queen will lay lots of eggs daily. Regarding the ant farm, well, I can write tons of information, but that's not my point, so I'll keep it brief. Ensure the substrate is a mixture of sand and loam in 1:1 proportion. Mix it well, then divide it into separate bags and put it in the freezer for 7-10 days to kill any possible contamination or microbes it may have. After this, put each bag (approx. 500 grams) in the microwave(800 Watts) for 3 minutes, open the bags and leave the substrate to cool down. Voila, you are ready to go ahead.
I do not recommend using a heating mat for the ant farm but a 12-volt self-regulating heating cable powered up by a 5-volt transformer and of course, controlled by a digital multi-sensor thermoregulator with time setting option control, so you can set different temperatures during the daytime and overnight. Now comes the tricky part, you should put it in such a manner that it heats the bottom at 30% and the rest 70% of warmth is split on the top third of the not higher than 100mm soil filling inside the nest tank. You must paint the heating cable before you start with PVA glue as it will play an important role in the nest's structure support later on. You must use Natural Jute Thread for extra support while putting the soil. Have you ever seen how the heating underfloor pipes are arranged, well, put the jute thread, in the same way, every 25 mm, starting at the first layer at 25mm, then 50mm and finally at 75mm. The distance between the thread is 25mm as well so easy to remember. If you skip this step, the nest's chambers might collapse at any point due to their large size so do not repeat my mistakes.
Set the thermostat to 27 degrees Celsius overnight and 33 degrees Celsius during the day. Do not moisturise the soil but spray the farm's walls a few times a day if you do not have a fog machine. Keep the air humidity high, between 90 and 97%.
Such a colony requires a tremendous amount of food daily and you should be very careful when it comes to discarding leftovers so as not to ruin their nest's chambers. I discovered that they prefer dead insects and you can feed them a large variety of protein-rich food such as mealworms, crickets and locusts along with raw chicken, tuna and Chia seeds, occasionally.
5. What are the fastest-growing ant species? The Solenopsis Invicta aka (red imported fire ant).
I started a colony of these ants with 5 queens and around 50 workers in April 2014. Until November same year I had around 5000 workers. I gave up at the same time and a fella ant keeper kept them for the next two years. John reported the colony size had increased to 10,000 workers one year later and to double that number two years later in October 2016. I found nothing interesting about the Solenopsis Invicta ants apart from their growth rate.
6. What are the most beautiful ant species?
We have got two favourites sharing the first place, both weever ants. Oecophylla smaragdina aka Asian weaver ants and Polyrhaches Dives aka Silver/Gold Asian Weaver Ants or Rich Spiny Sugar Ants.
I love Oecophylla Smaragdina ants so much that I and my team built a whole special room in our lab equipped with lots of advanced technology including digital temperature and humidity controllers, special kanthal heaters, fog machines, cutting-edge Samsung LED Red light and mixed light bulbs and other gadgets to succeed in breeding more queens and colonies here in the UK for more than a year. After considering the inability of our clients to keep the queens and their colonies alive for more than a month we ended up with an empty high-tech room. We started in the Autumn of 2019 with 57 Queen ants and 2 years later released a few hundred queens we bred ourselves on our annual trip to Malaysia, into the wild, near the border with Thailand, despite the coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions. This happened on September the 11th 2021. We concluded that it's just not right to breed ant species which are not supposed to live here. We also ended once and forever selling ant species with higher requirements toward climate.
They love making their nest in Pachira Aquatica (Money tree) and even better according to our lab results in Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamin). One-quarter of the colonies preferred the Lemon Plant (Citrus tree) though. They love organic honey and small insects such as houseflies but will not refuse even a boiled mealworm or locust chopped into tiny pieces.
The Polyrhaches Dives are way easier to look after. Similar to the Oecophylla smaragdina, they make nests in trees stitching the leaves, grass or twigs and even moss together using the silk produced by their larvae. Why they are easier to look after? Well, starting with the fact they are polygynous, often with 30-50 queens in a colony in nature, you can get a multi-queen colony with 3-5 queens and raise a massive colony in just a year. They love to hunt fruit flies but do not forget they also love sweets so give them plenty.
7. What are the most expensive ant species in the UK?
Considering the ants' habitat requirements and where the UK is on the globe, it's obvious that the ants from Australia and Africa are the most expensive so here you go a list with the top 10. The price may vary though.
£500 - Dinomyrmex gigas (Giant Forest Ant)
£300 - Myrmecia fulvipes (Golden Tailed Bull Ant)
£250 - Myrmecia pyriformis (Giant Brown Bulldog Ant)
£250 - Myrmecia nigriceps (Tri-Colour Bulldog Ant)
£220 - Myrmecia pilosula (Shiny Bulldog Ant)
£200 - Myrmecia nigrocincta (Jack Jumping Ant)
£200 - Atta cephalotes (Giant Leafcutter Ant)
£175 - Atta mexicana (Giant Urban Leafcutter Ant)
£170 - Messor cephalotes (Giant African Harvester Ants)
£150 - Acromyrmex octospinosus (Rugged Leaf CutterAnt)
Avoid direct sunlight on the setup.
The sun can heat the nest with up to 5 degrees Celsius for only 5 minutes so lots of toxins are being accumulated in the ants' bodies due to abrupt temperature changes. This can kill a worker ant for 1-3 days and a queen ant for 3-5 days if the sun does not boil the ants alive before that.
The bottom line. Please note that we do not offer and do not recommend you get ant species with high climate requirements like the aforementioned ant species unless you've got the necessary knowledge and experience along with the perfect equipment needed.
The more haste, the less speed. Do not make the ants suffer by jumping to an ant species you're not prepared for.
And do not forget: A friend in need is a friend indeed so get in touch with any difficult questions you may face during your ant trip.