It may be hard to believe that ants could be good to consider as pets. However, when you do a little more research, you will realize that ants create and establish fascinating ant colonies that are highly complex. It can be really interesting to observe an ant colony as it forms, witness ants with different roles, and to see the power that collaboration (even at the magnitude of an ant) can have! Ants are becoming more popularized as pets because they are incredibly easy to maintain and so entertaining to watch.
Every ant species exists within a colony of many other ants. No ant species can or will survive on their own. Within each ant colony, ants have different roles and they divide their colony tasks between these roles. The queen ant lays the eggs, and is in charge of increasing the population. The other female ants are considered “working ants”, and these ants have various jobs including collecting food for the colony, building their nest, and maintaining the larvae. The different worker types are considered castes. Ant castes are divided into defending their ant colony, bringing food into the colony, storing food in their bodies, and soldier ants. Soldier ants, as they sound, tend to be larger ants and have mandibles that function to bite intruders. They are in charge of protecting the colony. Male ants are essentially “flying sperm” and their only job is to reproduce with the queen ants.
Every year, a new pair of queen and king ants are produced within the colony which are able to mate and lay eggs for the colony. When the new queen and king are made, they leave their original colony to start a new colony somewhere else. When keeping ants, you will want to create an ant formicarium, which is an enclosure where an ant colony can exist. Ant formicariums are challenging to create, but are well worth the effort
Ant Colony Housing
If you plan to have ants as pets, it is extremely important that you have a plan in place for how to house them and their colony properly. If you do not yet have a formicarium set up, a substitute could be a glass test tube until the number of ants grows to be too big to be in that space. About 25 ants can fit in a glass test tube, and you will want to fill it with sugar water and cap the top with a wad of cotton wool. The queen ant and its offspring will go behind this wad of cotton, and on the opposite side you can plug with a wad of cotton wool as well. Ant formicariums are an enclosure that have an “outdoor” compartment as well as a nest. When you do have your ants set up in a formicarium, you should be sure to refill the ditches with water weekly. Once you do this, you can help the ants determine where in the formicarium they want to reside depending on the level of moisture that is most comfortable for them. There are a few different types of ant formicariums that you can choose from. You have likely seen a classic ant farm before, and this is a great choice for housing your ant colony. This way your formicarium stands straight up, allowing the ants to work against the glass and giving you a wonderful view of all of the inner workings of your ant colony! Another option that you may be able to make simply from materials around your house is by using two glass jars. One of the jars should be significantly bigger than the other, and the smaller jar should be able to fit entirely within the bigger jar. This can be a great formicarium option for your ants as well. Additionally a tank that is used for an aquarium, a terrarium, or for other kinds of pets can also be a great option for your ant colony. Just be sure to regularly maintain the humidity so that it is comfortable for the ants.
Ant Formicarium Environment
Depending on your ant species, your ants will be most comfortable in a certain level of humidity. Ants are very good at determining what humidity suits them best, so it can be beneficial to provide them with a variety of moisture levels within their nests. Generally, an ant formicarium should be kept within the temperatures of 20°C and 28°C. To ensure that the formicarium is kept at the correct temperature, you can use a lamp or an electric heat map. However, the nest should also always be kept in the dark which can be tricky to maintain with a lamp. Therefore you may need to cover your formicarium with something to darken the space. If you use any material that is paper based, be sure to be aware of any fire hazard!
Food for Pet Ants
The right food for an ant depends on the ant species. Many ants are able to eat insects and water that is mixed with sugar. To make ant sugar water, you can mix 7 units of water with one unit of sugar. Sugar water should be replaced in the formicarium every 2-3 days. You can feed ants many different types of insects including fruit flies, moths, aphids, flies, and small crickets. The protein in insects can be really beneficial to the overall health of the ant colony. Some species of ants eat seeds. Other ants eat syrup, pollen, fruit, and meat
Outside or Purchase?
Since an ant is an unusual pet to have at home, you may be wondering… do I just grab any ant that I see outside? Or should I go buy an ant or a few ants at the store? The truth is, you can go whichever route you prefer. If you don’t want to find any ants from nature yourself, there are now at least 65 websites dedicated solely to selling and shipping ants all over the world. If your plan is to have a successful ant colony, you want to be sure that you have a queen ant with worker ants, or at least a queen ant that has eggs. Otherwise, your ant will not become an ant colony. Typically queen ants that have eggs will lose their wings, and that is a good indicator that you have an ant that can provide an ant colony. If you purchase your ants from a knowledgeable source, you are likely to have more success with your ant colony than if you decide to just collect your ants from nature. Of course, there is a great variety of ant species. It may feel overwhelming finding one that is right to keep as your pets. A black garden ant is one of the easiest options as they are resilient and can survive in harsh environments. Every colony has one queen that can multiply into ten thousand worker ants. Another ant species you may want to consider is a Myrmica Rubra (European fire ant). This species is especially interesting to watch, but can be more difficult to maintain with specific humidity levels.Their colonies have many different queens and need lots of protein in order to function effectively
Although it may seem like a silly idea, ants can be really outstanding and interesting additions to your home. As long as you have a well maintained and comfortable formicarium for your ant colony, and are feeding the ant species with the right foods, you can end up with a buzzing colony of ants with different tasks and roles to observe. Once your formicarium is set up, pet ants can be very cheap to maintain, and endlessly entertaining to observe. It may also serve as a valuable reminder that nature can be wildly intelligent and magnificent, regardless of how small.