The ant society is centered around the ant mother: the queen. Every year new queens and males fly out to mate, and after the flight is over they’re easy to capture.
There is a simple rule that tells us if an ant queen is mated or not: her wings. Most queens shed their wings after mating and can therefore be assumed to have mated. There are of course exceptions where queens keep their wings all their life, but it is very uncommon.
If you’ve found a mated queen, maybe after the nuptial flights or in a new nest, and want to keep her it might be a good idea to start planning a great home for her. New queens need solitude while already established ones need the company of workers. Newly mated queens are easy to care for. They simply need to be kept dark and with a source of water. The test tube is perfect for this. The easiest way is to create a sort of water reservoir in the tube by filling it with 1/3 water and then putting a cotton ball in it. The queen will be able to drink from it without drowning. It will also provide moisture in her nest. After placing her in the test tube, seal it up with another ball of cotton, preventing her from escaping.
There you have it – a perfect nest for your new queen to rear for her first daughters. Most queens arn’t interested in food and will therefore be very easy to care for. Simply leave them alone in the dark. The queens gets their nutrition from breaking down their wing muscles that will never be used again. She is meant to spend the rest of her life beneath the Earth’s surface.
When the queen is at home in her new nest it is important not to bother her more than enough. Ants do not like bright lights and some species also react to movement more than other. If she is disturbed too much she may not start her egg laying, eat all of her already laid eggs or die. The idea is to simulate a life in the ground. So, place the test tube in a dark place. Only check in or her once or twice a week to make sure she is well and that her brood is developing.
When Are The First Workers Born?
Every species has their own timetable when it comes to raising workers. For example; the Lasius niger queens raise workers in 8-10 weeks while Camponotus takes a lot longer. The first workers in a colony are weak and are often referred to as nanitics. They are the first generation and have been provided weaker bodies due to the short supply of food during their time of development. The better food storages, the larger and healthier ants.
When the queen has raised her first workers it might be a good idea to connect their test tube to some sort of arena where they can gather food. You can connect the test tube by tubes or simply by placing it in the arena and remove the cotton ball. Remember: the ants still like it dark in their nest. Try using some aluminium foil or something else found at home to cover the tube up.
And there you have it – your own colony of ants!