Keeping ants as pets is easy, fascinating, educational, and intriguing. It is amazing to watch how they build pathways, store their food and reproduce.
What is a formicarium?
A formicarium is the housing for an ant colony for their growth. Glass jars, aquarium tanks, or anything that can be kept escape-proof and moist can be used to keep your ants. Using plastic for the formicarium is very popular. Petroleum jelly or anti-escape oil are applied to the side of the formicarium to prevent the ants from escaping.
How to set up an ant farm
The easiest way is to buy an ant farm from your local pet store or from Amazon. Here is a great one for first-time owners. A premade ant farm is the way to go if you are helping your child care for an ant colony.
Here is a great one from Amazon:
You can also build your own ant farm. Obtain a large glass jar and 1 smaller glass jar. Plastic jars can also be used. Place the smaller one inside the large one with a cap on the smaller one. This is to prevent the ants from falling into the smaller jar. This inner jar is to maintain a narrow area for the ants to build their tunnels in the outer jar. In this way, you will be able to see their tunnels.
Gather some loose soil outside and add it inside the larger jar. If the soil is too moist, you can mix it with some sand to allow the ants to tunnel through the mixture.
Place the ant farm on a flat stable surface that is away from direct sunlight. Direct bight light can interfere with the ant’s reproduction cycles by killing eggs and larvae. Purchase a heating mat from your local pet store and place it underneath the farm. The best temperature for most ant species is between 20–28 °C (68–82 °F). Use a thermometer inside the ant farm to check the temperature.
Obtaining and Adding the Ants
Ask your local pet store if they sell ants. The ants must be from a single colony and of a single species. If there is a choice between different species, ask for Lasius niger, a species of black garden ant that doesn’t bite.
You can harvest your own ants as well. Look for an ant hill in the garden or in the forest. Use a wooden stick and place it into the center of the nest and wait for the ant to climb up. Collect about 30 ants. You can also use a shallow dish and add a bit of sugar water, jam or honey. Leave it next to the hill for some time until it is full of ants.
Make sure your colony has a queen. Without a queen, they will not be able to reproduce and will all die within a couple of months. The queen is 2-3 times bigger than worker ants and has a long, broad thorax.
Try not to handle the ants directly because they bite. Rather wear a pair of latex gloves if you have to handle them.
Feeding and Watering Pet Ants
You should feed your ants every 6 hours during the day. They are omnivorous and can be fed a variety of foods.
- bread or cake crumbs
- bits of bread soaked in sugar water
- or tiny pieces of fruit.
Check how much they eat by giving them one small handful of food. If they eat about half of the food, you will know to give them a little less next time.
For protein, you need to give your ants soft-bodied insects. You can buy crickets, flies, mealworms, or wax worms from your local pet shop. Give them 4-6 insects with each feeding. The insects must be dead before you give them to the ants. Protein is necessary to produce healthy young.
Ants need a lot of sweet substances. For this, you can mix 7 parts of water with 1 part of sugar or honey. Make use of a soda bottle lid and pour about 15ml of the mixture into it and place the lid in the ant farm. For additional water, you need to mist the inside of the farm. If you spray water directly into the soil, the water can collapse the tunnels or drown the ants.
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