This is my first post in a series I plan to write about my experiences keeping ants. One of my friends who I will refer to as L is also interested in the life of ants! L was around for most of the events in this post, and I predict in the future too.
To begin with, I thought I would try keeping just a handful of ants as practice before taking on a queen. The idea is that I can make mistakes and learn what is best by keeping rogue ants taken from a colony before housing my own queen.
I’ve had the idea of creating my own housing for ants myself for a while. This would require designing the enclosure carefully. Considering a structure that allows the ants to be observed, easy access to move contents and still be practicle for ants to live in. This involves having acceptable ventilation and climate/temperature within. I thought about doing this first but decided I really need some experiance with ants first hand before knowning how to best design this. Even then, the first housing created probably won’t be great. Alternatively I could follow a tutorial somebody has taken time to write and describe creating their designed ant housing. I might come back to this later, but first I thought I’d take a look at some cheaper ant enclosures to buy online.
I came across the website AliExpress.com. Here, there are a lot of different vendors selling cheap ant enclosures. They all seemed to use a very simple design. Basically the ant farms are made up of about a half centimeter sheets of acrylics plastic. These are then assembled together in a specific order and secured using screws, bolts and rubber bands.
They were very cheap, and I thought it was worth a shot so ordered a very basic, small housing like this one.
It took a while, but I was in no rush, the “AntGranery” came after over two weeks. Inside I found the unassembled enclosure and a note from Lenny…
I was touched, Lenny seems like a great guy! My friend L was in the room and after showing the letter, L was interested in building the “AntGranery” with me. Without any instructions, we got to building it. The first step was to actually peel off this brown paper stuck to each piece of acrylic. This was tedious and took a while but once this was out the way we could begin building it. I built the side chambers and feeding area whilst L fitted the main enclosure area together. After which we attached them together. It didn’t take very long and was straightforward to work out intuitively. The thing look pretty good, especially for the price! I had high hopes for using it to keep a few ants, and it might be useful as a starting chamber for starting a queen in.
L and I now planned our first trip out to find some ants for the newly built enclosure. We also planned to collect different types of dirt, vegetation and stones which were suitable and would fit into the main enclosure area of the “AntGranery”. My idea was to have a bottom layer of dense direct, a second layer of looser dirt and finally sand/dust layer on the surface. We ventured forth with my Dog S, out past a M5 motorway north of Bristol over a bridge which leads to some paths through a wooded area. As we crossed the bridge I was amused to find a bunch of guys lifting a dirt bike high over a barrier clearly designed to stop bikes and similar vehicles being taken over. They were a rough looking group of guys, but not causing any trouble as we passed. I’ve thought this before, the people in Patchway (Where I currently live) remind me of where I grew up, the Welsh Valleys. This is just the kind of “naughty” stuff they get up to there.
We walked along the paths until we came out of the wood on the other side. There was a really nice view down from the edge of the wood to a small town. We turned back into the woods and started focusing on the real reason we were out here. Finding ants. It didn’t take us long before L came across an interesting trail of black ants. They peaked our interested as one, they were quite big. Secondly, they were climbing en masse up and down the tree their hive must have been at the base of. We dug around at the base of the tree looking for the queen but agreed that this was a hopeless task and we were just hurting them. Instead, we began scooping these big ants up into our temporary housing for them. A old bottle of high grade vodka. After we got about 15-20 in the bottle we made our way home. Happy to have found these ants and with knowledge of where their nest was.
Whilst we were out getting the ants. We collected some loose sand and dust into one bag, and some mud in another. Back in our garden I used the mud for the bottom layer in the ant enclosure. The looser dut and mud for the next layer and finally the sand on the top. On top of it all I had a corner taken up with some moss and another with some small twigs and dry grass
It took sometime, but we shook the ants out of the bottle into their new home. We came indoors and enjoyed watching them get to work. At first we noticed that as the ants walked on the loose sand they were slipping and sliding down it! It was funny, but important in the future how loose sand should be used carefully. It didn’t take them long before they were moving bits of dirt around and digging under the moss. We were eating some apples we bought on the way home and gave the ants a small piece. Assuming the sugar and water content would be enough for the few ants inside.
The great escape
A couple of days later, I came down one morning for breakfast and went to check on the ants. I looked inside immediately noticed I could only see one walking around. I assumed they were all under the moss in a new nest they had constructed. I left for the day but when I came back and checked there was still only one ant visible. I began to worry, wondering if the ants were trapped underneath the sand. It also dawned on me they could have also escaped somehow… The first thing L and I did was to lift the moss up and sift through the dirt to see if we could find them. We could not. After considering the “AntGranery” a while, I noticed the test tubed which was meant to supply water moisture to the enclosure had a small gap between it.
So it seemed all the ants had escaped then! Except one, who we now called Jimmy (or maybe Anthony?).
We fitted the gaps with cotton and kept Anthony for a few more days. I decided to release Anthony with plans to get another group of rogue ants together for the nest.
So, I plan to collect another group of ants and start over, with the flawed enclosure’s gaps filled in. With the same original aim to observe and experience keeping ants ready for a larger colony in the future.