Ants as individuals are not very strong, smart, or capable of surviving.
But as a group, they quickly become quite impressive masses that can do incredible things. Some species even grow their own fungus or keep their own aphids. They can fight predators that are way bigger than they are. The movements inside a colony of ants are exciting to watch and observe. Keeping ants as pets can be an interesting, interactive, and even educational hobby. But if you want to keep your own pet-ant colony, you need to build them a proper home. And in this article, you will learn how to do so.
As a whole, you can make an ant habitat out of materials your ants cannot chew through. You can offer your ants either an ant farm with pre-made tunnels and chambers or give them a place with soil where they can dig their own tunnels. Every formicarium also needs a separate place for food.
Now let’s take a closer look at how to properly prepare every part of the habitat I just mentioned.
Different Types of Ant Homes
If you are planning to create a home for your ants, you came to the right place. In this article, you will learn what your ants need and how you can create a perfect home for them.
Consider What Your Ants Need
A home for ants can be called an ant farm or Formicarium. Depending on what your ants need and what you expect from the Formicarium, the requirements for this place can differ a lot.
There are ants that love to nest in wood, others that prefer sand or soil, some ants like a rather moist and others a dry home.
Adapt your plans to the ant species you are planning this Formicarium for.
What do You Expect From the Formicarium?
You should also take into consideration what you expect from your ant farm.
Do you want to see all the tunnels and chambers with the ants inside or would you prefer to offer your ants a home that is as close to natural conditions as possible, giving them the possibility to build chambers in the middle of their home so that you cannot watch them work in their nest?
The World Outside
Every Formicarium should be somehow connected to a place where the ants can collect food.
You don’t place food directly inside the tunnels. Just like in nature, ants will come outside of their nest and collect their food.
This extra place can be either connected via a tube or the formicarium sits inside of an aquarium that is not directly part of their nest and can be used as the outside world.
Ant Farm Without a Queen
Creating an ant farm for your pet ants is a fun exercise. All you need is some ants from your backyard or your neighborhood and two jars can fit into each other.
An ant farm without a queen is a short-term living space for your ants. Usually, the life span of a worker ant is up to a few months, depending on the species.
Create a New Home for Your Ants
Before you collect some ants, you should build their new home.
Place the smaller jar upside down into the larger jar.
This leads to a narrow passage for the ants to build their tunnels in, and you have the chance to watch them better.
If you don’t limit the space in the big jar, the ants would build their tunnels in the middle of the jar and you would not see much of their action.
Punch a few tiny holes into the lid of the big jar.
These are the breathing holes for the ants. Don’t make them too big, or the ants will escape.
Now you can go outside and collect some soil to put in the passage.
You can fill the big jar up until you reach the bottom of the smaller jar, which is upside down.
This floor can be used as a place for water and food, once the ants are inside.
How to Collect Your Pet Ants
It’s time to collect your pet ants. Prepare yourself with a bucket and a shovel, some gloves, and rubber boots, to protect yourself.
You can rub some baby powder around the top of the bucket. This measure prevents ants from crawling out of the bucket.
If you find some ants crawling around, you can either follow them or look nearby if you can find their nest.
Do not dig through the nest, or you might crush some ants. Gently collect the ants and try not to destroy too much of the nest while doing so.
Put your ants in the buckets.
Put Your Ants Inside of Their New Home
Once you collect between 20 and 100 ants, you can put them in your big jar. Take your time and do this outside.
Otherwise, you might drop some ants and you don’t want them inside of your room on the floor.
When your ants are inside your jar, you can prepare their first meal. You can moisturize a sponge and put it on the bottom of the small jar.
The ants can drink from the moist. If the sponge gets too dry, you can either spray some water inside or gently put water drops on the sponge. Make sure that your ants can always drink.
For their food, you can give them a drop of sugar water or honey, mixed with water, to make sure that they don’t get stuck in the honey.
For the protein, you can offer them small parts of insects, such as a cricket leg.
How to Treat Your Pet Ants
Store your ant farm in a place with no direct sun exposure.
You can cover your ant farm with a towel to give them some privacy.
Keep in mind, that their tunnels are usually underground in total darkness. Never shake your ant farm, otherwise, the tunnels will collapse and potentially kill your ants.
Now you can lean back and enjoy your ant farm.
You can feed them every 2-3 days. Just observe, how much they really need and adapt the amount of food, you give them.
Formicarium for an Ant Colony With a Queen
You are planning to rise your own ant colony with a queen.
This requires more responsibility than an ant farm with only workers because a colony can live for many years.
It also means that you can enjoy watching them grow and be with your colony from the beginning on. This makes ant-keeping even more exciting and educational.
There are different types of ant farms you can choose from.
There are digging ant farms, in which the ants can create their own tunnels, and there are non-digging ant farms, in which the tunnels are pre-made.
The most important thing, if you are planning a Formicarium, is to consider the needs of your ants.
If you can rebuild something that’s similar to what they would choose in nature, you will have happy ants.
The size of the ant farm is highly dependent on the colony size and the size of the individual ant. Small colonies do not need a lot of space.
A few inches are usually enough for the nest. In addition to the nest, the formicarium must connect to a place simulating the outside world, where they can find food and where they can put their garbage for you to clean up.
Digging Ant Farms
Formicarium in which the ants can dig their tunnels themselves is digging ant farms.
You provide your ants with sand, soil or stone, or a mixture of these things and offer your ants a somewhat natural environment for their nest.
Depending on the ant species you should adapt the soil you offer them. Now you can just let your ants do whatever they want to in this environment.
Digging Ant Farms for Proper Observation
A digging ant farm is great for the ants but can also lead to a limited view of what the ants are actually doing in there.
To combine the advantage of an environment that is as close to the natural environment as possible with the possibility to observe your ants, you can make them build their tunnels close to the glass.
You can achieve this by putting some kind of placeholders, such as a jar, a stone, or even concrete or anything similar everywhere where the ants are not supposed to build their tunnels such as in the middle of the formicarium where you cannot see anything.
Digging Ant Farms as Planted Habitant
You can also create a formicarium that is completely natural.
The risk of this kind of formicarium is, that you might now see what’s going on inside. The ants will dig their tunnels away from the glass and you will probably not see their brood or food chambers.
But there are several advantages to this kind of habitat.
You can make the formicarium look really attractive by planting real plants and creating a tiny forest in your home.
Another huge advantage is, that your ants will behave just like they are outside.
That means, that you don’t have to worry too much about cleaning up their garbage.
Ants in nature will create chambers for their waste and close up these areas. Their disposal will compost naturally in the soil.
Non-Digging Ant Farms
You can also offer your ants a fully transparent non-digging ant farm. This means that the tunnels are already pre-made for the ants inside.
They don’t have to dig tunnels and can use the existing ones.
The main advantage is, that these ant farms are perfect for observing your ants, most of these ant farms are easy to clean and you can reuse them if your ant colony has died and you want to move a new colony in.
If you don’t want to buy a non-digging ant farm, but would rather want to build one by yourself, you can absolutely do so.
Only use materials that are safe to use with your ants. Many ants are sensitive to chemicals, therefore you should try to use only chemical-free materials.
If something is labeled as aquarium-safe then it should also be safe to use for your ant farms. This goes for example for aquarium-safe silicone.
Materials that are suitable for ant farms are materials that can absorb water such as cork, ytong, plaster, or concrete.
These ant farms won’t last forever due to the risk of mold but can last several years which is often long enough for an ant colony.
And you can always move your ants to a new place, which is a good thing to do anyway. Ants in nature are confronted with movements in the soil and changing environmental settings.
Ants in non-digging formicarium have to live with what you gave them.
It is a natural process for ants to move to a bigger, better, maybe cleaner, or simply different place every once in a while.
You can drill tunnels and chambers into the material of your choice and close the construction with a glass pane or acryl glass to be able to see the ants in the tunnels.
Formicarium can be either flat or vertical. That’s completely up to you. The ants don’t have a preference.
In addition to the formicarium, you will always need a feeding area somewhere outside in a different place.
This outside world can be connected to the formicarium via a tunnel or the formicarium is inside of an aquarium that represents the outside world.
This is where you offer your ants food and where they leave their garbage for you to clean up.
Gel farms can be a great way to start with ant keeping. But keep in mind that gel farms are only a temporary solution and cannot be used for ant colonies.
The gel in the farms is not meant to last forever. Normal worker ants without a queen can live from some weeks up to several months.
For this period of time, a gel farm can be the right choice.
But for a colony with a queen, you will need proper housing.
Gel farms can mold quickly and kill your ants if you don’t pay attention.
What Do Ants Eat?
Ants eat everything. They love sweet liquids such as syrup, honey, or sugar water as well as sweet fruits. In nature, their diet also includes other insects, plants, and for some species even amphibians and reptiles.
If you feed your ants, make sure that you give them a good mixture of carbs and proteins.
They will love sweet and soft fruits such as banana or watermelon in addition to syrup, honey, and sugar water for their carbs.
For the proteins, you can offer them insects such as crickets, cockroaches, worms, or centipedes.
Ants need access to water at all times.
This does not mean that they need a lake or that you have to flood their nest every once in a while.
Ants can drink from the tiniest drops of water. You can fill water in a test tube and close that part with cotton. You ants will drink from the cotton.
How Big Can a Colony Get?
An ant colony in captivity will not get as big as it would in nature. A colony in nature would consume more and more food in order to quickly grow.
You can regulate the growth of your own colony by limiting the food you provide them. If you don’t want your colony to grow, you can keep giving them the same amount of food.
As long as you don’t increase the food you offer your ants, the colony growth will stagnate.
On the other hand: If you want your colonies to grow, offer them more food and more space.
Lisa is one of the two founders of Animal-Knowledge. She has been very interested in animals and insects from a very young age and has owned different kinds of pets such as snails, ants, fish, turtles, mice, rats, hamsters, rabbits, a dog, … you get the idea 🙂