The worldwide phenomenon of pet ant keeping originated in the first-ever formicarium primarily designed to study ant colonies. In 1929 formicarium was commercially sold for the first time, making pet ants possible for many people. In the ant farms, ants could be observed and watched and scientists were able to find out more about how ants live, their social structures, and a lot more.
As a whole, the easiest ant species to take care of, are regional ants. Depending on where you live, the black garden ant (Lasius niger) is often recommended as well as the Lasius neoniger and Lasius americanos, the Camponotus ant species, Crematogaster cerasi and Tetramorium immigrans.
There are thousands of different ant species with different requirements concerning their housing and food. If you are new to the ant-keeping world, these ants could be the perfect fit for your very first ant colony.
What is a Good Beginner Ant Species?
It always depends on whether you want an ant farm without a queen, or if you are planning to raise your ant colony with one or more queens.
If you want a thriving ant colony, you need an inseminated queen ant. She is the only one in the colony who can lay eggs that develop into workers.
If you want to study the ants’ behavior for a few weeks or months, an ant farm without a queen is sufficient.
Ants can exist and work without a queen but will die out within weeks or months.
There are ant species that are easier to keep and others that are more challenging. Here are the best examples for beginner-ants.
Generally, it is recommended to start with a regional species irrespective of whether or not you want to keep a queen.
Regional species are already used to the climate as well as the food of the region. You can offer them fruits and insects from outside which makes it easier to care for them.
If you cannot take care of your ants anymore for whatever reason, you can simply set them free outside, without confusing the ecosystem.
This is obviously only possible with regional ants.
Most ants from colder regions hibernate. This means that they will slow down in their movements and actions when it gets colder and will start moving around when spring arrives.
Usually, ant keepers put their ants in the refrigerator to support their hibernation.
Ants that came from regions without a cold winter, don’t need to hibernate. They will thrive all year long, such as the pharaoh ant.
If you want a break from ant keeping every once in a while, hibernating ants can be a big advantage.
One Queen or More
Most ant colonies have one queen ant.
As ant colonies tend to grow rather slowly, especially if you start with one queen ant and no workers, beginners tend to prefer species with more than one queen.
A nest with several queen ants grows a lot quicker than with one queen ant because every queen ant can lay eggs.
Thereby a colony with more than one queen ant will have a larger range of worker ants within a shorter period the hobby more interesting and exciting.
But an ant colony with one queen ant is recommended for beginners as the growth of a colony with several ants can quickly get out of control.
By the way, we have a full guide on how to catch a queen ant that you can read right here if you want to start your own colony.
Ants for Beginners
In this list, you can find several ant species which could be held by ant-keeping newcomers.
All of the species are relatively easy to take care of. They don’t need a fancy diet plan or anything super special to build their nest.
They all have one queen to make the growth of the colony more stable and comprehensible.
Ant colonies that grew too big for their home will try to escape to find a more suitable space for their nest.
And some ants are masters in escaping. Therefore an ant colony that does not grow crazy fast is good for beginners.
The ant size might matter to you, because the bigger the worker ant is, the more you will see when they move around.
It is also important for you to know where the ants are native. You might want to choose a local ant as your first colony, so make sure that the ant you want already lives in your region.
A regional ant also has the huge advantage that you can catch a queen after her nuptial flight by yourself.
This will make the entire ant-keeping experience a lot more interesting since you were there with the queen from the very first day on.
Now, without further ado, these are the most popular ants to start with as a beginner:
- Camponotus ants
There are several subspecies to the Camponotus ants, better known as the carpenter ant.
Carpenter ants are often known for their invasive attitude, nesting in houses and making it hard to believe that they could be awesome pets.
But many carpenter ants species are native and common in the US, Canada, and Europe and therefore great ants to start with.
You can catch your queen after their nuptial flight and the colonies usually grow quickly.
They are all rather big ants, especially the Camponotus Modoc. As the owner of a Camponotus colony, you will see results very fast which makes the hobby more exciting.
Camponotus ants can come in various colors such as yellowish, dark red, black, or even bicolor in the case of the Camponotus vicinus.
- Crematogaster cerasi
The Crematogaster cerasi, also sometimes referred to as the acrobat ant, is also a very rewarding species because they are really easy to keep in captivity.
They can come in different color schemes from light brown to very dark brown.
They have a pretty heart-shaped abdomen. The colonies can be huge with 10.000 workers and more.
The colonies grow extremely quickly and they are native in Canada, the US, and Mexico.
They do need proper escape prevention as they are pretty good at escaping.
The species Lasius has many subspecies.
The most popular ones are the Lasius niger, also known as the black garden ant, the Lasius Neoniger, and the Lasius Americanus, known as the cornfield ant.
They are all pretty well-known ant species with rather small queens of 6-9mm and workers around 3-5mm in size.
The Lasius niger is the most common ant in Europe while the Lasius neoniger and Lasius americanos are more popular in Canada and the US.
These species are perfect for beginners due to their low failure rates in the founding phase. They are active and easy to take care of in captivity.
The colonies of the Lasius subspecies grow quickly to very impressive sizes.
- Tetramorium immigrans (Pavement Ant)
The Tetramorium immigrans is known as the Pavement ant and is very popular for beginners. They are really easy to take care of and eat anything. Failure rates with this species are very low.
The pavement ant is one of the most common ant species in North America.
The colonies grow very quickly to a few thousand workers and you will see a lot going on as they are pretty active ants.
List of Beginner-Friendly Ant Species
Here are all ants that we recommend for ant-keeping beginners. During the nuptial flight time, you can go out and look for freshly mated queens to start your colony.
Aphaenogaster occidentalis (Western Collared Ant)
Size: Queen: 8-9mm, Workers: 4-6mm
Native in: Suburban areas in North America, Canada, North Africa, Europe (especially South-West and South-East), Australia, Asia (South-East)
Special feature: Tend to start colonies with 3-5 queens
Colony Growth: Grows rather slowly
Color: Range from darker red to black
Nuptial Flight: June – September
Aphaenogaster picea (Pitch-Black Collared Ant)
Size: Queen: 7-8mm, Workers: 4-6mm
Native in: Suburban areas in North America, Canada, North Africa, Europe (especially South-West and South-East), Australia, Asia (South-East); Very common ant in Eastern US
Colony Growth: Relatively slowly growing colony
Color: Dark red and brown color
Nuptial flight: May
Aphaenogaster rudis (Funnel ants)
Size: Queen: 10mm, Workers: 6-7mm
Native in: Eastern North America
Special feature: Nest anywhere. Very easy to keep
Color: Black head and gaster and red thorax
Nuptial flight: July – August
Camponotus herculeanus (Hercules Carpenter Ant)
Size: Queen: 13-17mm, Workers: 7-16mm. They have several castes of workers with major (up to almost 20mm) and minor workers (under 10mm).
Native in: Preferably in higher regions (altitude 1200-1300m). Can be found in Northern Europe, Northern Eurasia, Northern America, and Canada
Colony Growth: Fast-growing Camponotus specie
Color: Black ant with red shades on the lower end of the thorax
Nuptial flight: May – July
Camponotus modoc (Western Carpenter Ant)
Size: Queen: 20mm, Workers: 6-20mm. Major and minor workers live together in the colony.
Native in: Lives mainly in western Canada, the US, and Mexico; Biggest ant species on the western end of Canada.
Colony Growth: Very fast growing Camponotus ant species
Special feature: Polygynous colonies (= multiple queens) are possible in the beginning but sometimes the queens start to kill each other. Therefore it is recommended to rather start with one queen.
Nuptial flight: April – July
Camponotus novaeboracensis (New York Carpenter Ant)
Size: The smallest of the Camponotus subgenus
Polymorphic species = Major workers (1cm) and minor workers (0,5cm)
Queen: 18mm, Workers: 5-16mm
Native in: South and East of Canada, United States
Colony Growth: Very fast growing Camponotus ant species with rather small colonies of around 3000 workers
Color: Black head and abdomen and red thorax
Nuptial flight: April-July
Camponotus pennsylvanicus (Eastern Black Carpenter Ant)
Size: Queen: 18mm, Workers: 8 mm + major workers with sizes close to the queen
Native in: South of Canada, East of USA
Colony Growth: Fast-growing Carpenter ant species. Growth during the founding stage is rather slow but can grow to very big colonies in the 2nd and 3rd year.
On average around 2200 workers per colony
Nuptial flight: April – July
Camponotus vicinus (Bicolored Carpenter Ant)
Size: Queen: 15-18mm, Workers: 7-16mm (Major and minor workers)
Native in: Most common Camponotus in the west of North America, South of Canada and Alaska, Mexico
Colony Growth: Rather a slow colony development. Sometimes Polygynous (Multiple queens) but mostly only one queen.
Color: Can be bicolor and monocolored, darker queen, workers can be yellowish and soldiers dark red/brown
Nuptial flight: March-July
Crematogaster cerasi (Acrobat Ants)
Size: Queen: 9mm, Workers: 4mm
Native in: East Canada, United States, Mexico
Colony Growth: Extremely fast-growing ants, up to 100 in the first year. A mature colony can be home to tens of thousands of workers
Color: Light brown to very dark brown
Nuptial flight: August-October
Size: Queen: 12mm, Workers: 4 – 8 mm
Native in: Native in Asia, especially in mountain areas in Korea (altitude of 1000m and more), Europe, Russia, parts of Asia, Canada, USA
Colony Growth: Colony sizes are rather small: 500 workers on average
Color: Black with sometimes lighter legs
Nuptial flight: June-August
Formica rufa (Wood ant)
Size: Queen: 9-11mm, Workers: 4.5-9mm
Native in: All over Europe, Russia, some sightings in Canada and USA
Colony Size: Huge colonies with up to 4.000.000 workers and some hundred queens
Color: Fancy orange / brownish or reddish color, require very little care, common forest ant
Nuptial flight: May-June
When you start with a new ant colony, always make sure that they are hydrated enough and that you take good care of them.
Even though ants are tiny, they are still your pets and you want to keep them well.
Which Aant Colony Should I Get
The best way to decide which ant colony you want is to take a walk.
Look for ants outside. If you want local ants, the easiest way is to catch a queen of a local species. The chances are high that you find one if there is a nest nearby.
In the end, it is completely up to you, if you rather prefer a bigger ant or a small ant and which color she should have.
Every ant species has some advantages and some disadvantages. But with the above-mentioned ants, you should have no problems as a beginner.
If you are unsure, you can also look through pictures or videos of the ants, you are interested in, to support your decision.
Some ant species require more experienced ant keepers.
Of course, you can also keep these ants as pets when you start with the hobby of ant-keeping.
But even though some ant species might appear tempting, more exciting, or simply prettier than some of the beginner-ant-species, keep in mind that they might require a lot more care, have a higher failure rate, or have other disadvantages such as they are masters in escaping.
Ants for Experienced Ant-Keepers
One very exciting ant species for experienced ant-keepers is the Pheidologeton diversus.
This species grows extremely quickly due to many queens and will soon try to escape. And they are very good at escaping so make sure that their home is escape-proof.
The Fire ant is one of the most popular searches from ant-keepers. Keeping fire ants can be risky due to their aggressive behavior and huge appetite.
They like to escape and if they do so, they can quickly become dangerous for you, your family, pets, and if they are not native to the region where they are kept, even for the ecosystem.
They are not only aggressive as individuals but also attack in groups as they release pheromones for the other ants to signal them that they should attack as well.
Fire ants have multiple queens and can build huge colonies, they multiply very quickly.
One such ant is the fire ant. You should not keep fire ants as a beginner for reasons we already established in this article where we answered the question of whether it is a good idea to keep fire ants as pets.
How Can I Catch a Queen Ant of my Favorite Species
Every ant colony performs a nuptial flight at some point. Always have some test tubes with you, when you are outside, to put a queen in it when you find one.
Nuptial flights often happen after a storm or rain because most ant species prefer higher humidity for their flight.
Most nuptial flights are in spring and summer and on a day with a light breeze. If you have already found a nest for the ant you want, you can keep a closer look at this nest.
Shortly before the flight, the ants start to open the entrances a bit more to make space for the queen ants and drones.
Do not try to catch the queen ant in the air.
The chances are higher that they already mated, when they are on the ground, far enough from their home colony.
A queen that has already thrown off her wings is probably mated, but don’t hesitate to also catch queens that still have their wings on.
Some queens even keep them for their entire life.
If you find some queens, always put only one queen in one test tube. Otherwise, they might start fighting and killing each other.
We also have a full guide on how to catch an ant queen right here.
Most Dangerous Ants
The most dangerous ants in the world are the Bulldog ant in Australia and the Bullet ant in North and South America and tropical areas.
The Bulldog ant, also known as Bull ant or Jack jumper, are only native to Australia.
They can grow up to 40mm and are extremely dangerous because of their aggressive behavior if you are too close to their nest.
They bite the intruders and right afterward curl their abdomen to sting and inject venom into the victim.
Their stings are very painful and can lead to an anaphylactic shock. This allergic reaction can kill adults within only 15minutes.
The bulldog ant can be kept as a pet, but only where it is native: In Australia.
The Bullet ant holds a record for the most painful sting of an insect ant in the world. The pain of the bite is compared with being hit by a bullet.
The venom can cause swellings and even limb paralysis. Bullet ants can grow up to 30mm.
They live in tropical areas and can only be kept with a special permit.
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 🙂