Collecting a Queen
Collecting a queen is often as easy as just being observant and knowing the conditions that trigger mating flights. Many ant species will fly on a clear night after it rains. The queens, once landed, will try to find a suitable place to start their colony. It is during this brief time between when they land and when they find their nesting site that you can safely collect them. There are several ways to find and collect a queen which I will cover below.
Identifying your queen is a very important part of starting a colony. The resources at the end of this document will point you to the same people and websites I use to identify the queens I have collected. Once Identified, specific care information can be easily researched.
I have found most queens either early in the morning, just after sunrise, or just after nightfall. Weather plays a big part in finding a queen. The ideal conditions are a clear night with a low temp above 65 degrees within 48 hours of rain. Most ant flights will occur when those 3 conditions are met.
The best way to collect a queen is to carry a test tube, small bottle, or other container with you that you can place on the ground and gently guide the queen into. I use small plastic vials and a cotton ball, gently nudging the queen with the cotton to guide her into the vial. Most queens will look like a normal ant with a large gaster. Using your fingers to pick the queen up can easily damage her.
Take a walk
This is the easiest way to collect a queen. Simply find a place to walk and keep your eyes on the ground. The best time to do this is the morning after a clear night after rain, Queens that have completed their mating flight but have not yet found a nesting place will be wandering around and often venture onto sidewalks or trails in their search.
Go out at night
This method can seem a bit odd to other people but going to a brightly lit place at night is a great way to find queens. Most flights happen between 8pm and 11pm on a clear night after rain. I have found queens in parking lots, gas stations, and wandering around under street lights. Just make sure you are in a safe area and if you are hanging out at a business, get permission.
Lure them with light
A black light and a white sheet can lure in hundreds of queens in a night. My queen collecting setup is a modified bug zapper (the kill cage is disconnected). Bug zappers usually have a 40 watt black light that will lure every insect in line of sight for half a mile or more. This method is great for bulk collection or documenting which species fly at what times.
The test tube and cotton balls included in your kit are your queen’s first home. Fill the test tube approximately 2/3rds with clean bottled water and insert a compressed cotton ball. To compress a cotton ball, fold it in half before inserting it into the tube. Use a clean implement to push the cotton into the water until the water reaches the outside edge of the cotton. You want the end of the cotton to be damp but not soaked, this will be the place where the ants drink and keep their brood hydrated. The water will also keep the inside of the tube humid for the ants. Using distilled or purified water is important in order to prevent the development of mold or mineral deposits in the cotton. The second cotton ball is the tube stopper, used to keep the ants in the tube but allow air exchange to occur. The two squares should go on each end of your tube and will prevent it from rolling around. Once setup, put your tube in a dark place and leave it alone unless you need to touch it.
Claustral vs Non-Claustral
There are two primary behavioral patterns for queen ants. Claustral queens will not require any interaction until they have their first set of workers. Claustral queens have stored fat that will keep them going until their workers can forage for food for them. Non-claustral or semi-claustral queens will forage for food and water while tending to their brood and will need to be fed often.
Ants eat pretty much anything but there are two main categories of food for them, protein and carbohydrates. Protein can be any insect, pre killed so that it does not injure your ants while they eat. For protein sources I use a rotation of mealworms, crickets, dubia roaches, and fruit flies. Using wild caught protein is not recommended, you never know what the insect was exposed to before you found it. For Carbs, I offer a 100% organic honey. You can find this at most stores but if you can get local honey, the ants will be less likely to reject it. To offer the food to the ants use a small tray made of foil, place a tiny drop of honey on it (about the size of a pinhead) and the protein source. Remove the cotton from the end of the tube and insert the tray.
See our website critterscreatures.com for additional links and resources.
- Ant Keeping Enthusiasts - https://www.facebook.com/groups/173336673200593/
- Ant Keeping in North America - https://www.facebook.com/groups/126199264583484/
- Ants and Ant Keeping - https://discord.gg/y97wJs
- AntWiki - https://www.antwiki.org/
- AntWeb - https://antweb.org/
- AntMaps - https://antmaps.org/
- AntFlights - https://antflights.com/
- Formiculture - https://www.formiculture.com/