There has been an awakening…

It’s been quite a while since I posted, mostly because there was nothing to post. My ants were all out hibernating and not really doing much. Still, it’s now mid-February so i decided to see whether any are ready to start waking up. First off, I tried bringing in one of the Lasius flavus queens I pulled out of the pool last summer. For this, I decided to put her into a CD case nest while there was still just the one ant with no brood to transfer. Hopefully she didn’t mind too much…

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It’s pretty basic – just a central cotton pad reservoir for water, a few holes to add honey water/insects etc. and a tube so I can connect it to other habitats later. Typically, she’s chosen to hide under that taped off section on the right… Ah well. I know what to change for next time i build something like this.

I also brought out my Lasius niger, who I’ve had right from the beginning. Last I saw of them, this was their state:

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In other words, I couldn’t see a thing. I wasn’t even sure they were alive. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to do something about that. Using a pooter so as not to damage any of the ants, I transferred them into the AntStore.es formicarium. From 14 workers when I received the colony back in June last year, I was quite happy to see it had grown to this:

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I reckon there are roughly 100 workers there. ūüôā

My first formicarium

Well, I think I’ll call this project done. My first formicarium is just about ready to put some ants in!

I’m pretty happy with how it’s turned out, all told. The painting has come out nicely on the top, even if the 11pm lighting isn’t doing it any favours. At least I have some use for all that time spent painting Warhammer figures back in university. ūüėČ

All the chambers connect to at least two others for decent mobility around the nest, though you can see where a corner came off during the drilling process in the third picture. I think I’ve blended it in alright, though. You can also see the watering hole in that one – it leads to a sand-filled chamber in the centre which the ants cannot reach, which will hopefully act as a reservoir and allow water to soak into the nest a little more slowly. I’ve used PVA to seal the hole to the formicarium wall, so I’ll have to wait for this to dry before I can put in the water and introduce some ants.

Materials cost on this was super low, too: ¬£2.99 for an Exo Terra Standard Faunarium Mini (bought two from http://www.livefoods.co.uk along with a fruit fly culture to save me trying to catch them from the compost bins) and a small amount of Everbuild Jetcem Premix – perhaps ¬£1-2 worth? I had the paints already and used a pretty small amount anyway, so I’ll call it a cost of around ¬£5 to make myself – not bad at all, when it could cost me about ¬£30 for something of comparable size!

I was considering putting my Messor barbarus in here, but the chambers really are large, so it’s probably more suitable for my second Camponotus barbaricus colony instead. They’re still languishing in a test tube in an empty faunarium anyway, so could do with a new home. Guess they get to try one tomorrow!

Carnage at the pool

Well, weeks after everyone else in the country seems to have had their Lasius niger nuptial flights, the ants down here finally made the decision to get out and go. And, wouldn’t you know it, it happened on the afternoon I was isolated for feeling poorly (I work in a place helping to run residential holiday weeks and we’d just recently got over a bug that shut us down for a week).

I only found this out when I was netting the pool to prepare for a swimming session in the afternoon. I didn’t realise at first, spread out over the pool as they were, but I ended up with around 30-40 dead alates in the net, perhaps more. Maybe the blue cover drew them in for some reason? Whatever the reason, I’m glad I checked the net as there were a few lucky survivors: three mated queens.

I’ve decided that, intead of numbering the colonies, I’ll name them after queens of the British Isles. The one I already had will from now on be Anne, while these new ones will be Boudicca, Catherine and Dorothy (wife of Richard Cromwell – technically a Lord Protector, but the only ‘D’ I could find).

There’s also a fourth tube with some slightly less lucky survivors – I found two winged queens and a male, so picked them up on the off-chance that they’d just not dropped their wings yet or that they might mate with the male. Unfortunately, the male died within an hour. I’ll keep them for a day or so to see if they drop their wings, but until then I’ll hold off on naming them. If they’re not going to reproduce, then those stores in their bodies may as well go to some use, and it wouldn’t do to have two named queens end up as food…

Work is nearly done on the cement-cast formicarium and I’m very happy with the result so far. No pictures to show today though, I’m afraid – I haven’t had the chance. The outworld area is painted, so now all I need to do is get the sides up to standard, drill a last few chamber conections and paint the tunnels with a watered down Crystacast solution. Hopefully this will neated it up and give it a hard, mould-resistant surface.

Anyway, that’s enough for today. Time to get some sleep.

New arrivals and new homes

It’s been two weeks since my last post and there have been lots of new developments. Firstly, I have had some new arrivals!

After taking a look around at various formicariums and researching where to buy Messor barbarus (because who doesn’t love harvester ants who can produce soldiers?), I soon stumbled upon AntHouse.es. This company has an unusual sales strategy – the ants are free so long as you buy a formicarium for them. They also had a reputation for being generous with their colonies, so I decided to give them a try.

Here’s what I got:

Quite a bundle

I’d placed a colony of Messor barbarus in the basket, but it also seemed as though the formicarium itself came with a colony of Camponotus barbaricus – I emailed to say that I wasn’t sure if I’d ordered both colonies or not, but I could house both if I had. On opening the package, I found that AntStore had not only sent both, but thrown in an extra tube of Camponotus for a total of three free colonies – bargain!

The colonies look healthy (to my untrained eye) and all came with a good number of workers, so I got to see them in action without delay. They also included a free vial each of protein syrup and mineral oil for escape prevention, which were nice surprises. I’ll definitely be using this company again.

I popped one of the Camponotus colonies straight into the enclosed formicarium but the queen took quite some persuading to leave her tube – I tried using an LED torch to encourage her to leave but in the end had to resort to tapping the tube. :/


I’m using a heat mat as they’re from Spain, but unfortunately this has a tendency to produce a fair bit of condensation inside the nest. A few stray grass seeds have sprouted but don’t seem to be doing the colony any harm.

Meanwhile, the Messor colony is in temporary accommodation (the foraging box). Unlike my Lasius niger, this queen is quite adventurous and often comes out patrolling herself:

Still, that’s not really fitting for a queen. I think she needs something a little more regal. Something like ekimmik’s design:

ekimmik’s formicarium

Not quite tothe same standard, obviously, as I’ve had less practice than him. Still, everyone starts somewhere. I decided to learn from my experience with the plaster nest I’m making (I’ve worn a grinding bit smooth on it and still only have chambers deep enough for something like Pheidole pallidula…) and cast the chambers in directly. I also used a rapid-set cement mix to see whether it works well. Here are the results:

Started to set within half an hour or so, but I left it overnight before turning out due to how runny a mix I used. Even so, the mix is still not fully dry and a bit fragile.

A couple of scratches – oddly, sustained while cleaning , not during release


Here it is with the clay removed and decoration added to the top. I’ve sealed the edges with PVA and the plan is to paint everything but the chambers and tunnels themselves to make it a bit more interesting – I’m looking forward to getting it all cleaned up and ready!

Finally, the Lasius niger are now in the temporary home I showed on this blog earlier. Not very easy to see, unfortunately, but I’ll have a proper home for them soon:

Doing some carving

Had a crack at it with the Dremel the other day and got all the passages roughed in. I’m a little concerned about whether the tunnels need to be wider or deeper, but equally am not sure how much further I can get before breaking through the good plaster into the poor quality stuff. I’ve seen a video where a queen was too small to get through the tunnels and it was just depressing.

Let me know what you think:



The Jonah (Joanna?) Lomu of ants

Not much to report on the formicarium today (we have a weekend group in), but managed to see some interesting behaviour.

I work in a charity-owned old country house as part of the local team and doing general maintenance on the property, so was informed that a colony of ants seems to have just sprung up under a slab next to the steps into the outdoor pool. Sure enough, a bunch of¬†what I assumed were¬†Lasius niger¬†were running all over the place, some falling over the edge and landing in the water. I fished out what looked like two holding onto each other, but then realised was a niger worker being attacked by a slightly smaller, slighter grey-black ant of some type. The smaller ant had locked her¬†mandibles onto the¬†niger‘s middle left leg before dying, perhaps by drowning. When I put them down on the concrete, the niger tried to tremove the dead ant but couldn’t reach with¬†her¬†jaws. Resolutely, she started looking for home, where perhaps a sister could help remove the burden.

It was at this point when another ant of the smaller species ran up and grabbed onto her middle right leg, yet she kept moving… and then two more showed up. Now, the smaller ants were perhaps 2/3 to 3/4 the size of the¬†niger worker but I thought that, with legs controlled on both sides and the advantage of numbers, she may have escaped drowning only to become larva food. I was wrong. They managed to flip her on her back at one point, but she fought back so fiercely that the two new arrivals gave up on trying to get a hold after 30 seconds or so and ran off. When the remaining ant realised she was now the lone living aggressor holding onto a larger, stronger opponent, she clearly decided discretion was the better part of valour, let go and ran off.

The indomitable worker collected herself for a moment, tried again to grab hold of the attached ant with no more success than before, then began the long walk home dragging its dead weight.

 

Rather a shame that I’ll probably have to lift the slab and powder the colony next week, but that’s life. <:/

A small shock and some progress

I got a nasty shock this morning – I took a quick look at the test tube and found the queen curled up and still. Fortunately, as I tilted the tube to get a better look she rolled onto one side and started moving again, perhaps a little annoyed at being woken up. Perhaps naively, I hadn’t really thought of insects sleeping before. Hopefully that’s all that was going on, as losing my queen already would be pretty gutting.

Work on the formicarium continues. I decided to follow a slightly different design, more along these lines (if much smaller):

Photo from http://www.aquaportail.com/definition-13317-formicarium.html, copyright owner not listed. Used with respect for original photographer’s copyright and no infringement intended.

So far, I have cast the side walls in the moul-resistant Crystacal plaster and mostly filled in with cheap, ordinary plaster of paris. The next steps will be to smooth off the rough edges of the sides, carve in the tunnels with a Dremel and glue into place, then top the whole thing with a sculptable plaster/sand mix that forms a porous, more natural-looking surface. I had hoped to cast the tunnels in from the beginning, but struggled to get the clay to stay in position while doing so. Hopefully it shouldn’t crack while carving, given the thickness of plaster I’m using. Progress so far:

I’ll probably also drill in a covered water reservoir so I don’t have to water quite as often, and get some red filter plastic so they can feel nice and safe while I observe them. An angle-poise lamp might serve to supply heat to the top of the nest. Anyway, that’s all for now.