Ant-keeping as a hobby become popular in the past years. Thus, there is a wide variety of ants for sale nowadays. You can find local, European and tropical species – all sorts of ants! What should a novice do in order not to get lost among so many ants species, when you want all at once, and chose the pets? We will try to help solve this issue and understand what type of ants is the most unpretentious.

If to take into consideration all ants species, we would like to offer the following list for beginners in ant-keeping:

  1. Messor structor / denticulatus
  2. Camponotus nicobarensis / parius
  3. Lasius niger / flavus / emarginatus
  4. Tetramorium caespitum
  5. Myrmica rubra / ruginodis
  6. Serviformica fusca / cunicularia / rufibarbis

So, our list of ants, perfect for beginners:

Messor (harvester ants)

Messor is the most popular ants that have become true pets.

Usually, you can find two types of harvester ants for sale – M. structor (they are black) and M. denticulatus (they have red or orange breast). Messors natural habitat are arid regions with not a large number of living creatures. Their other name – harvesters – gives a clue of the natural ration of these ants. A major part of harvester ants’ ration is seeds of different steppe (and not only) plants and insects play only a marginal role. Every morning (and every evening in the summer) hundreds of foragers go out of Messor’s ant hill that looks like a funnel in the ground. The workers look for seeds that fell on the ground. Messor’s path can spread over ten meters (over 30 feet) and the whole time the ants are using it to carry seeds back to the anthill or to go out to find more seeds. There are big round rooms filled with seeds almost to the ceiling in the harvesters’ nest. They preserve the seeds there preventing it from deteriorating in storage by turning it all the time and biting off sprouts when necessary. The portion of seeds is transported to more humid conditions where they are couched. The soldiers (big ants-workers with large heads) separate grains from the cover and ground them with the help of forceful mandibles in flour. The other ants will later eat this flour.

Polymorphism is the key characteristic of harvesters, but their soldiers don’t usually fight anybody as their goal is to ground the grains. For a successful start of a new colony, you need to give a piece of pumpkin seed or nut as help to a lonely dam that comes off in May. It is not a good idea to give syrup to Messors. When the first ants appear you need to feed them small seeds (like poppy or mustard seeds) and after the soldiers appear you can give them big seeds, they will cope with them. Protein has a positive influence on the colony – don’t forget to feed Messors with a dead insect.

Formicary – acrylic or plaster, drinking bowl is needed on an arena.

Feeding – seeds mix, wild plants’ seeds, pieces of nuts, juicy fruits, and vegetables or dead insects.

Camponotus (carpenter ants)

It is a great variety of ants in appearance as well as in behavior or habitat.

Polymorphism unites Camponotus: the colony always has small slim workers and massive soldiers with a big head. Unlike harvesters, they are real fighters however young soldiers prefer to hang on the nest’s walls and serve as “honey barrel” – living storage for liquid food that workers pour into them. Adult soldiers help workers hunt, slice pray in pieces with the help of their mandibles and protect the nest from enemies. The workers’ goal is building, food searching and taking care of the brood. A classic dwelling of carpenters is almost always dry wood. European Camponotus vagus, for example, belongs to classic carpenter ants. They are large black ants and as usual for Camponotus colony, it has aggressive ant soldiers. Despite the fact that vaguses are very fascinating, we would not recommend them for beginners. The reason is that all Camponotus need severe cold hibernation that they need to be prepared for. Sometimes seasonal rhythm becomes irregular and vaguses can fall into diapause in the summer when it’s even more difficult to achieve smooth redaction of temperature.

The alternative to European carpenter ants is their tropical brothers: Camponotus nicobarensis and Camponotus parius. The home of both species is rain forests of South-East Asia. They chose any available spaces for nesting – from empty coconuts to garden hoses. Usually, pariuses and nicobarensises dig ant hills in the ground. They also have large soldiers in the colony and the ants themselves are of beautiful color.

Feeding – young families eat mainly dead insects but adult ones can hunt living insects. Both of these species are easy to take care of at home (as all other ants from our review), but for normal development, the ants need to be fed insects and live in high temperature (25-28 degrees Celsius), after all, their motherland is tropics.

Formicary – any kind will do (if there’s water trough they can develop even in wooden one).

Lasius

Lasius can be found all over the world. It is one of the most popular ants among ant-keepers.

It is easy to find a dam of these ants in summer (June – July). Lasius dams are distinguished by a fat belly full of food stocks that were thoughtfully provided in her ant hill (dams are fed intensively before summer) that’s why they can establish a colony on their own. A female meets a male in the air, they mate, then she drops the wings (and the poor male) and digs a small hole in the ground where proceeds to laying eggs. Larvae come out of the eggs and eat the secretions of dam’s salivary glands (body resources such as fat in abdomen or wings musculature are used to create nutrients). The larvae grow, pupate and the first ants come out of cocoons and they are ready to go out to the surface, get some food and help with household work. The exact same things happen at home with the exception that the dam will live in a tube-incubator instead of underground dig up. We place Lasius dam in the tube-incubator, give her a drop of syrup and take it away to a dark, quiet and peaceful place. Further on the primary colony is developing on its own. Our goal is to notice when the ant-workers will appear in order to start feeding them syrup and insects. Lasius colony is growing fast and does not require special conditions.

Formicary – can use any besides a wooden one.

Feeding – honey or sugar syrup, living or dead insects and juicy sweet fruits.

Tetramorium caespitum

These are small weaselly ants of dark brown color that play the role of cleaners in nature.

Have you ever seen how a hundred of these carrion eaters cut in pieces dead earthworm right on a town sidewalk? You have definitely seen that. Probably you have also seen how Tetramoriums crawl into your sugar bowl or steal food from the cat’s bowl. That’s why very often these ants are found in houses where they live in a foundation or walls. Tetramoriums have adapted to survive in any conditions and propagate quickly if there is food. They eat different food: from dead insects to bread crumbs. These ants’ dam can be found at the beginning of June. They easily raise a colony in house conditions, just put a dead fly or mosquito and a piece of pumpkin seed (a piece of nut or a drop of syrup will also be good) to facilitate dam’s job. With a large amount of protein food the colony of Tetramorium can grow in geometric progression but doesn’t require extra space as the ants are very small in size.

Formicary – can use any besides a wooden one, its key characteristic is the absence of cracks (even the smallest ones!) because Tetramoriums tend to escapes. During the breakout, they can harm your other pets and forage crops. For this purpose, the arena should be covered with a lid or be treated with anti-escape.

Feeding — honey or sugar syrup, small seeds, pieces of nuts, dead insects, boiled egg and other substitutes of natural protein.

Myrmica

Myrmica ants inhabit in forests and parks, but can also be seen in gardens.

They are colored in different shades of red and brown colors (from almost black to ruby-red), they look spectacular in large amount. Myrmica ants like moisture (in the ground and in the air) and coolness. They feel bad in the summer heat. They are active, dynamic and friendly: if one ant finds a feeding source it doesn’t eat it on its own but runs to the nest right away leaving behind a pheromone path. A helper team is organized in the nest which follows the first ant and helps it. At the end of summer and in autumn Myrmicas fly so massively it seems like a rain of many flying and falling ants. Winged insects meet in the air but mate on the ground that’s why a male-ant sometimes needs to catch up with his favored female-ant on foot and fight off the competitors at the same time. Myrmica dams don’t have the reserve of nutrients in the belly that’s why after making a dig up and laying their eggs they go out to find food once every two or three days gathering flower nectar, pieces of dead insects and hunting small arthropod insects. They are great hunters and use a stinger to kill prey (it also serves as defense).

Myrmicas need a Formicary that is good at keeping moisture. That’s why it is preferable to use plaster structures or acrylic ones with plaster insets.

Feeding — honey or sugar syrup, small alive and large dead insects, fruits, pieces of nuts, substitutes of natural protein.

Serviformica

Serviformica is the ants of medium size that inhabit forests (woodsides) and meadows.

They are fast, dynamic, like to dig ant hills in places with a lot of sunlight. Some species have bright contrasting coloring (orange chest, black head, and belly). Serviformica colonies aren’t too big (usually a couple thousand insects). All ants in their colonies look the same but sometimes there are insects of bigger size (they are not soldiers, they were just fed well on a larval stage). Serviformicas are quite peaceful and prefer to avoid conflicts when encountering other ants. Such character makes these ants an ideal target for different social parasites and slaveholders that generate their own colony on the basis of Serviformicas’ one and use ants as slaves. These ants are good hunters, they use acid to kill prey but prefer to gather dead insects and their parts. They use flower nectar, aphids’ secreting and fruit juice as the source of carbs. Ants’ flight takes place from the end of June to the beginning of August, dams establish a colony on their own.  They easily settle in house conditions, the ants are unpretentious but have one essential drawback and it is hibernation. Serviformicas colony can stop developing, fill themselves up with syrup, gather in heap and stay that way for a few months. They can spend hibernation at low temperature (in cold cellar or refrigerator) or you can leave them at room temperature, the development will resume in spring.

Formicary – plaster, acryl.

Feeding — alive and dead insects, sugar or honey syrup and fruits.

So we have reviewed 6 ant species that will be good even for a beginner in ant-keeping. However, some of these species are simpler and don’t require as much attention as other ones. No doubt it is our favorite Messor structor. It is usually the harvesters introduce you to ant keeping. You can leave them without any attention for a long time. All you need to do is to put a lot of seeds in formicary and moisturize it well. The ants will slowly use their preserves as food. Messors have been popular for many years now because of their polymorphism and unpretentious. And if you don’t know what ant species to choose we recommend to begin with harvesters as they will not disappoint you.

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