Ant Rearing

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Ant Needs

  • Dirtless nest. (If you are using a dirt ant farm, much of this information is inapplicable.)
  • Buy a plastic shoe box (seamless).
  • Using foam brush (art supply stores) paint a band of fluon (or light household oil) at least 1" wide all around the top on the inside.
  • For fluon, dry with hair dryer.
  • Place into the box a test tube (glass or clear plastic) that has been prepared in the following way: Fill tube 1/2 full with water and push cotton ball into tube until it is damp (adjust amount of cotton if necessary). Inside front half of tube should be dry.
  • Make black construction paper shields (made from rectangler pieces of construction paper rolled around tube and taped) or cover with tin foil so that the tubes will be dark inside. Tubular shields are nice because you can slide them back to see how everyone is doing. To keep tubes from rolling when box is picked up, secure them to bottom by pressing them into wad of modeling clay.


  • Honey Mix. Mix 1/2 c. honey with 1/2 c. water. Add about 1/4 of a multi-vitamin and mineral tablet (crushed). Store in the refrigerator to prevent fermentation. Do not overfeed with honey mix. Use an eyedropper to serve small drops to the ants. Watch ants feeding to assess how much to feed.
  • Dead Insects. An easy source of protein for ants is crickets from pet or bait shops. Freeze. Cut into pieces to serve. The head and thorax (with all its muscle) is more nutritious than the abdomen (mostly gut). One cricket every two days is sufficient for up to 20 ants. Watch the ants feeding to assess the amount and timing.


Ants can go a long time without food, but lack of water can kill them overnight. Therefore the nest areas must be humid. In dirtless nests, always make sure colonies have enough water tubes which provide sufficient moisture (as well as a nice place to live). In a dirt farm set-up, the dirt should be damp.

Taking Care
Periodically, carefully remove accumulated old food and trash piles to improve visibility. Use forceps to reduce disturbance to ants.

Ants are best handled and moved with an aspirator (see Collecting Tools for description) that gently sucks them up into a vial or with a pair of soft forceps that will not crush them. You can also get an ant to crawl up a piece of paper or a pencil, move it to where it is going, and then flick it (carefully!) off.

Raising Young
If you have a queen ant, she will lay eggs and the larvae will be tended by the workers. If you have only workers, they usually do not produce eggs or young. In some species, however, workers may lay eggs that develop into males.

Other Concerns
Ants are related to wasps and like wasps, many species sting. Remember, the back end is the business end of an ant. They may pinch a little with the front end, but the effects of a sting are longer lasting. Fire ants and harvester ants have potent stings they use freely against vertebrates (such as you). Carpenter ants lack stings but are able to spray a little formic acid. The acid is relatively harmless and will hurt only if rubbed in the eyes or into an abrasion.

Special Considerations
The nest needs to be placed out of the sun and where temperatures do not fluctuate dramatically. The ants can die very quickly if sun hits the nest. The ants will do best if the nest is not moved, bumped or disturbed. If it needs to be moved, carry it carefully to reduce vibrations. When assembling the water tubes, make sure water doesn't leak out. Water can leak out and flood the nest. Sometimes tubes develop a type of mold that ants do not like (some molds they don't care about). If the only water tube is a moldy one, the ants may not have access to the water supply and will die. Place another water tube in the shoe box.

If you don't find a queen ant, a large portion of the colony with brood can be collected. Behavior will be normal for a while as long as there is brood. Without brood, there is not much going on, not even foraging. In some species, queenless groups can make males, but this would be a while.

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Center for Insect Science Education Outreach The University of Arizona
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