By Adrian So

Many people view ants as pests, the obnoxious beasts that invade homes and causes damage to structures. But in reverse, known as ant-keepers, a small amount of people keep ants as pets.

Ants make great pets because they are low-maintenance, budget-efficient, easy to find, and rewarding. 

For low-maintenance, you will not have to give your ants a lot of attention like other animals require, they are independent creatures and the only time they would need your attention is feeding time and the increase of humidity in their nests. And, you don’t have to bring these insects to your vet for regular inspections or vaccinations.

For the budget-efficient part, ants are not costly animals to care for. You can choose to catch ants instead of buying them since they are almost everywhere. All you need to buy for the ants is an ant nest or formicarium, a foraging area, some accessories, and food, it is up to you to choose to spend as little or as much money you want.

For the third part, ants are easy to find. If you have an ant colony that has died out, you would likely have an easier time getting over it since you can catch another colony from the wild to replace the dead one. The grief you have will often be less painful and fade away faster.

Last but not least, keeping ants is a rewarding and educational experience. You will get excited when your colony grows in population and it also sparkles creativity in both children and adults, forcing them to design habitats for the ants. Also, a great deal of responsibility and commitment would be placed just like keeping any other pets.

But before you start researching ants, here is a disclaimer. 

Some ants will sting, bite, or spray acid. The results could be deadly if one is allergic to them. At the same time, releasing certain species of ants that are not native to your area might harm your local environment. Sometimes, ants can also boom in population so much that it can get unmanageable and escape into your property, causing substantial damage. At an extremely rare case, they have the ability to spread diseases that might claim your life.

Given the reasons above, please seriously consider the risks and benefits of keeping ants before you do so, just like owning other pets.

How you keep ants is relatively easy for beginners. Just follow the steps below and you will have a high chance of success in the hobby!

First, what you need to start an ant colony is a queen ant. It is the sole ant responsible for the production of broods in the huge family. Without her, ant colonies do not have the ability to live long and regenerate. What people often ask me is the question “How do I identify a queen?”. This might be a bit of a thorn in the heart for every elementary ant enthusiast but go through this list and you will find out the answer.

1. Queen ants tend to have a larger mesosoma (middle segment of an ant)

2. Sometimes queens have wings adhered to them

3. They tend to be less agile than ordinary worker ants

Look under rocks after a sunny and humid day in the summer. Although it might take a few tries or even weeks of intensive browsing, but I am confident that you will end up with one eventually.

Now that you already have a queen ant, let’s move on to step number 2. 

Prepare a plastic container with a lid. Any kind of container is fine, as long as it is small and transparent. Soak a few cotton balls with distilled water and place them inside the container, then settle your queen ant inside. But before you do all of that, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap to get rid of all bacteria that could damage your ants.

After everything is done, put the container away in the dark and leave it in your closet or cabinet. Do not check on your queen ant too frequently, as it will get stressed and eat her young or even die. Check only once per week at most. Keep in mind that certain species of ants will need to eat during this period and some will not. If you are not sure, give the ant a small drop of honey or sugar water and a crushed insect bought from a pet store. It is also advisable to not feed your ant any insect caught from outside as it has a high risk of transmitting diseases and pathogens or they might even contain pesticides. Remove any uneaten food after 24 hours.

If you realized your queen ant did not lay eggs after a few weeks, there would be a few reasons. The first reason will be that it is simply not fertilized so the ant does not have the capability of manufacturing eggs. The second reason could be the ant is not comfortable with the environment it is currently in. And the last one would be that you caught the queen in fall and it is about to go through hibernation.

After one to three months, the first generation of worker ants probably would have emerged from their pupa forms. If you made it to this stage, congratulations! This is a benchmark and you have successfully incubated a set of ants.

Please follow these sources for more in-depth tutorials, products, and advice.                              

Adrian So is a writer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He spends his free time writing, reading, and observing his pet ants. Other than ants, he has a passion about polar bears and other Arctic animals

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