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Ants are such incredibly versatile creatures that they can be found almost anywhere on our planet.

This is a great thing if you're an Ant Keeper about to go on a hunt.

Depending on what species of Ant you are searching for, you will need to look in different places, as well as needing different tools. Usually, a small container and a spade can be a good way to start.

Remember - ants, no matter the species are very delicate and can easily be crushed when handled by humans.

To succeed in Ant Keeping you should first do some research:

  • What species are in my vicinity?

  • Which of these should I keep at home?

  • Which species suits my experience level the best?

  • Can I handle the chosen species or are they poisonous?

Iridomyrmex bicknelli.jpg

common pavement ant

Rhytidoponera metallica.jpg

green headed ant

Camponotus Consibrinus.jpg

banded sugar ant

Polyrachis Ammon.jpg

golden tail ant


There are few things to think about before heading out when catching an existing colony. Many Ant species nests under rocks, stones and logs, which can be great, since you won't need to do much digging.

Be careful though, Ants may not be the only thing living there. 

Ants love these places because of 2 reasons. Firstly, rocks can be very warm, which not only Ants and Brood love, but Queens as well. Secondly because of rain. Underground can get quite wet very quickly in the rain, but the rocks provide a lot of shelter from the rain.


Carefully lift flat stones and peak under them to see if there is a queen resting there. The Queen is what you're after. If she's captured you can start collecting workers and brood. There won't be a colony without the Queen, which makes her the top priority for your hunt.

Existing Colony
Daniel Kronauer 1.jpeg

Daniel Kronauer - Army Ants: Nature’s Ultimate Social Hunters

(2020; Harvard University Press; 368pp.)


Finding a Queen can both be very easy and also a little tricky. It really depends when you are looking and what type of species you are looking for. Some species of ant have queens that are incredibly easy to spot. Common pavement ants (Iridomyrmex Bicknelli) and most Sugar Ants (Camponotus) queens are much larger than their workers, making them really easy to spot. But some other species such as Bulldog Ants (Myrmecia Pyriformis) look very much like workers.


This is where the research comes in. 

Generally though what separates the queens from workers in any species is that queens middle segment of the body is larger than the workers. This is because the middle segment contains the queens wing muscles.


Yes, queens actually start off with wings.

Starting a Colony


Every year young queens leave their home colonies during what is called the nuptial flights. The queens and males, with their wings, fly out from their nests on specific days to mate with each other. After the males mate, they die. However, for the young queen their lives have just begun.


They fly away to a suitable spot and land on the ground. Searching in a hurry for a nesting site to begin their new colony.

After a nuptial flight, you'll see many, sometimes dozens or even hundreds of newly mated queens scurrying around on the ground looking for a nice spot to burrow into. Queens actually chew off their wings as they don't need them anymore since they're going to spend the rest of their lives underground and the muscles that held the wings into place are the last meal a lot of these queens will eat for the next few months.

Nuptial flights can depend on the species that you're interested in. Generally, most nuptial flights happen in the warmer months, when a storm is in the air or just after rain, where the ground feels steamy. This weather seems to be the signal for Ants in all colonies to release their Elates (male and female reproductive ants) for their nuptial flights.

Nuptial Flights


Now's it's the time to collect. It's good to make a habit of always carrying something that can be used to collect ants in.

A simple test tube is often the best choice to carry around and collect ants in, since they can be used to store the queens after bringing them home.


Test tubes can be prepared before or after the queens have been captured.


  1. Prepare them by filling them up with 1/3 of water 

  2. Then put in a cotton ball to make the water stay in the end of the tube. The queen will be able to drink water from the cotton ball. If you don't provide a water source for the queens they will eventually die from dehydration.

  3. Put another cotton ball in the opening of the test tube to contain the queen. The cotton will allow oxygen to pass through.


Keep an eye out for queens without wings as a sure sign of them having mated. In some very rare exceptions queens won't break off their wings and may instead keep them for life. 

When the queen is in it's container, it's time to keep her in a cool dark undisturbed place. You 'll need a lot of patience. Most ant species take several months to birth the first worker. Up until then the queen needs peace and quiet (and a dark environment/no or very little light). Make sure she is comfortable and only check in on her from time to time. Queens are easily stressed and can panic. This might result in her dying, stops laying eggs or even eat the eggs she has, so be very careful

When the first workers are born you can open up the entrance of the test tube a little bit to add some sweet food. Not too much, they're very tiny creatures after all and even a drop may be a mountain to them.


The first workers will be very shy and cautious, but eventually they will come out to search for food for the queen and larvae. Try keep the ants in the test tube longer than you might have initially planned. Small colonies really like the test tube since it's safe - predators can only come at them from one direction, the entrance. This makes the test tube easy to defend and therefore it is preferred when the colony is small.


When the water in the test tube starts to mould or the colony grows to big numbers, they will move out to the new nesting site provided by you.

Queen TEst Tube.jpg
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