The complexity of ant nests varies from species to species too. Some nests may be simple excavations of only a few tunnels and chambers, whilst others are a far more complex system of many chambers of various sizes with interconnecting tunnels. One of the best nest makers in the UK is the subterranean dwelling yellow meadow ant, Lasius flavus, whose nests are skilfully made.
Generally ants excavate their nests by biting a little chunk of soil with their jaws and carrying it outside the nest, or they sometimes will also use their front feet to assist; they’ll bite out the soil and drop it by their front feet, then rake the soil into a larger clump and then carry it out. Each ant tends to take out what it dug rather than any organised chain gang. Thus sometimes ants can get in each other’s way, but a little jostling soon puts that right. Depending on how many ants there are in the colony and how large the intended nest is, it can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to create a finished nest. On top of that nests are constantly being expanded as the colony grows in size, especially when the large flying ants start to be produced.
The environment within an ant nest is strictly controlled by the ants. The can open and close various entrances to provide more or less air circulation. The lower parts of the nest tends to be cooler and perhaps damper and ant will often move their brood from various parts of the nest if it gets too cool, warm, wet or dry for the larvae. This is why it is vitally important that you do not dig into an ant nest when searching for ants and/or queens for your ant farm.
During hibernation ants will seal all the entrances to their nest and move down to the bottom so as to avoid being in areas of frozen soil during the winter frosts and snows.
Most ants will fiercely protect their nests from enemies and danger, though there are a few species that prefer to run rather than fight, picking up their brood and queens to take them to safety.
Some ants can be a little lazy and rather than digging their own nest they will invade the nest of other ants, attacking them and killing them until their host ants give up and run away.
Let’s discuss more in-
Lasius niger are my favourite ant species and I have kept them for about 30 years. I have noticed that they tend to build many chambers connected with fairly large tunnels. They seem to prefer to make their nests on a horizontal plane rather than just going straight down. Some tunnels do, obviously, go in a downwards direction but on the whole they tend to have various levels in their nests. In the picture (above left) you can see my one year old Lasius niger colony which consists of perhaps 30-
Lasius umbratus is the second of my two colonies, being about 5 years old. These ants start their own nests/colonies by invading those built by Lasius niger, but they still build quite elaborate nests, similar to Lasius flavus. As you can see from the picture (above right) my umbratus colony has built quite an array of long shallow chambers connected by a system of tunnels. The chambers are quite close together and many are connected by short tunnels. Further out from the main chambers are a series of long winding tunnels and smaller chambers. The queen tends to hide herself away in one of the more obscure chambers, though often wanders about into the large chambers where you can see the segregated brood.
Myrmica rubra, a red stinging ant found in gardens, meadows and forests tend to build nests consisting of large tunnels and chambers, perhaps going down to almost half a metre. From my past experiences with keeping these ants they tended to remove so much soil that it seemed at times that they would empty all the soil out of the ant farm. Some Myrmica species, such as Myrmica ruginodis, build smaller chambers but can be slightly nomadic in that they often move to a new nest location. My past ruginodis colony did this several time within a medium size fish tank that I kept them in.
Lasius fuliginosus, a jet-
Formica Fusca is another dark ant found in the UK which builds its nests in soil but rather than having a lot of horizontal tunnels and chambers like Lasius niger do, they tend to build deeper tunnels connected by a series of vertical shafts with one small entrance on the surface. I had a colony of these once and they did just that, building their nest in the centre of the fish tank I kept them in, underneath a piece of dead wood.
Formica rufa, the red wood ant found in pine forests of southern England, builds large thatched mounds which, like Lasius fuliginosus, tend to start centred around old tree stumps. The wood ants bring soil and pine needles, most commonly, but also various other plant detritus, and build up over the stump until it is eventually completely covered. The nest extends throughout the mound, into the stump, and in the ground below the mound. These mounds can be as high as one metre and have a circumference of several metres. They tend to be situated on the edge of pine forests, particularly where a pathway meets the forest edge; this is because the ants like to have the sun shine on the mound as much as possible in order to keep it warm. It is interesting to note that Formica rufa build their mounds with the south facing slope being at a gentler incline than the other sides. They do this so that the south-