Keeping Ants as Pets

Is it possible to keep ants as pets? It is!

So, you, or perhaps your child, wishes to keep ants. You know what ants are and you’ve seen them aplenty outside, but how do you keep them as pets? Are they a safe pet? How do you feed them? What do you feed them? How do you stop them from escaping? These are some of the questions I often get asked by prospective ant keepers.

Here I will try to answer these questions, and others, to give you a good chance of successfully raising an ant colony in your own home. The information I provide here will assume you are completely new to ant keeping. You know what an ant is, but you have never kept them as pets before.

Before you get your first ants there are a few important things you need to consider:

The age of the ant keeper
What species you wish to keep
Where you intend to keep the ants
How much you can afford to spend on the equipment

Age of the Ankeeper
Bearing the age of the ant keeper in mind is extremely important. Children often develop interests that they get fully absorbed in, but they can quickly lose interest too. If your child wants a captive ant colony as pets, then just bear in mind that you could end up with a colony that nobody wants. Also consider, if you get a colony with a queen ant in it, you’ll have a growing number of ants as time goes on. If it is the first time your child has kept ants, and you know they tend to have interests that explode onto the scene and then fade just as quickly, then I recommend getting a colony that does not have a queen; perhaps obtaining them from your own garden. Ensure that you obtain the ants from the same colony (important – or they may fight!). They will last a few weeks which will allow you to gauge whether your child has a genuine interest, or a passing fad.

Which Species?
Species is a very important consideration when looking at keeping ants, again, especially if you are inexperienced. For beginners/children I would strongly recommend you obtain a species common to your area, so that if you do have to let them go, for whatever reason, then you are not introducing a possibly invasive species. It is also wise to consider whether the ants you wish to keep are aggressive sting users; there are some species of ant that have a very unpleasant sting. For example, I would not recommend getting Paraponera clavata; they are otherwise known as the bullet ant, and for very good reason!
If you live in the UK, then you don’t have to worry too much about very painful stings. There are UK ants that do sting or that possess a hard bite, but generally speaking UK ants are fairly harmless. My suggestion would be to keep Lasius niger, the common black garden ant. They are easy to obtain and keep, do not possess a sting, and are very active ants.

Where Will You Keep Your Ants?
You will also need to contemplate where you are going to keep your ants. Here I am not referring to what you intend to keep them in, though, of course, that too is important (I will address that a bit further on). I am talking about where are you going to keep the ant farm? in your house?  Do you have somewhere to keep the ants if you do not wish to have them in the house, such as a shed, greenhouse garage? etc. Will you allow your child to keep them in his room? If so, then they’ll need to be kept somewhere where an over enthusiastic child at play will not knock them over. The choice really is yours. I would consider being in a shed or greenhouse to be just as good as being indoors. I would be hesitant to keep them in a garage where a vehicle is also kept, as the fumes from the exhaust, if running, might affect them. I tend to keep my ants in what I call my “ant room”; it’s actually a utility room I had built onto the back of my house in which I have my freezer and tumble drier. It has a shelf in it above the tumble drier and has adequate lighting and ventilation. The heat from the tumble drier does not adversely affect the ants; in fact, they rather like it when I use it.

Which Set Up Should I Get?
Of course, your budget will be an important factor in you choosing which species of ant to keep, and what to house them in. Ant farms (to use the vernacular) can be expensive to purchase if you want a top quality one. Fortunately, there are many cheap beginner’s ant farms you can use, such as the green plastic “Antworld”, which you can find on Amazon. You can even use certain household objects, such as an old ice-cream tub, though that would be quite constrictive for an ant colony that has a queen and a constant growth in population. Personally, I use a glass set up which consists of a large glass nesting box, a glass foraging (feeding) box connected by clear plastic tubing.

My current set ups (x2)

In the picture above you can see two of my set ups which use parts from two different sized starter kits. The one at the back consists of two large nesting boxes (covered in blue material to keep it dark inside the nest), which are connected by a short length of clear plastic tubing. The right-hand nesting box as you look at in the picture is connected to the large glass box you see on the far right. The set up in front of the blue one consists of one large nesting box attached to a small foraging box, again by a length of plastic tubing. These starter kits are available from