Captive Ant Colony Journals Update – 3 Dec 19

Welcome to another update on my captive ant colonies.  In this update I talk about a wandering Myrmica rubra queen, and I discuss allowing my ants to hibernate.  

I had tried to prevent the ants going into full hibernation this year to try to encourage the Lasius umbratus to complete their new nest excavation.  I have done this by keeping the window closed in the Ant Room, but not turning the heating on in there.  However, the new nest is slow in coming and so I have decided to encourage the ants to hibernate by opening the window.  This will help the Ant room temperature to drop, though it still will not get quite so cold as it is outside.

Ant Room Temperature: 14.2*C / Outside temperature: 7*C

Lasius niger

Nothing new to report with this small colony.  The brood certainly appears to have gone into a development hiatus. This is common among ants at this time of year.  I have not seen any workers foraging during the past few weeks, though, of course, they could be doing so when I am not seeing them.  The workers, queen and brood are healthy.

Lasius umbratus

There has been some regular activity with the new nest excavation, albeit at a much slower pace than initially.  Only a few ants seem to be working on it.  Yet despite the persistence of the ants to build, there seems to be no progress when I investigate the new nest.  There are no new tunnels or chambers that I can see, and the extant tunnels and chambers appear to be exactly as they were several weeks ago.  It is possible, of course, that the ants are creating new tunnels and chambers away from the glass, where I cannot see them.  However, if that were the case, I would have expected to see some sign of this, such as a new tunnel or chamber temporarily coming near the glass.

I guess it is possible that the ants may simply be “smoothing” the walls and floor of the extant chambers, but again when I look at the chambers nothing seems to have changed. 

Even though the ants have slowed their activity, when I feed them there is always a large response. 


As I mentioned at the start of this journal entry, I had held off from hibernating captive ants so that the Lasius umbratus could finish their new nest.  However, because it does seem to be finished, I have decided to lower the temperature in the Ant Room, top encourage as full a hibernation for all my colonies as is possible.  The only issue I have with this is that the Ant Room is south facing, and it is a single-story room.  This means that even though it may be cold outside, the sun shines onto the roof of the Ant Room.  This causes the temperature in the Ant Room to rise, even when the heating is turned off and the window open. There is nothing I can do about this, and so I must make do with the situation I have. 

I looked long and hard for the queen in the current nest, but I could not see her.  There are many brood present within the nest, so I am not too concerned about her.  She often can hide from my view even though there are not an infinite number if places she can hide.  I can often guess where she is by the behaviour and concentration of worker ant numbers.  I hate not being able to see her though.

Myrmica rubra

As with the Lasius niger, not much activity recently.  I, again, looked long and hard for the queen in the nest, but, again, could not see her.  This is more unusual than with the Lasius umbratus queen, as the Myrmica nest consists of far fewer, but larger tunnels and chambers.  However, though I was unable to see her it was obvious where she was.  There was a substantial number of workers huddled around something in a lower chamber, with all the workers facing inwards of the huddle.  This tells me the queen was in amongst that group of ants.  

I just took another look at the ants to see if there was anything interesting happening .  There is!  As I just said, I could not see the Myrmica rubra queen. But guess who is now wandering around in the foraging tank?  Yes.  The Queen!  Or is it “a” queen?  If the ants I described a moment ago were huddled around their queen, then who is this queen?  Could it be the queen who might have been alarmed by my insistent gazing into the ant nest?  Has she panicked and run out of the nest?  Could she be an added queen?  I did have at least one winged queen, with males, in the nest a few weeks ago. They have have since disappeared.  Could she be a queen who has mated with one of her brothers and is now an added egg-laying queen?  

Wishful thinking

If I am honest, I think that is only wishful thinking on my part.  Ants do prefer to mate with ants from other colonies.  However, with my captive ants, that is not possible.  Therefore, the winged Myrmica rubra queen may have resorted to mating with one of her brothers.

This queen that is running about and exploring the foraging tank does not appear to be alarmed.  Oddly enough any workers she meets up with do not appear to be concerned about her either.  I have seen the parent queen out of the nest on several occasions.  In fact, I have often seen queens of my earlier Myrmica colonies leaving the nest to feed or explore.  Myrmica queens certainly are bold.  I have never seen a Lasius queen leave her nest unless the colony is moving to a new nesting site. Right now the queen is with a group of workers investigating a dead butterfly I found in the garden. 

As I plan to work on hibernating captive ants, there may not be much to update next time. Hopefully the Myrmica rubra queen is an addition to the family. I shall report back.

Myrmica rubra queen
Can you spot the Myrmica rubra queen?

3 thoughts on “Captive Ant Colony Journals Update – 3 Dec 19”

  1. Thanks Myrm!

    You are very welcome, you’re definitely my first go to for my ant questions! Now I’m in the club of keeping ants im sure I’ll be pestering you again, so thank you.

    Great! That’s very reassuring to hear. Maybe one day I’ll expand my collection and go for the nest and outworld setup (like yours) but for my first venture I decided on this route.

    That’s a great point! Thank you for reminding me that some form of “clean up crew” is required. It’s great to know the woodlice would be ok (as I’m sure there are some in there) but maybe I’ll pop some springtails or similar in.

    That sounds great, very similar to what I hope to achieve. I have basically done the same things but instead of grass I have some moss and grass growing in my garden in the soil (so I dug some up and put it straight in. I also used your escape proofing with the foam tape. Definitely the best I’ve seen, in my opinion.

    Wow! That’s very interesting. You read so much about lasius niger being very aggressive and killing all other ant colonies in their territory. Bet that was fantastic to watch.

    I will be sure to keep you updated! Ita getting to a point where I’m getting impatient for them to come out of hibernation! Don’t worry, I will resist temptation to try and wake them up!

    Thanks again for the help Myrm

  2. Hi Myrm, hope you had a good christmas! I am a new ant keeper, my lasous niger queen was caught about the same time as yours (I’ve been following this and your related guides closely!) However I decided to go for a natural type set up. The queen is hibernating with a handful of works happily (I hope!) In her test tube. Anyways, I’m in the process of setting up a natural terrarium set up (I would actually be extremely interested to hear your thoughts on this, maybe a guide on how you would go about this, or perhaps you dislike this kind of set up, you can’t see the queen and her chamber afterall) but! I was just watering the set up and I noticed a slug in there. I acquired some soil and moss from my garden and he must have slipped in! I am tempted to leave him in there, I’ve seen them live with my garden ants happily side by side. But is this a bad idea in a captive set up? I’ve read a lot about isopods and I don’t like the fact woodlice can eat ant eggs so I’ve been searching and removing those!

    Really sorry for the long email! Genuinely no rush for a response – ants hibernating for another 2 months at least! Happy new year!

    1. Hi JonnyF

      Thank you for your comment, and for your continued support of my site.

      I always say that the best type of set up for captive ants is one that mimics their natural environment as closely as possible. Therefore, your set up sounds ideal. I too once did a similar thing in which I filled up a glass fish tank with soil and place a small colony of Lasius niger into it; they went on to become the most successful ant colony I have ever had. Yes, I was unable to see into the nest, although they did have a satellite chamber dug into the side of the glass in which they moved their cocoons in and out of on a daily basis – it was fascinating to watch. Despite the fact I could not see into the nest, the ants were extremely active on the surface.

      Do not worry about the slug in the soil with the ants; they will probably ignore it, and I doubt the slug will bother the ants. Yes, some isopods make themselves at home within the ants’ nest and do sometimes feast on the ant eggs. However, they do earn their keep by eating all the detritus accumulated in the ant nest. If the presence of isopods does make you wary, then by all means remove them.

      When I had the fish-tank set up (it was about 3-4 feet in length), I used to water the soil with a light “rain shower” every so often. I simply filled it up, about ¾ full, of soil, made it damp, put some dead leaves and other such garden matter onto the surface, and then let the ants move in. I also planted some grass seeds in one area of the tank, just for aesthetics. As I type this, I also remember obtaining a colony of tiny leaf-litter dwelling ant species, which lived in a tiny acorn that I put amongst the leaf litter. The Lasius niger did not appear to bother the tiny ants at all. I used an insect repellent cream barrier along the inner lip of the fish tank, if I recall correctly – it was some years ago now.

      I look forward to hearing how your ants get on in their new home.

      Happy New Year to you too!

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