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Here's the latest info on Ants as Pet Insects
By: Pet Care Tips Invertebrate Department

Ants are one of the most fascinating insect pets available.
They are low maintenance and fun to watch. The easiest way
to obtain ants for a pet ant colony is to buy an "ant house"
that is sold commercially. Many science stores and pet
stores, online and off, sell ant farms that will work for
you to start a pet ant colony. They usually even include a
coupon to mail off and get a package of ants for your farm.

The only problem with the commercial packages is that the
ants you receive are all worker ants and will die out. The
US Department of Agriculture does not allow queen ants to be
sold because of the threat of non-native breeds of ants
escaping and causing ecological damage. This has happened by
accident with insects many times, and some native insects
and animals sadly are now extinct because of it. If you want
to keep a real ant farm with a queen and all the worker ants
you will have to catch your own queen locally and start your
colony from scratch.

First of all the type of ant you are looking for is a
harmless black ant. You do not want to keep ants that bite
or sting, so any ant even with a hint of red is unsuitable.
Brightly colored insects signify to predators that they are
poisonous, and although an ant bite can't kill us it sure
does hurt. Another reason for this is that if the ants were
ever to escape you wouldn't want a bunch of biting ants in
your home, especially if you have children in the house.
Although ant bites are usually not serious to adults (unless
they are Fire Ants); children may be allergic and can have a
bad reaction to ant bites.

To catch a queen ant, it is best to wait until breeding
season, during the spring. New winged queen ants and winged
males are born and mate during the spring. The flying queens
are bigger than the male flying ants, with a larger torso
and a much larger hind end. Do not catch one while it still
has wings, this probably means it hasn't mated yet.

Once a queen ant mates she sheds her wings almost
immediately and then goes to find some dirt in which to
literally hole up in. This is when you want to catch your
queen ant. It sounds harder than it really is. During the
spring they are pretty abundant, so finding one isn't too hard.
Not only are you killing the colony, but ants can dig several feet
down and spread out in all directions. The chances are nil
of you actually finding a queen in a mound.

Put your new queen into the secure, lidded ant house full of
sandy soil and the queen will dig herself a chamber in the
dirt and lay her first eggs, which will hatch in a couple of
months. Once they hatch it is important to feed them right
away since the dirt that you first put the queen into has a
limited supply of nutrients.

There are many ways to keep your ants. Many people use
commercially sold "ant farms" so that they can see the
colony develop right away, but this limits the ants' space.
A ten gallon terrarium provides a lot of space but you won't
see the entire colony all the time. The type of enclosure
you should get depends on the type of pet ant colony you
wish to have. If you are only interested in viewing the ants
for a year or so for a science project, a regular ant farm
will do. If you want to keep them long term they will need
more ranging space. Do not make your enclosure out of
anything but plastic or metal. Some species of ants can eat
right through wood.

You should fill the tank to three quarters full with soil
and then line the top with a terrain setting similar to
where your queen ant was found. If the terrain supports
edible plants that you saw the ants taking food from, be
sure to add them to the tank as well so that they can forage
naturally right in their own home. This will provide them
with the opportunity to use their instincts to forage. Or
you can make a separate tank for them to hunt for food in.
That depends on how dedicated an ant keeper you are. Some
species of ants like sandy soil to live in, others prefer
gravelly. Observe other colonies of ants around your home to
determine the best soil for your enclosure.

It doesn't take much to feed ants. Some sugar, fruit, and a
dead insect every now and then is enough to sustain them.
Keep in mind that ants like different things, so while one
ant type will eat up some nuts another might pass them by
and prefer insects.

All ants love sugary things but this isn't good for them all
the time. You'll want to feed them small amounts to keep
down the chance of mold, which can kill your colony, and
feed them a dead insect once a week to provide them the
protein they need, especially for the babies.

You will also need to provide water for the ants. Misting
the tank interior with some distilled water once or twice a
week depending on your colony size should be sufficient.
Too much water can drowned your colony.

To prevent your ants from escaping even if they manage to
get out of their enclosure, simply put the ant house on a
table and then make an "invisible fence" with something
chemical in nature like soap, cologne, ethanol, or vegetable
oil. Ants are sensitive to chemicals and will not cross
anything that that has this particular "flavor" to it. Make
sure it's thick and reapply often. Ants are smarter than you
think and even though you believe you have them bottled up
they may eventually find a way out.

Ants are for observation only. DO NOT HANDLE ANTS. Despite
the fact that they can carry a lot of weight for their size,
they are fragile compared to you. You can't pet them or play
with them in the traditional sense of having a pet. And if
by some chance you got the biting or stinging kind of ant
you would be sorry.

If you follow these simple instructions you should have a
healthy colony for as long as you wish to have one. Once you
are done with them you can simply take them into your back
yard to let them go by letting the enclosure have a "leak".
Don't dump the tank out. You can kill your colony that way.
The ant colony will move on once they find out that they are
no longer being fed and watered in that enclosure anymore.

Ants are amazing creatures, and a lot of fun to watch, no
matter how old you are. Take a lesson from the ant and work
hard to provide your colony with the best possible home, and
they will reward you with a lot of entertainment.

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