How to start new queens for captive ant colonies

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A picture is worth 1000 words:

Made from a test tube, cotton, and water, this simple setup is sufficient for most ant species.

  1. Fill a test tube about 1/2 full with water.
  2. Plunge cotton into the water until it is wet but not soggy.
  3. Seal the queen in with a dry cotton plug.

The genius of the test tube nest- aside from being cheap and easy- is the moisture gradient. Wet at one end, dry at the other. Most captive ant problems stem from either too much or too little moisture, and the test tube nest allows a queen ant to choose her optimal level.

This particular queen is a thief ant, Solenopsis molesta. I collected several of these in the evening after a drenching midsummer rain. As the first workers of this species are raised from the queen’s body reserves, the young colony will not require food until workers emerge.

6 thoughts on “How to start new queens for captive ant colonies”

  1. What’s the life expectancy of a queen just starting a colony like that ? I’m sure it varies by species so we can just talk about the one above if you want. TIA

    1. As you note, longevity depends on the species. If a queen makes it through to the emergence of the first workers, she’ll usually be good for anywhere from 3 years to 20 years. I’m not sure how long Solenopsis molesta queens live- I suspect it’s towards the shorter end of the spectrum.

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