Guide to Feeding Ants

Guide to Feeding Ants

The most exciting recurring moment for most ant-keepers must be getting to feed their ants. Something about watching them swarm the first live insect you give them, or watching them share food between the members of the colony is absolutely enthralling. The questions "How do I feed my ants?" and "What do I feed my ants?"

This guide will answer both of these questions.

To summarize:

- Ants need protein (preferably insects, but some species can eat seeds), and carbohydrates (usually liquid sugars) 

- Liquid feeders are a great way to ensure ants have access too food at all times

- Do not buy artificial all-in-one diets, or jellies for ants

- Ants do best when fed once per day, but the larger colonies get, the less feeding intervals makes a difference

- Animal protein should be cleaned up in a few days if the ants do not eat it

- Ants in test tubes can be fed sugars with a small pipette, toothpick,or  barbecue skewer

- Founding queens of fully-claustral species need no food until they have workers, but it is best to do so.

What do I feed my ants?

Ants need both a source of protein and a source of carbohydrates. In the majority of cases, the source of protein should usually be animal based, in the form of insects, and carbohydrates in the form of sugars.

Protein

For protein, feeding should change based on colony size. As a general rule, protein is eaten by the larvae and queens of a colony while the adults eat sugars. However, there is research showing that brood matures faster with sugars as well.

A relatively small group of ants (Usually a few Myrmicines) are granivorous, and will eat seeds. There are many different viable options to feed them. For larger species, such as Messor and Pogonomyrmex, larger seeds are viable. Some species even use seeds as large as cherry pits once they are mature by allowing them to germinate, and then emptying the seed. I have hheard good things about walnut, Kentucky bluegrass, nyjer seed, amaranth, dandelion, birdseed, millet, poppy seed, and even fish pellets as a substitute. For smaller species, it is important to ensure the seeds are small enough for them to eat. Some species, like Aphaenogaster, only eat the fleshy parts of seeds, called the elaisosomes, in a process called "Myrmechocory."

Smaller, non-seed eating colonies should be fed small, dead insects. or portions of insects. I do not recommend feeding live insects to small colonies as they will frequently be unable to take them down. Personally, I hear cricket legs being recommended as a good alternative. However, I believe myself that fruit flies are a better alternative. We offer Flightless Fruit Fly cultures as well as Fruit Fly Culture Kits. However, it is best to feed a variety of different feeders, just to ensure that ants get a full range of nutrients. We offer a variety of feeder insects, both alive, and soon preserved insects here.

To pre-kill insects, many people will freeze or boil them. This is a precaution to kill pathogens and pesticides, and is easier for some than manually killing them my crushing the head or other method going "squish."

On the subject of wild insects, there is hypothetically nothing wrong with sing them. HOWEVER, one should pay attention that they are collected from a pesticide-free area, as the pesticides will kill the ants (they ARE designed to do that). In addition, wild insects carry a higher risk of carrying pathogens or parasites which may be transferred to the ants.

Preserved (fresh, not dried) insects can be fed to ants. They seem to have lower receptivity, but are nonetheless a viable alternative, particularly for those who do not like killing insects themselves.

"Human food" is also frequently accepted by ants. You may have experienced this in your kitchens, picnics, or misplaced snack. For protein, ants will do well with unprocessed or little-processed meats and fish, I have particular recollection that Crematogaster seems to be very fond of trout. There are also some nutrients in these foods ants need but rarely get in other places (I believe it is salt?)

It may also be important to note that Camponotus species require urea, or uric acid for their gut bacteria. Many will survive for several years and collapse afterwards (Exceptions do exist.) This deficiency may be countered by feeding termites, roaches, and (possibly) fruit flies. There are some ant-keepers who have attempted supplementation with urine. However, no significant results other than bad-smelling feeders have resulted as far as I am aware.

BUYER BEWARE: 

Many stores which sell ants and ant keeping supplies sell diets of both proteins and carbohydrates as an "all-in-one" diet for ants. These are readily bought by customers out of ignorance or a nostalgia deriving from the oh-so-common gel farms.

At first, these jellies may seem like a great buy, since they are frequently well-received by the ants. However, receptivity should never be the only indicator for whether a food is beneficial to colony health, as ants will eat anything as long as it contains sugar (see: ant killing baits and other bait-form pesticides). These products usually do not offer any spectacular benefit to the ants.

So far, no commercially viable synthetic ant foods exist which allow for long-term growth. Diets which have worked in laboratories only do so when paired with a separate insect/sugar diet. Although they can act as diet supplements, they will not benefit the ants in any way. 


Sugars

As far as sugars go, many popular solutions exist on the market. I myself am partial to byFormica Sunburst Nectar as it provides one of the only, if not the only full sugar solution which is optimized for long-term colony growth and receptivity. 

Many prefer to use alternatives, however, such as sugar or honey. As a general rule, a 4:1 ratio of water:sugar is ideal. It should be noted that sugar water is much better than honey, as the ants are less likely to be trapped in the honey. It is also important NOT to dilute honey, as it encourages bacterial growth.

Being Canadian, I am also partial to maple syrup, which seems to work both diluted and pure. 

Hummingbird and oriole nectar have also been used in the past, and are well-received. However, I cannot vouch for its effectiveness.

A fun experiment to do is to use a food colouring to dye some sort of liquid sugar and watch ants' abdomens become bloated with the colour of choice. Make sure to use food colouring during this experiment, as non-food-safe dyes may be harmful to the ants. 

How do I feel my ants?

How you feed your ants depends on setup and colony size. As a general rule, test tubed colonies can be fed within the tube with a small barbecue skewer, toothpick, aluminum foil plate, syringe, cotton soaked in sugar, or many other forms of feed. A single drop or less is good for most queens. Make sure it is enough that they drink it, or it may harm the brood if it drips onto it and there are not enough workers to thoroughly clean the brood. Small species are also liable to drown in drops of sugar. Lastly, it may become difficult to clean should the ants interpret the sugar water as a perfect place to put their garbage.

An outworld is highly recommended for semi claustral queens and colonies with workers. Food may be dropped into the outworld directly.

Feeding dishes and liquid feeders have become widespread in the ant-keeping market. I personally endorse byFormica feeders, as they are gravity-assisted and prevent ants from draining the feeder by piling substrate onto the feeders. Liquid feeders will help make ants a far easier-to-maintain pet, and they will make it so sugars need be fed only once every few weeks.

How often do I feed my ants?

Ants should be fed frequently in smaller quantities. For small colonies, a single drop of sugars and a single fruit fly every 3 days suffices. Ants will have increased food demand as the colony grows. Once all the food disappears or is thrown out, food should be replaced. 

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