Q and A

Tar Heel Ants Ant Keeping Question & Answer Page 

Q and A Sessions

Q: Was wondering when this would ship? I ordered it on the weekend and paid extra for 2-day shipping hoping to have it today (Wednesday).

A: Hey!  Thanks for reaching out and I am glad that you did.  When you order on our website, we ship in the next 2-3 business days which do not include the weekend.  So today (Wednesday( would be the third day after you ordered, but sometimes just the average of 2-3 days is what we achieve and occasionally it it sooner or a little later.

If you are in a super big hurry (ants in the mail, just found a brand new colony, etc.), I can usually get things shipped same day off the Ready-To-Ship pages with some exceptions.  Call me at 919-348-3642, text that number, or you can email here for those requests.  Sometimes it is not possible due to our schedule, post office schedules, or local weather but those are rare exceptions.   
That quote you see on the shipping page (USPS Priority 2 day, UPS Ground 3 day, etc.) is just for their time once it is in their hands (USPS or UPS), so when we drop this off later today/tonight, that clock of the 2 day shipping begins.  We are a fairly small business, and although we work hard and fast, we just do not keep up with Amazons of the world unfortunately, not yet at least.  Let me know if you have any other questions!

Q: I am having trouble with the hydration of my formicarium and colony, and have been reading up on ways to increase this.  What suggestions do you have?

A: Some things you can do to upgrade your ants health, specifically intended to increase hydration of the colony:

1. Fruit flies - lots of good nutrients inside as well, but they are also little juice bags for ants.  Lots of water content inside them and easy to get into for a worker.
2. Additional water sources (not sugar-water), like an water test tube in the outworld, liquid feeder with water, or water-soaked cottonball inside a bottle cap.
3. Apple slices regularly, organic and washed is what I use.  The softer apples, they usually have higher water content and are easier to chew through for the ants.
Be careful about upping the humidity, do not put the formicarium in a pan of water as this will cause it to flood by absorption and ruin the habitat/kill the ants inside. 
The humidity inside a nest can be different/higher/lower due to other factors:
-What heat source is being used, for example, a heat lamp can cause higher temperatures and thus water will evaporate out faster.  Always a good idea to use a hygrometer and thermometer OUTSIDE of the formicarium.  This will help you understand the transfer of moisture and when it may be important to increase 1-3 above.  Winter time humidity in my house drops very low (15-20% at times) and this can be a problem if you have an active colony with brood.  Apple slices will dry out very fast, meaning less water for your ants.  You may have to cover the vents in the foraging area during the time you feed them an apple, but not for more than a few hours or you will risk mold outbreaks.
-Mentioned above, but the humidity in your house can have a big impact on the health of your ant colony, and is something often overlooked.  So comparing notes with other ant keepers can almost be a problem at times, especially when one of you lives in Florida and the other in New York.  Humidity being 50-60% on average inside a home, versus 20-30%, would make for very different conditions all other things constant with your ant habitat and the colony inside.  The person with high humidity may need additional ventilation or a dehumidifier to prevent foods from molding quickly in the foraging area, while the person with low humidity conditions may have to stay on top of the liquid feeders/nestmates/water devices much more than his friends.
-Habitat!!! This is probably the biggest difference from one ant keeper to another, but many habitats are set up with different devices and methods of keeping them humid.  
-Water Quality - Using tap water can cause screens to get clogged over time with unfiltered particles, meaning less open air inside the screened area for moisture to pass through and into the habitat.  Use filtered water as much as possible.
-Ant species - Pogonomyrmex species, especially with water sources close to queen and brood, will pile up debris and also actively plug water sources.  Sometimes they will do this to the detriment of the colony, choking off needed humidity supply or drinking water.  If you find yourself with a colony (not all colonies of the same species behave the same way) doing this, you may need to add additional water sources further away from the queen and brood. (see 1-3 above for suggestions).

Q: We are looking at getting a Pogonomyrmex occidentalis colony as our first colony of ants.  What are some things to know about them when ordering, and where can I find more information on them?

Here are some links to the information on these ants:

One of our main starter formicaria videos (quick overview of some of the features, the watering is the same in most of our ant habitats) of the Mini Hearth can be found here:
Lengthy guide about the ants, Pogonomyrmex occidentalis is at the below link.  This is on our home page.  It has not been updated in awhile as the care is fairly simple and still the recommendations hold from previous updates.  A couple videos at the bottom of this page (links to YouTube):
Link to the Ants For Sale Page on our website.  You are looking at the packages for the Pogonomyrmex occidentalis specifically.
Starting package size is 20-30 workers with a Mini Hearth, link to Ready Made versions of this ant habitat is below, and other links can be found on the page you can purchase them on as well:
Basic size and founding formicarium:
When ordering a package, you can add a comment to the order like "Please use one of the Ready To Ship versions, email me with color choices, etc." or just call me after placing a standard order and I can take care of all the information over the phone.
Medium sized 
Larger Sized:
The packages will ask you options when going through the order process, such as adding heat cables, seeds, extra nestmates (link to how to use this video is below also, a big part of caring for ants.  Just watch the first few minutes to get the idea, this is for drinking water).  If you are not sure if you need something, you probably will but feel free to reach out at tarheelants@gmail.com or call 919-348-3642 for help.  Some folks before ordering have a heat source and food already, but if you are just starting out most of the options are important in some way for the care of the ants.  Heat is a must for them, average recommended temperature between 82-86 degrees Fahrenheit.
You may be wondering "Why would you choose a larger colony size over a smaller one?"  Immediate activity levels will be higher with the larger colonies, while the activity is still fairly good for smaller colonies, you will definitely see an increase with the jump from small, medium, and large.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Diapuse (or "hibernation" as it is incorrectly called quite often when referring to ants) is the winter rest period for ants.  They go into a stasis, where the colony does not product brood and very minimal activity occurs.  Some ants sleep through this period, looking lifeless almost, while others stock up on foods for this period.  Pogonomyrmex occidentalis do not require this to thrive, but most people do give them a rest period.  My two oldest colonies of 3 years have never had temperatures low enough for a "break" and continue to grow into the thousands.  This is "ok", but usually to give yourself as a pet owner a break you would want a 3-4 month period where you can take off the heat, but maintain feeding and watering during this time.  This being during the winter months, usually it is dryer inside a home thise time.  The water towers will need filling more frequently (usually 2-3 weeks on average) during the dry season so be very attentive to them during this time of the year regardless of whether you are heating your ants or not.
Either choice is fine for the health of the colony, any differences are likely just to be a slightly shorter/longer lifespan of the ants.  The queens are long-lived (10-20 years average in my best research) anyways, so this would have minimal change to your keeping a pet ant colony of this species.  Most people choose to let them go through the first year without a rest period, and then after that prefer a slower growth rate to keep their numbers under a more controllable level.

Q: I know the nestmate is made for ventilation, but some people I know have insisted that the nestmate is for honey and water supply. So I tried today like an idiot and flooded the nest with honey water. Fortunately ants are fine, they seem like eating up the honey avidly. But the problem is it seems like it's also soaked into the formicarium. What should I do in this situation? Is it okay to leave it as it is, or should I move them to another one real quick and clean it up?  I have a tiny colony of camponotus ca02 with only 5 workers.

A: Its only for water or ventilation, never sugary liquids. 
Watch this older but helpful video on how to fill them and some other tips:
You have a good opportunity to move them with such a small group of ants, I would move them out and wash it thoroughly with warm water.
Feel free to contact us directly through email or phone with questions on how to use the habitats we make.  Not only do we make the habitats, but we have lots of colonies of various species and can give advice based on years of experience and feedback from others from around the world.  Usually we can help in most situations.
Q: Should I wait until the new one dries out a bit after washing to move the colony in? or it doesn't matter?
A: Yes, if you spilled any honey water inside the nest, definitely rinse it out thoroughly with warm water.  If you dry the wet interior with a paper towel, or cloth, and then let it dry a few minutes you can move them directly over as long as there is no standing water inside.  The interior of the Mini Hearth is very absorbent by design, so let it do the work and give it a little time to dry.  Put the glass and lid back on but do not heat the Mini Hearth for a few days, let it dry out.   If you heat it, condensation will very likely form on the glass and the humidity can spike to dangerous levels for your ants.  Just let it stay at room temperature for a few days, your ants will be fine inside a drying habitat.  To speed up the drying (since you have the glass and lid on it will dry slower), prop the Mini Hearth up on a cloth or in some other way so that moisture can evaporate out the bottom of the formicarium.


Q and A Session from 12/18/21

Q: I just received the package with a Mini Hearth formicarium and Pogonomyrmex occidentalis, what are some tips to get started if I know nothing? 

A: First we have a video on the Mini Hearth, more or less an overview at first, but it does go into some details about it as well.  This will give you a good visual on the formicarium and how it works, with some ants inside of it as well.  

Mini Hearth Modular Formicarium - YouTube
Next is a video about the nestmate, the tube and red stopper you have for your Mini Hearth.  This goes in the back hole of the formicarium.  Watch at least the first couple of minutes to see how the nestmate is filled and stays full.
Tar Heel Ants Formicaria Options Video #3: Nestmates - YouTube
Now that you understand how the formicarium (ant house) functions, fill your water tower up about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way using the syringe.  Get all the plugs and nestmate in the right place.  Try and not get the interior of the habitat wet during normal use, the seeds will spoil if they get wet.  The water tower, the screen covered dish inside the habitat, is for humidity only.  This acts as a wet ground for the ants, and keeps the humidity around 90%.  The nestmate is for drinking water only.  Should either of these be empty of water, the ants will start to suffer the effects of drying out.  They will eat their eggs at first, and then some of them will die.  So, my recommendation is to stay on schedule with the water tower and nestmate maintenance.  The nestmate should be filled on average once a week.  The water tower every 2-3 weeks.
We spoke over the phone about dropping the plastic insert into the Mini Hearth foraging area, here is a few points to remember doing that.  Keep in mind for the future, we do have an Ant Move Kit available that would make this easier (next time!).  
-Use vinyl gloves if you have them, the ants cannot climb them or sting through them.
-Use plyers or (I actually use a chop stick) something similar, and pull the insert out of the test tube, quickly dropping it in the foraging area.  Do not worry about the ants climbing back out, this particular species cannot climb plastic or glass.  
-Recommend using a larger plastic bin to work inside, just in case you have stray ants during the process.  This will keep them from running off and allow you to focus on your job of getting the insert quickly into the foraging area.
-Return stray ants using a business card to scoop them up, or the forceps if you also received those with your package.
-Call if you have questions!!!
Here is a guide to the Pogonomyrmex occidentalis ants, and a couple videos at the bottom. 
Tar Heel Ants Pogonomyrmex occidentalis Guide

Q & A session 1/15/18

Q-  How is temperature regulated in the nest? 
Tar Heel Ants Answer - The temperature is regulated by your external efforts.  The nest will keep a similar temperature to that of the room the habitat is in.  The ants will do their best to keep their brood warmer by keeping the brood in locations where more heat is.  You can position heating cables or (my personal preference) heating lamps so that they are directed to certain parts of the nest to offer them a temperature gradient.  Do not heat the entire nest, however.  Ants do much better as a rule when they are allowed a range of conditions to choose from which is easy to do in a habitat of this size.  Heat the top areas, not the bottom.  Keep direct heat away from the water towers on the lower level to avoid the build up of condensation on the glass.
Q - My nestmates are leaking, and they seem to flood my nest when I put them in.  Am I doing something wrong?
Tar Heel Ants Answer - The best explanation is probably a visual, so I would recommend watching the following video we made on nestmates.  The first minute or two shows you how to fill them properly, and I expect this will answer all your questions.  The rest of the video goes into some more advanced methods of using nestmates to control humidity and moisture inside your habitats.
Q- Do I put food and water just in the box on top? 
Tar Heel Ants Answer - Yes, never put food directly in the nest area or the nestmates.  Always use a feeding dish for any food.  You can use the water feeders to give them sugar water or honey water but check this often to make sure it has not dried up.  If you have a very dry room you keep your colony in then you will need to change the honey water or sugar water more frequently so they can access it through the screen opening in the liquid feeder.  If you feed direct drops of liquids on the feeding dishes use VERY small amounts.  I am talking about something so small they could not possibly get stuck at all.  I use a toothpick to drag liquids around in streaks when i use feeding dishes.
Q - Is the ‘sand’ in the top box loose sand? Or solid? I mean, is it possible for tha ants to bring it into the nest? And how easy is it to clean it without ‘destroying’ it.
Tar Heel Ants Answer - The sand is fixed to the foraging area surface.  There is a small amount that the ants can remove and take back to the nest.  This is ok, they use it to make the conditions inside the nest more comfortable.  Some things they may do are covering up food items, covering up larvae (not all species do this) as they pupate, and slightly altering tunnels and chambers in order to increase humidity in small pockets.  If you want to add more substrate you can purchase some from us or other locations and just sprinkle it in a pile in the foraging area.  It is best to add too little than too much.  If you add too much the ants may get clever and find a way to block you from seeing them.  Cleaning the nest should be done as needed.  With a larger colony like you have most likely it will not be very frequently.  Ants have dedicated trash disposal crews!  They will move the trash to where it is best for them.  That may mean making a mess in the nest sometimes.  In that case you can use light to chase them to the opposite side of your habitat.  Then you plug up the central chambers that cross from one side to another with a sponge or cotton.  That would make it much easier to clean while they cannot bother you.  Before blocking off the areas put the habitat in a refrigerator at around 35-45 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 hours. They will then be sleep and you can remove the glass panel to block up the access tunnels to one side without them running all over.  You may have to remove some stray ants during the process so have a separate container for this.  Thankfully Messor sp. are not the best climbers so that should help.
Q - Thanks for the pogo colony! They're very active and I was able to move them into the 2-chamber mini hearth with little effort. 
After a day of the ants settling in, I noticed that they were able to excavate a part of the grout and dig out a hole (pics attached). The hole is fairly deep and can fit about 3-4 ants in it already. I'm concerned that this part of the formicarium may not have set properly and that the ants'll escape. Do you have any suggestions on what to do?
A -This is just a loose pocket of sand, nothing to be concerned about at all!  This happens on occasion when we do not excavate all of the loose material.  Pogonomyrmex occidentalis cannot chew through our Type III material, which is what the Mini Hearth is comprised of.

Q1. To provide water, does the water well (of the water tower) need to be filled to the top, or is water available somehow even when the water level is lower?

A1.  Water evaporates up and through the screen into the air to keep the formicarium more humid.  Ants do not need a lot of drinking water if they are kept in a humid environment.  An ants anatomy makes them (some better than others) very adept at holding moisture inside at higher humidity levels without constantly having to absorb moisture like, for instance, we do.  In fact some queens can go many months without drinking water.  I still try to leave droplets from time to time in case they need water to drink (and sometimes you will see them rush to drink water droplets), but the water tower is not meant for that purpose.  Use liquid feeders and food such as apple slices and honey-water for worker ants to offer them water.


Q2. Would you recommend using the nestmate as an airway or for extra humidity (for Aphaenogaster lamellidens)? I was looking at your videos on YouTube and you had a colony of this species that discarded their trash by a nestmate that was for ventilation due to the dryness.

I was looking for a tutorial on how to clean a nest while the ants are in it…

A2. I would use the nestmate as a vent for Aphaenogaster lamellidens and other “messy” ant species that tend to store trash nearby.  If you see them being very clean and carrying trash out to the foraging area, you can change that later on as needed. 

On a side note, as a matter of opinion from personal observation, the entire Aphaenogaster genus can be considered “messy” for ant pets but nonetheless make great pets!


Cleaning out a nest with ants in it is difficult at best but not completely impossible either. The Nucleus-style habitats with two sides are the best for that.   You can move the ants away from the side you need to clean and then remove the glass.  Stop up the central access tunnel to prevent ants from travelling back while you are performing maintenance. When you have ants inside a formicarium with only one section, you either move them out of the nest temporarily or try one of the other two methods:


  1. First, place the formicarium with them inside in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.  After the temperature drops, they slow down and most species do not move at all or very slow to react.  Take them out of the refrigerator, remove the glass, and quickly brush out trash from the chambers.  They wake up fast so this takes good planning and execution in advance. I recommend doing this all INSIDE a larger bin so any escaped workers can be left alone while the cleaning is done and then replaced back inside the foraging area once the glass is placed back on. It may be better to slide the glass on from the top or a side instead of letting it snap into place.  This is a little more controlled and helps prevent ants from becoming trapped in between the two surfaces when replacing the glass.


  1. Get a large open container and put the formicarium down inside (as mentioned also in “1”).  Make sure you apply (fluon or another barrier) around the top of the open container to keep escape ants from crawling out.  Take off the glass and then clean it.  Let the ants run around like crazy for a few minutes until they settle down a little.  Now clean out the chambers with a brush and do whatever other maintenance you need.  You just need to be really cautious with your movements and especially patient when putting the glass back.  This entire project can take 30 minutes to an hour the first couple of times you do it, later it becomes much easier with some experience under your belt.  It may be even more helpful to put the colony in the refrigerator for a few minutes (if the larger container fits in yours of course) before trying to put the glass back.


I do not recommend trying part 1 or 2 with ants that sting.  In that case moving them completely out into a second habitat is best for cleaning maintenance.




Q3.   Also I was wondering is the water tower sufficient for letting the ants drink or should I provide with separate drinking water?



A3. I would provide most of the water they need through foods such as apples, pure natural honey, and juicy insects such as mealworms and crickets (fruit flies are a great source of food but they do not have a lot of water content).  Water is ok to offer through a liquid feeder or a few drops on a dish but it does boost the humidity in the foraging area which can cause mold if you do not clean the trash regularly.  If you keep the water tower full (not 100% full but at least with some water in it) it will keep the humidity very high (80-100% targeted in areas around the water tower, and less the farther away you get from the water towers) depending on the conditions of your home.  Water may be available for ants to drink from the screen but that is the purpose of the nestmates we offer mainly.  


Q4. I just recently bought a Mini Hearth and I was wondering how do I put my queen ant into the Mini Hearth without stressing her too much and just dumping her in there? She’s in a test tube set up right now.


A4. I would place her in the refrigerator for a few minutes to cool her down (and subsequently calm her down) before attempting to move her.  Move her out into a second holding container first.  Once she is secure and sage, then move her eggs into the Mini Hearth and place them on top of the water tower.  Now move her inside the Mini Hearth.  This is of course easier with larger ants with larger eggs.  With very small ants you may need to wait until the brood is either larvae or pupae so they are easier to move.  Featherweight forceps, piano wire, and moist Q-tips are all great for moving eggs.  Moistening the tip of the wire and Q-tips is also helpful when transferring eggs.


Q5. If the queen ant isn't fertile, how long will she live? How can I tell if she's fertile?


A5. That depends on the species, but typically you would see her laying eggs within 1-2 weeks after capture (most often much sooner and sometimes within a couple of days) if they fly in the spring. Some queens fly in the late summer and fall and will overwinter with no eggs. These queens would then lay their first eggs and start a colony the following spring. The best indication that a queen is fertile is if she drops her wings, but this is not 100% and should just be used as being simply an increase in the odds she is mated and not a guarantee. Dropping wings plus laying eggs quickly after capture is as close to 100% you will get without actually seeing her first workers arrive. The first eggs of a queen of some species sometimes can be infertile and turn out to be males if she did not mate successfully.  This is general knowledge but exceptions are possible with such a diverse set of sizes and behaviors among the many thousands of ant species worldwide.


Q6.Could you suggest a good general size for the nest? Is it a better idea to get the Medium ant size and then just let smaller species use it or would it be better to put a medium species is a small size container or would they be too cramped?

A6. Small ant species generally have workers 2-5mm and a queen no larger than 8mm.  Medium-sized ants are generally workers that are 6-8 mm and a queen no larger than 8-10mm.  Large ants are a bit different.  Some genus such as Messor have very large queens (16-18mm) but workers can be much, much smaller particularly the nanitics (or minims).  As far as ordering a nest from Tar Heel Ants, these are still large species because the nest must fit the queen first.  This does give us an opportunity to make the most of the available space when making your nest, so mention a species name if at all possible when ordering.  Most other species considered large have workers 8-12mm (not many 12mm but some) and queens from 14-22mm.  This includes all larger Camponotus species.  The Formica genus is a little different as it is about 80-20 larger species as far as what people tend to keep in captivity, but some the 20% that people keep are smaller and would be better suited as medium sized.  


As you can see it is difficult to find a nest that suits all, but medium would be the best choice with a note mentioning you do not have a species targeted.  In this case I can make it suitable for medium sized ants, but also include some larger and smaller areas as well with little impact on usable nest space.


Q7:  I'm still doing research to make sure I'm well prepared for my first colony.  After reading about the hazards of buying too large a formicarium for a colony I'm now looking into an Atom Nest for carpenter ants. Would there be a way to block off areas of a fortress to make it smaller and then unblock those areas as the colony grows?


A7:  In my honest opinion, the Mini Hearth is the best founding formicarium for most species.  We have different versions of the Mini Hearth for different species and you can view these on our product pages.  I would recommend the Mini Hearth over the Atom nest (removed temporarily for revamping as of 2020).  So to answer the first part, the Atom Nest is not what I would recommend for starting especially for these larger ants.

The dangers of using a large nest depends greatly on the species, size and layout of that nest, as well as things like what you’re feeding them (and how much at one sitting).  Vastly out-sizing your colony would never be a good investment of money unless your goal is to also have a "show" formicarium as well or you are doing some sort of project that requires this setup.  In these cases I occasionally will build people formicaria that have some areas blocked off for later expansion so that the ants cannot access all areas of the nest at once.  The Fortress is not one of these that can be blocked off. We also have several of these as normal products like the Nucleus formicaria (and many sizes of these).  One side of the smallest Nucleus is 4x6” (100mm x 150mm) and the Fortress is 4x4"(100mm x 100mm) so again the Fortress for one queen and a few workers is pretty large, but for how long?  That depends on luck, the species, and you’re care of them.  We also try to pack as many features and use a thoughtful layout to help you control your habitat (read further...).  

The majority of the nests people use do not have removable glass or tops.  They are home-made or purchased from elsewhere.  All of our habitats have the removable tops and removable glass panels.  Example: You start a queen and a small colony off in a Fortress.  Later, they want to use a specific area for trash inside the nest.  Now you can use that removable glass feature strategically to remove the trash.  How else do we help you deal with that using the features of our formicaria?


Nestmates are one of the most important features of Tar Heel Ants formicaria.  On the top right of the Fortress is a nestmate port.  When used as a vent-nestmate, this area can be kept dryer than other locations inside the nest.  This is where ants will likely store the trash.  They are smart!  If they are able to march the trash up to the top where the nestmate is, then this is a good spot for it when removing the glass and cleaning.  You can just slide the glass down a little, and remove the trash without causing a lot of trouble with your colony.  Putting them in the refrigerator to slow down their movements for 30 minutes to an hour will help also.    The nestmate is positioned at the very top of the nest away from the water tower.  Since the water tower is where the queen and brood will make their home and the entrance to the foraging area at the bottom nearby (part of the design), the worker ants (like those in my own Fortress nests) will then use the foraging area for the trash because it is easier for them.  This is ideal for you as an ant keeper as you have the most access to trash removal there.  Underground in a wild ant colony, taking trash up and out of the nest is not always done. Ants use a trash chamber and then fill it in with dirt to keep it from being a problem for the colony.  The Fortress was designed to combat the problem of trash storage for ant keepers and has worked very well for this purpose during our testing of the habitat.


The Fortress is simply not large enough to block off areas.  You would be better off to purchase two mini hearths (which one large chamber two Mini Hearths together are similar in total size to one Fortress), and connect one later when you needed.  Again, using the features of the fortress like nestmates, removable glass, etc.  The size should not be overwhelming for a small colony.  They are not far from their foraging grounds either which for some species is important because they seem to get “lost” in larger habitats.  Remember, the first workers are nanitics and much smaller and less capable in many ways than older generation workers.


Other nest designs such as the Pinnacle nests (without specific modifications) I do not recommend beginners use a queen or small colony in at all.  These also include larger sizes of the Nucleus.  While people have successfully started colonies in these from a single queen, it is a lot more work and expense up front for what is needed  Again, this comment is not to discourage or insult those who feel this is what they want, just experience and personal tastes speaking through these words.  Out of all my ant colonies I try to begin and keep, less than 50% have succeeded.  Each year that number increases, but that is with years of experience.  It is fun to watch a colony grow from using a single chamber to filling up the entire nest, admittedly!  My Aphaenogaster lamellidens colony is a good example of this as they went from occupying a single chamber (they had 40-50 workers and a queen) to now taking up an entire side of a 4x8 nest.  I cleaned out this nest several times by moving the colony to another area, and removing the glass and cannot wait to see them fill up this entire nest and be ready to move out into something larger!


We do make all different sizes of nests.  This is for you to find one that fits your personal strategies best as well as match them to the ants needs as well.  We are happy to discuss a custom design with your input.


Q8. Do colonies continuously grow or do they level off as they've achieved criticality, so to speak?


A8. No, colonies do not grow without breaks.  They will grow in spurts, particularly when they are young.  These spurts are more difficult to see as a colony gets larger.  In the first year of a Camponotus spp. queen’s cycle, she will lay 2-3 batches of new eggs and then go weeks or months without laying any eggs at all.  Each batch of eggs will take 6-12 weeks to become workers.  Not all of the eggs will actually become workers.  In one year, from the time a Camponotus chromaiodes (for example) queen is caught to the following spring, an average colony would have 10-20 workers with some being much less and some more.  Other genus have different growth rates of course, but that is just to give an idea of how much ants can grow.  The biggest growth spurts come around mid-summer of the first year when the second "wave" of eggs are becoming workers and also late spring/early summer of the second year.  These times will be adjusted depending on when the queen flies (the later they fly in the spring/summer, the later the growth spurts etc.).  The colony should be kept in cold temperatures during the winter for 4-5 months, ideally in a location (such as a refrigerator) that is not below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.


Q9. How many ants would be considered a small colony and how long would the Fortress formicarium last before becoming overcrowded?


A9:  Labeling an ant colony “small” depends on the species and their biology, but for an ant keeper it usually is any first year colony.  Camponotus species would be 1-30 workers.  Even within that range there are vastly different behaviors you will see as a colony of that specific size for each species.  For a Lasius species, a colony of 1-40 is a small colony.  For Solenopsis invicta or Tetramorium caespitum, a small colony is up to several hundred at which point you should be preparing for a big jump in population with a larger nest ready hopefully.  For the Fortress, it would be large enough for about 2 years for a colony larger species ants within the Camponotus genus.  This is with optimal conditions.  For Lasius, about the same time I would estimate but you will have many more workers in total numbers due to their small size in comparison.  For Solenopsis invicta,Tetramorium caespitum and other fast growing species, about 1 year.


Q10:  When I scooped up some of the loose dirt to capture some workers, there were 2 alates in the mix, one appeared to be male (small head and smaller body than the other) and 1 female. I placed them in separate containers. I assume that I should let them go outside?


A10:  Letting them go will not help them achieve their goals in life (which is mating).  They will need specific routines from the workers and environmental queues to successfully fly and mate on a mating flight.  You can do this on days the species is flying which should be soon (still they most likely will not begin their mating flight without the colony), but most likely these ants will die and never have the chance to mate without beginning in their colony  This is near to impossible to achieve for a captive colony.  If you let them go they will simply hide somewhere or become food for other animals.  I would just keep them with the colony as they can be used as food for the colony (Yikes!).


Q11: What are your suggestions for formicaria for the following ant colonies:

         a. Camponotus castaneus queen and brood

         b.  Solenopsis invicta small colony with 10-15 workers



 a.  I think for Camponotus castaneus I have had better results using the Mini Hearth style habitats (with a "ceiling") for this species.  The Inception Chamber would be another good option due to size and form-fitting tunnels.  Make sure you order a large species habitat for these ants.  Both provide the same space for them to nest and grow, but this species grows slowly so it would be suitable for them for a year to 1.5 years approximately. 

b. For the Solenopsis invicta colony, you have your hands full there!  They can grow amazingly fast so I would get something a little larger like a Fortress Type II (always need a Type II nest for this species with us due to their ability to dig through soft stone).  These start around $65 but you will not be sorry you got something larger down the road.  The Fortress also has two expansion ports for expanding to larger colonies as well. Despite them being small ants (and some workers are very small to tiny…) I would choose the medium species option for a colony of this stage.  They will need the extra space for brood piles.

Q12 and A12: (mutliple questions and answers about Camponotus sp.)

q1. Can a Camponotus castaneus queen make it through 3/4 inch tubing if I try to let them move to the mini hearth on their own? 

a1. Yes.  All large ants can fit through the 3/4" tubing.  

q2. Or should I cool them down and move them myself?  

a2, For small colonies especially it is very important to let them move on their own unless it is absolutely imperative they are moved immediately (ie. colony health is threatened...)

q3. About how big will the colony get before it outgrows the mini hearth?

a3. Camponotus sp. of the larger variety(like Camponotus castaneus)...an average of 25-30 workers (this usually takes 1-1.5 years from a founding queen).  The size of the brood pile for a colony this size is very large usually so I recommend moving them or begin moving them around this size.  One thing to note is that during the winter period (diapause...) a colony of this size will be just fine in a Mini Hearth. They would need to be moved out after the diapause period prior to the larvae they overwinter growing.

q4. I have a Casita that I when I ordered it I selected medium for the size ants. Will it someday be adequate for them? If not I can save it for a different colony. I love the way it turned out. I was initially planning on building my own but came across Tarheel ants and what you make is so good I will never have a reason to build my own.  THANK YOU! :)

a4. Medium sized formicaria (species- medium sized) are usually adequate homes for smaller and larger species.  Take a look carefully at the layout and make sure you think the queen can make it to the water tower area.  If you are certain she cannot you need to purchase a formicarium for large species. 

q5. Last question, if the room temperature is kept 70 to 72 degrees, do I need to apply heat to a section of the formicarium?

a5. This is a little on the cool side for Camponotus development.  Further north in Canada and upper areas of the U.S. you may have some species that can grow well in that range of temperatures.  As a rule I keep them in the mid to upper 70s at a minimum during the growth season.

Q & A about caring for Pogonomyrmex occidentalis

1. They are storing their trash in the chambers instead of the ‘out world’. They move the trash pile around to different chambers. Right now, it’s right beside the water tube.  (See pink arrow in picture.). Is this ok?  We’re concerned about it getting moldy.
  They will move it when it becomes a problem usually.  Best to keep an eye on it.  If you see a mold growing from any of it, then you want to slide the glass over and pull it out. This should just be seed trash, which does not mold unless it is piled up in large amounts and left for a very long time.  I have never seen this in the nest area of a formicarium, so this is less a cause for concern.  When they pile it high in the foraging area, this needs to be cleaned out once every 1-2 weeks.
2.  There’s a little patch of something that looks like it could possibly be moldy on top of the water screen.  (See green arrow.). Any way for us to access it to clean it up?
That does not look like mold to me, but it is hard to see.  A closer up photo may help.  Mold would not be growing on the stainless steel metal typically. Also, since you have ants (Pogonomyrmex occidentalis) that only eat seeds, mold should not be a problem as they store the seeds where it is dry and they will not mold.  If you are feeding them feeder insects in addition, then watch more carefully for mold.  A bright green mold that grows from dead insects is the one I usually find to be the deadliest for colonies, and remove it immediately if you ever see this.
3.  Would it be ok to feed them crushed flax seed?  Chia seeds?
Try any organic seeds you can find!  If you venture out to non-organic seeds, make sure they are used for food (human consumption, pet consumption) and not for growing first.  Some companies put chemicals/fertilizers on seeds.  Being 100% honest, I have tried a number of seeds including both of the ones you mention.  Dandelion seeds are by far the best and first option over them.  I would recommend keeping Dandelion seeds available to be on the safe side, and add in other seeds as you want to.
4.  Should there constantly be food in there or should there be a period of time between feedings?
Constant food is best, they will consume their brood for food if they have none.
5.  Is is common for them to move their eggs/larva around to different chambers?  Seems like they are constantly moving them.  Yes, this is normal.  Sometimes it is as simple as one worker not agreeing with another worker, or a chemical trail being made by one worker when another worker makes a different one and others just follow.  Over time they will settle down.