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Food for Ants
(A beginner's guide)

As an ant keeper, your role is to provide the proper food for your ants. Understanding their nutritional needs is vital to their health. This beginner's guide is designed to simplify the selection of suitable food for your ant colony.

Ants are omnivores and require a steady food supply to stay healthy and active. They must get a varied diet to receive all the necessary nutrients (do not consistently stick to the same diet). In the case of fully-claustral queens, the food should be available as soon as the first workers eclose (emerge from the pupal stage). And for semi-claustral queens, the food should be there right from the beginning. It's preferable to place food in a small area outside the nest rather than directly in their living space. This foraging area is called the outworld.

A micro glass outworld equipped with ant food.

Ants have an intriguing food-sharing behaviour called trophallaxis. This involves the mouth-to-mouth transfer of liquid food among colony members, ensuring efficient nutrient distribution. Ants also demonstrate remarkable cooperation in transporting solid food back to the nest and utilize pheromone trails to guide others to food sources. These complex social behaviours underline the importance of providing a varied and easily accessible food supply to support the intricate dynamics of ant colonies, keeping you engaged in their fascinating world.

NOTE (Buyer Beware): No "one-diet" commercially formulated product can feed ants long-term and provide a healthy, nutritious diet. Be it sweet liquid syrups or protein powder/jelly; such may be used for practical bases and on days when we lack fresh ingredients. Often, such products contain preservatives to stay fresh long-term. Protein is best received fresh from live insects. Only honey and natural syrups can have a long, stable shelf life without preservatives. Our Ant-Shop offers "Formisyrup Gold" (a mix of honey and maple syrup and nothing else), "FormiSyrup Green" (a solution of sucrose with preservatives for extended shelf life) and "FormiProtein," mostly made from black soldier fly larvae. It is to be used as an occasional supplement or for days when we lack fresh insects as a source of protein.

All You Need Ant Food Kit - includes accessories, protein powder, and sugar syrup.

Choosing the Right Ant Food:

To give a healthy diet to your ants, provide fresh water, carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates are a crucial energy source for adult worker ants, while protein is essential for developing new eggs and larvae. In addition, the queen ant needs a steady supply of protein, which is necessary to enable her to lay eggs on schedule. 

 

Fresh water is a crucial component of a pet ant's environment and should always be readily available. When ants are housed inside a test tube, they can get their water from the cotton. However, when living in a formicarium, the water is primarily used to control the humidity and may not be available for drinking. Therefore, it's essential to provide a separate water source in the outworld using a liquid feeder or a test tube with water and cotton. This will ensure that your ants have access to water at all times. In addition, it's essential to regularly check the water source and replenish it as necessary to prevent dehydration and ensure the health and well-being of your pet ants.

 

Carbohydrates, which include sugary substances, can be found in various household items. When feeding fruits to your pet ants, it's essential to wash them thoroughly to remove any traces of pesticides on the skin. To make sugar water, mix four parts of water with one part of sugar. It's essential to keep the solution runny and diluted to avoid creating a death trap that is too sticky for ants to escape. Remember that watery liquid sugars tend to ferment quickly, so it's best to replace them often. Additionally, it's worth noting that ants generally prefer sugars in liquid form over solids or thick solutions.


Ants exhibit a discerning taste regarding sugar preferences, favouring sucrose over glucose and fructose. Maple syrup, a commonly used sweetener, contains more sucrose than glucose and fructose. On the other hand, honey primarily contains fructose and glucose, but it contains a lesser quantity of sucrose. Refined sugar, known as white sugar, is comprised mainly of sucrose, while brown sugar contains small quantities of fructose and glucose in addition to sucrose.

Protein is an essential nutrient for the growth and development of pet ants. To ensure a balanced diet, it's essential to provide them with various protein-rich foods. Fresh feeder insects such as superworms, mealworms, crickets, and fruit flies can make a great addition to their diet. However, it's crucial to avoid beetles and millipedes, which can carry a defence mechanism that could harm your ants. Instead, look for ant-friendly foods such as grubs, grasshoppers/crickets, centipedes, or termites. In emergencies, meat can also serve as a protein source. Cooked ham, beef, eggs, or chicken (without condiments) can be offered to your ants to help them meet their protein requirements.

The size of food pieces should be appropriate for your ant species. For smaller colonies, offering small, dead insects or portions of insects is recommended. Larger colonies may handle larger food pieces or a variety of insects and seeds.
 

Certain ant species possess specialized dietary requirements, and they may have a preference for unique food sources such as seeds. Harvester ants are a prime example of an ant species with a specialized diet, as they primarily consume seeds as their primary food source. These ants are known for their impressive seed-gathering capabilities, as they can collect and store large amounts of seeds in their nests. While some ant species may have a broader range of dietary options, others may require more specific food sources to meet their nutritional needs.

Pay attention to how your ants react to different foods. Observing their behaviour when introduced to new food sources can provide insights into their dietary preferences and overall health. Rotating food types can also keep their diet varied and interesting, aligning with their natural foraging patterns​

Wild Feeder Insects: Where and How to Find?

The answer is simple. Grasshoppers usually appear during the daytime in summer. Crickets are the opposite; they are nocturnal (found at night). Look for them in humid areas with lots of plants, near your house or in parks. The way to obtain grubs/beetle larvae from outside is by breaking parts off a rotting log. There may be other critters you could use for feeders in a rotting log, including centipedes, termites, flies and earwigs. Please avoid areas that use pesticides, which may end up in your colony, causing problems. One easy way to kill such insects is to freeze them or dip them quickly in boiling water; doing so can also kill parasites that might be present.

  • Store-bought food:

Store-bought ant food or feeders are commonly just found as superworms, mealworms, and crickets at your average pet store. These feeders may last you a while with your colony; however, they will eventually get expensive and tedious to buy over and over. Knowing how to breed them can become very handy. You could also freeze them to kill them and keep them fresh without caring for the feeder insects; don't keep them for too long, as they can lose their freshness. As you need them, please take a few out to thaw, cut them into pieces and offer them to your colony.

A small magnetic dish designed to hold mealworms in place inside ant outworlds.
  • Breeding your own feeder insects!

When it comes to breeding feeders for your little friends, you have to make it suitable for your feeders to hatch, grow, and breed. A constant supply of fresh insects is ideal as you can be sure they will be free from pesticides; it also ensures the most nutritional value available to your ants. 

 

Let's start with the standard darkling beetle larvae commonly found in rotting logs, also known as mealworms. This specific feeder insect is relatively easy to breed. They would need a medium to grow in, like oats or wheat bran (I prefer bran), and varying sources of protein and water, like carrots and potatoes. As time progresses, your worms eventually turn into pupae and beetles. Next, you would need to add egg crates for an egg-laying station for the beetles. Continue the diet, and in no time, you'll have new mealworms ready to harvest and continue the cycle!

 

Another perfect option is to culture wingless fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster); doing so is very easy. Fruit flies are soft-bodied, so it is easy for your ants to extract the nutrients; this makes them ideal for small colonies; the fact that they can not fly means ants can hunt them quickly, and because they are tiny, they are effortless to offer inside test tubes. A culture of flies requires a small container with a ventilated mesh lid, media for the flies to stand on and a nutritious substrate at the bottom, often based on oats or potato flakes and yeast. 

 

Every other bug you plan to breed will always need the ideal environment for hatching, growing, and breeding, allowing you to self-perpetuate your feeders' growth.

The fruit fly culture kit is an easy way to provide ant food to any colony.jpg

Great, I have my feeders; now what?

At this point, you would feed your ants. Cut the feeder up for a small colony or provide it whole for a larger colony. Depending on the ant, they may have a more favoured meal, so keep that in mind before mass breeding/buying/hunting feeder insects.

 

It's advisable to feed ants once per day, aligning with their natural daily foraging patterns, which can be understood better by observing your ants' activity. This observation will help you tailor feeding times to their active periods. Larger colonies may have different needs, requiring less frequent feeding intervals. As a baseline, ensure that your ants receive protein at least twice weekly and carbohydrates at least once weekly to maintain a balanced diet. The portion sizes will vary based on the colony size; for instance, a small colony would thrive with a single drop of sugar water and 1 to 3 fruit flies every three days. As the colony expands, the portions will need to be increased gradually to meet the growing demand for sustenance, ensuring that larger colonies continue to receive adequate nourishment.

 

Feeding dishes, trays, liquid feeders and other feeding accessories are not required but can make feeding and removing leftovers and waste much more effortless.

Clean up!

Maintaining a clean feeding area is essential for the health of your ant colony. It's advisable to regularly remove any uneaten food to prevent the growth of mold and to keep the environment sanitary. After feeding, ants might leave behind remnants which they usually transport to a designated garbage dump in the outworld. You can use tweezers to pick up and dispose of this leftover food.

 

While small amounts of mold are not harmful to ants, it's still a good practice to keep their area clean. If you notice that the ants have left excess food in the nest, give them some time. They'll likely move it to their garbage pile in the outworld, making it easier for you to clean up later.

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