Food for Ants
(A beginner's guide)
As our ants are omnivores, they require a diverse diet to survive. Thus, we must find suitable ant food to nourish them in captivity. To assist you in this endeavour, this beginner's guide will provide valuable insights on sourcing appropriate food for your ant colony.
Ants require a steady supply of food to keep them healthy and active. They must get different types of food to get all the nutrients they need (do not stick to the same diet repeatedly). In the case of fully-claustral queens, the food should be available as soon as the first workers close (hatch). And for semi-claustral queens, the food should be there right from the beginning. Putting the food in a small area outside the nest is better than directly in their living space. This foraging area is called the outworld.
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 days when we lack fresh ingredients. Often such products contain preservatives for them 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, and it is to be used as an occasional supplement or for days when we lack fresh insects as a source of protein.
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 contains primarily fructose and glucose with 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 the case of an emergency, meat can also be provided as a source of protein. Cooked ham, beef, eggs, or chicken (without condiments) can be offered to your ants to help them meet their protein requirements.
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.
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 deep them quickly n boiling water; doing so can also kill parasites that might be present.
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.
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.
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.
Give your ants protein twice weekly and carbohydrates at least once weekly. For a small colony, a single drop of sugar and 1 to 3 fruit flies every three days is more than enough. For larger colonies, portions will have to increase gradually as the colony expands.
Feeding dishes, trays, liquid feeders and other feeding accessories are not required but can make feeding and removing leftovers and waste much more effortless.
Ants leave a messy sight after a feast. Generally, ants would bring excess food to their garbage dump located in the outworld. Then, using tweezers, pick up the food and dispose of it. Do not worry if it has mould; small amounts of mould will not harm ants.
However, if the ants leave the excess food in the nest, wait a little longer as they will probably put it in their trash pile later.