Food for Ants
(A beginners guide)
Our ants have to eat something eventually. They are omnivores, meaning they eat a variety of foods. So what would they eat in captivity?
Ants need a constant source of food. They also need a varied food source to obtain diverse nutrients (do not stick to the same diet repeatedly). In the case of fully-claustral queens, the food needs to be present as soon as the first workers eclose. In the case of semi-claustral queens, such needs to be present from the beginning. It is ideal for providing food to use a small foraging area (outworld) vs inserting the food directly into test tubes.
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” (a mix of honey and maple syrup and nothing else) 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.
What to feed ants?
To give a healthy diet to your ants, provide fresh water, carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates provide energy to adult workers, and protein develops new eggs and larvae; the queen needs a constant protein intake to lay eggs constantly.
Fresh water is essential and should always be present; when inside a test tube, ants will get their water from the cotton. The water used in the formicarium controls the humidity of the environment but is not always available for drinking; provide it in the outworld by using a liquid feeder or a test tube with water and cotton, ensure there is always a source for them.
Carbohydrates include anything sugary; this includes multiple household items. Ensure to wash your fruits before feeding them to your ants to remove any leftover pesticides on the skin. You can make sugar water by mixing a 4:1 ratio of four parts water and one part sugar. It is best to keep your sugary solutions runny and diluted; a very sticky solution can be a death trap as it is very sticky. Remember that watery liquid sugars ferment fast, unlike thick solutions (honey), so it is best to replace them often. It is essential to point out that ants prefer sugars in liquid form vs solids or thick solutions.
Ants seem to prefer sucrose over glucose and fructose; the sugars in maple syrup are primarily in the form of sucrose, with some glucose and fructose. In honey, the sugars are mainly in the form of fructose and glucose, with some sucrose. In refined sugar (white sugar), the sugars are primarily in the form of sucrose. Brown sugar contains sucrose, in addition to some fructose and glucose.
Recommended protein to feed your ants includes fresh feeder insects, including those found outside, superworms, mealworms, crickets, fruit flies, etc. When looking for bugs outside, please avoid beetles and millipedes as they tend to carry a defence mechanism that could harm your ants. Some things that are ant friendly are grubs, grasshoppers/crickets, centipedes, or termites. In addition, as an emergency source, meat can be provided to your ants, for example, ham, beef, eggs or chicken (cooked but with no condiments).
Some ants have specialized diets and prefer other food sources like seeds; examples are harvester ants.
How to obtain ant foods that occur outside and where?
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 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; just don't keep them for too long as they can lose their freshness. As you need them, take a few out to thaw, cut them into pieces and offer them to your colony.
Breeding your ant food!
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 you could find in rotting logs. This specific feeder insect is relatively easy to breed. They would need a medium to grow in, like oats, and varying sources of protein and water like carrots and potatoes. As time progresses, your worms eventually turn into pupae and beetles. 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.