This care guide is for non-parasitic Formica species only, care guide on how to raise parasitic species will be for another time. In the meantime, take a look at this "How to Raise Parasitic Formica Species" by AntsBC
Formica is a genus of ants in the family Formicidae, commonly known as wood ants, mound ants, thatching ants, and field ants. They are one of the easiest ants to keep and make a very suitable beginner species. There are almost 300 species within this genera spanning the entire Northern hemisphere, in this extensive care guide, I will discuss the complete care information for you to successfully raise species of this amazing genus.
This care guide is only from my own experience, others may have different opinions on how to keep species from this genus.
In general, Formica species are one of the easiest species to keep, however, some species require extra care and special needs in order to thrive. This genus is split roughly into 6 species groups based on their outer appearance. The six groups with example species are:
Sanguinea group: Formica aserva, Formica pergandei, Formica rubicunda etc
Rufa group: Formica obscuripes, Formica oreas, Formica fossaceps etc
Neogagates group: Formica Bradleyi, Formica limata, Formica neogagates etc
Exsecta group: Formica Exsectoides, Formica Ulkei etc
Microgyna group: Formica Spatulata etc
Fusca group: Formica fusca, Formica argentea, Formica neorufibarbis
Sanguinea group, Rufa group, and Exsecta group are mostly parasitic and slave-raiding species, and their care will not be covered in this blog.
Formica species are found worldwide in many different locations, with varying weather and environments. One should account for where their queens came from and what environment it was native to when dealing with the ideal temperature range for these ants.
For most species, keeping them at a steady 27 degrees celsius is a good start, of course, most of the species within this genus doesn't need that high of a temperature, but it makes their brood develop faster and the colony more active. However, some species require higher temperatures compared to others, such as the species found in the deserts of California and Arizona, while others prefer a lower temperature, like the ones found in the mountain ranges of Canada.
I keep all my Formica species at around 26 degrees, seeing they were mostly caught on the mountains in Vancouver, where 4 months of the year the ground is covered by meters of snow.
Some people prefer to give their ants a night time drop to simulate their natural habitat, and some people just keep the temperature at a consistent degree all day long. Both methods have been proven to have good results.
Humidity is another key requirement for keeping Formica species, luckily, it is a requirement quite easily met. Most Formica species prefer to nest in the ground, or rotten logs, in their natural habitat, the ants have the ability to tunnel deep and search for optimal humidity and temperature levels for themselves and their brood. In captivity, the ants have fewer opportunities to do that, so we as keepers need to make sure we provide them with the right amount of humidity.
Ants within the Formica genus prefer a medium level of humidity, meaning moist, but not wet. around 40-60% humidity is perfect for them. This can be easily achieved for single queens and small colonies by housing them in a simple test tube setup, however, for larger colonies, it might prove to be a bit more difficult.
My recommendation for larger colonies is to keep them in nests where one can manually adjust the humidity level. For example a larger ytong nest, or bamboo tubes, or simply even just multiple test tubes attached to an outworld.
With ytong nests, us as keepers can choose to water one side of the nest, letting the water seep through thus creating a gradual humidity effect, with the watered side being moister where the ants would most likely prefer to keep their brood, and the drier side more suitable to other needs.
Bamboo tubes are one of my personal favourite nests, for nearly all ant species, the multiple chambers with a layer of gypsum at the bottom allow the water added in the water reservoir to slowly seep through the material, once again making a gradual drop in humidity the further away from the chamber the water reservoir is. Allowing the ants inside to choose which humidity level they prefer.
Finally, one of the simplest ways to manually control the humidity level in your nest is to connect up multiple test tubes to an outworld, give some of the test tubes a normal water reservoir, some double cotton, and some no water at all! this provides the ants with the choice to choose between whichever tube they prefer, and after a while, one may change all the tubes to the type they prefer to provide more suitable nesting space.
Finding the best and most suitable nest to house your colonies can be a real pain in the butt, luckily for you, we have compiled a list of our personal favourite nests to house ants of the Formica genus and reasons why you should consider choosing them.
Bamboo tubes are super versatile and allow the keeper to easily adjust the amount of water added in order to adjust the humidity, this is extremely important because being able to control humidity may determine how comfortable your colony is. A very thin layer of gypsum is used to spread water throughout the entire tube, and the chamber design is great to make queens feel secure. This is a fantastic option for founding queens and small colonies.
Plaster and gypsum nests are one of the most basic and simple nests commonly available on the market today, they are great more many different species and fit lots of requirements. Most plaster nests include a watering chamber or water tower, which allows us to adjust the humidity levels according to our ant's needs, the nest offeres great visibility and provides lots of space for colony growth, they come in all sizes and colors so you can choose whichever one you like the best!
Some cons with plaster nests is that it could mold quite easily, especially with higher humidity levels, and is even more prone to molding if the nest is too big for the colony living in it, and the ants stack their garbage inside one of the chambers. However, most plaster nests can be taken apart quite easily and are reusable after being throughly cleaned.
Overall, they are a decent choice of nest if you are looking for a cheap, inexpensive and all in one set-up.
Ytong/AAC/Pumice Stone Nests
Photo credit to Ants Australia
This is a great and easy alternative to gypsum, and sometimes even better! It is also favoured by hobbists due to the high DIY capabilities because it offers many ways of customization. This material is really wonderful in my opinion, it has tiny air bubbles which makes the bricks light, and the material is very malleable, it can be easily carved out by a dremel or even a screwdriver. The nest lets in water easily but can sometimes fail to keep the humidity in for long periods of time, so the keeper would need to constantly add water to the nest to prevent it from drying out. However, there has been many methods to prevent the water from evaporating way too quickly, with my personal favourite being coating outer surface of the material with a layer of sanded grout, it has shown great results in my testings.
The ytong nests offer a watering area just like the gypsum nests, however, one can argue it spreads water even better! It is super versatile, allowing the keeper to adjust how much water to add in accordance to the species' natural habitat. Ytong nests also come in many different sizes and shapes, so there are many options to choose from. The different sizes are also very useful, allowing one to simply link one up to another for easy rehousing or expansion.
One of the most basic, yet effective method of raising ants, Formica included. This method is cheap, simple, and is great for colonies of all sizes. Test tube set-ups are great because they are easy and quick to set-up, and you can keep the ants in there for a long time before they outgrow it, and even if they do, we can easily add in another tube, or 10 other tubes according to the colony size. The environment a test tube set up creates with a water reservoir is almost perfect for most ant species, allowing for enough moisture so their brood doesn't dry out, but not so much that it's bad for the ants.
It is also easy to provide different humidity levels for your ants as well, for example, in a nest of 6 test tubes attached to an outworld, 2 of them could be normal test tube set ups, providing the highest humidity level, 2 of them would have double the amount of cotton, providing a medium humidity level, and the 2 last ones would have no water reservoir at all, providing no extra moisture! This would allow the ants to choose whichever condition they prefer.
Food and Nutrition:
Formica is usually a very forgiving genus when it comes to feeding, most colonies would readily accept a variety of different foods including protein, and sugar. I've found that smaller colonies, while also quite hungry and will actively chow down on food, are much more timid than larger colonies. With a general rule of thumb, colonies under 50 workers will be much shyer than the ones above 50 workers, and accept less food.
For new founding queens and small colonies, not a lot of food is required, especially for new queens. It is okay to not give freshly mated queens any food while she found her colony, but I always like to give my queens a drop of honey water once in a while to boost her energy. Newer and smaller colonies will not accept protein as readily as larger colonies would, they would prefer drops of honey water once or twice a week and may accept some smaller pieces of protein, such as fruit flies. However, large colonies can go through multiple mealworms, crickets, and other insects in one feeding session, all to feed their hungry, fast-growing larvae.
Here are some foods I recommend giving to your Formica colonies:
Protein: Crickets, mealworms, superworms, termites, fruitflies, roaches. (Make sure to switch up the variety once in a while, it is beneficial to your ant's health.)
Sugars: Sugar water, crystallized sugar, protein jelly, pure honey, honey water, honeydew extract, fruits like apples, pears, or watermelon.
Formica species do not collect or consume seeds.
Hibernation is a topic commonly discussed by antkeepers and hobbyists around the globe, some does it, some doesn't.
Hibernation is a time where the colony takes a well deserved rest and regains energy for the next season, the queen stops laying eggs and all the ants' metabolism slows down, there is no need to feed the colony at this time, just keep it moist and they will be just fine.
The reason for hibernation is to let the queen rest, without it, the colony will slow down gradually to a point. It is widely known that hibernation causes the colony's lifespan to be drastically reduced, it's like a machine running non-stop, it will eventually break down.
Personally, I feel like hibernation is only necessary if the area your ants come from naturally has a cold winter season. And depending on the length and severity of the winter season, hibernation can be longer or shorter.
The general rule of thumb of hibernation is around 3-4 months, 2 months minimum for your ants to do the best the following year. A temperature of 8 degrees Celsius is generally recommended for hibernation as well, it can be lower, but not low enough to kill the ants, and can be a little higher as well, but not high enough where the ants' metabolism doesn't slow down properly and they starve to death.
Throughout hibernation, your ants won't require any food whatsoever, and only watering once in a while, but due to lower temperature, the nest stays humid for longer and you wouldn't even need to water that often, it's like a break for you and your ants, Win win!
In Canada, temperatures during the winter months easily drop below zero, and sometimes waaaaay below zero in parts of the country. The ants survive by producing a type of anti-freeze. In ants caught in those parts, hibernation is almost crucial, because it's such a large part of their yearly cycle, without it, a colony's health is drastically reduced. However, in parts of United states, or more tropical countries, hibernation is merely a short time in room temperature (21 degrees celsius) for the ants to thrive. Lucky you!
Formica species are one of the most interesting, beautiful, wide-spread, and rewarding species to keep, they are definitely one of the best genus the antkeeping world has to offer. In this short guide, I tried to explain everything that you would need to keep a healthy, thriving, Formica colony!
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