Pokémon GO Is Just Like Ant Keeping

To everyone who heard the fuss about Pokémon GO, wouldn’t you also say that catching ants is similar to catching Pokémon? We go out ant try to catch as many species as possible, especially the rare ones, and test tubes are our Poké Balls.

Pokémon GO is a new augmented-reality mobile game which uses GPS and the Google Maps API, forcing the player to actually go out there and walk around in order to find Pokémon. I absolutely love the game, and I’ve been playing it for the past days straight. But when you’re out there, you could as well look for real animals and plants. Searching for insects, birding or identifying plants is just as fun as catching Pokémon (except for the battles). There are thousands and thousands species out there that you could discover.

I’ve made this comparison before to convince people that nature is really fun. As for me, I’m going to keep looking for species both in the Pokémon Universe and our universe. I’ll have my cake and eat it too.

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This Ant Colony Simulator Looks Great and You Can Back It

Empires of the Undergrowth: Rise of the Colony is a simulation-style strategy game giving you the possibility to control an ant colony. Finally a good looking ant-based game is being developed and you can back it now on Kickstarter. While the £10,000 goal is reached, you can still pledge in order to help the developers reach their £12000 stretch goal, which will result in an unlockable ant species being included in the game. You can even vote which species you’d like to see as the unlockable species: the dracula ant (Adetomyrma venatrix) or the bullet ant (Paraponera clavata).

Empires of the undergrowth
© Slug Disco Studios – Source

Both a Steam and a DRM free version of the game will available. To me, the game looks rather realistic, so I think it will please me and other ant enthousiasts.

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The Best Ant Documentaries out There

Despite their incredibly interesting behaviour, ants have been the subject of fewer documentaries than they should have. Ocassionally whole episodes are devoted to ants, but most of the time they pop up a few minutes in a documentary about insects. Fortunately there are some awesome documentaries out there completely devoted to ants, and in this post the best three ant documentaries are listed for your convenience. These documentaries have succesfully brought the wonderful world of ants to a broader audience.

Ants – Nature’s Secret Power

Bert Hölldobler, the ant guru himself, takes you into the life of many different species, thereby introducing you to the incredible world of ants. This documentary also includes the famous scene – probably known to many of those interested in ants – of a huge ant nest casted in concrete.

Empire of the Desert Ants

This BBC documentary narrows down the subject by focusing on one species, the wonderful honeypot ant (Myrmecocystus mimicus), which is known for having specialized workers with swollen gasters filled with food. Packed with splendid views inside the ants’ nests, “Empire of the Desert Ants “will not fail to amaze you.

Planet Ant – Life Inside the Colony

BBC’s “Life Inside the Colony” is my personal favorite. It’s about one of the most interesting and beautiful ants, the leafcutter ants. In this documentary, a huge colony of leafcutter ants is transported into a laboratory setup in order to study them. This gives the viewer an insight inside the colony as never seen before. Some other species are featured as well, like fire ants.

Enjoy! If you happen to know more interesting documentaries, please share with us in the comments.

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A Small Formicarium for Temnothorax

Temnothorax species are very tiny ants and form small colonies (with less than 100 workers), which are able to fit in small cavities like crevices in rocks, twigs and even acorns. They are not aggressive at all and can even be kept in communal formicariums. When looking for a new nest, scout workers are sent to check for possible nests. These scouts calculate the area of the potential nest and decide whether the colony should move to the new spot.

In order to keep a Temnothorax sp. colony, one must provide them with a very small nest. Even a test tube may be too large for these ants. They only need an area of around 1 to 4 cm², and not higher than a few millimeters. Making a formicarium for these ants is therefore challenging, but fun. There are many creative formicariums possible. Some people like to use cork. I’ve made very small ytong nests in the past, but I wanted something smoother for this species. So when I stumbled upon a transparent eye shadow box in a store, I immediately knew what I was gonna use it for.

I removed the eye shadow, drilled a very tiny entrance and filled the box with a little bit of plaster to make the bottom white for better visibility of the ants. Note that this little box is only a few centimeters wide.

Temnothorax nest
Thanks, eye shadow!

I’ve been using this nest for over a year now, and the ants seem to do very well. I put it in a larger box with a lid, because these ants are very small and therefore escape artists. The only downside is that I can’t moisten the nest without opening the lid (which causes panic in the colony), but lucky for me Temnothorax can withstand very extreme conditions. I haven’t moistened the nest for several months now, but the ants are still doing great. That’s because their natural nests can become very dry too. Imagine a crevice in a rock where no water reaches.

The species I put in this nest is probably Temnothorax nylanderi, however I’m not sure. I’ve found these ants in a rotten acorn in the forest. You can see in the photos below how the nest looks with the ants in it.

Temnothorax nylanderi
Temnothorax cf. nylanderi in the mini formicarium – the plaster is not so smooth anymore and they have used some of it to fill in gaps under the lid
Temnothorax nylanderi
Even the queen is incredibly tiny – note the worker going through the entrance on the far right

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New Page: Ant Caresheets

As a website for ant keepers, ANTfinity needs more elaboration in different ant species, so I’ve decided to add caresheets to ANTfinity for different species of ants. Caresheets are widely available on the internet for most pets, but they are lacking for ant species. They provide accessible and brief schemes with information about how to take care of a certain species. You can access ANTfinity’s ant caresheets through the Caresheets page. For now, I’ve only written a caresheet for Lasius niger, but I’ll write caresheets for more species soon. Subscribe to ANTfinity if you want to stay updated. Check out the caresheet for Lasius niger here or tell me which species you’d like to see a caresheet for in the comments. If you’d like to contribute by writing a caresheet for a certain species, you can use the Lasius niger caresheet as a template and e-mail it to me by using the contact form. If your caresheet will be used on the website, I’ll provide the caresheet with attribution and a link. Hopefully, the caresheets will contribute to making the ant keeping hobby more accessible and easy for beginners.

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AntMaps.org Is The World’s First Interactive Ant Map

AntMaps.org is the world’s first interactive ant map and it’s awesome. It shows information about the geographic habitat of around 15,000 ant species. By clicking on a country or region on the map, a pop-up shows you a list of all native species of that country or region. Colors indicate the species-richness of a region (showing 0 native species for Greenland, and around 1,500 native species for Queensland). It’s even possible to select a subfamily or genus to see where they occur. But that’s not all. I would suggest playing with the map to see for yourself what its possibilities are.

The map uses the Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics (GABI) database, a project led by the same two people responsible for AntMaps.org. The GABI database is funded by the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology and the University of Hong Kong.

Just like AntWiki.org and AntWeb.org, AntMaps.org is a very useful website for myrmecologists, but also for hobbyists and ant keepers who are interested in ant diversity. Therefore I will add it to the links in the sidebar.

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Is Feeding Your Ants a High-Protein Diet a Good Idea?

According to Betteridge’s law of headlines, the answer should be no. Feeding your ants a high-protein diet seems like a great idea in order to increase your colony’s growth rate. After all, queens need protein to produce eggs and larvae need protein to grow. So more protein equals a larger colony, right?

According to this study by Dussutour and Simpson (2012), the above mentioned equation is not true at all. The researchers have used Lasius niger in their study. First, the effect of protein-to-carbohydrate ratio was determined, resulting in a reduced survival with a high-protein diet. Further experiments showed that the increased mortality was due to the increased protein intake rather than the decreased carbohydrate intake. The researcher conclude that a high-protein diet not only decreases the worker lifespan, but also reduces colony size.

So for optimal colony growth, what ratio should you feed your ants? The study showed that with a 1:5 (protein-to-carbohydrate) ratio, ants lived longest. However, lower protein diets were not included in the study. It is therefore hard to tell if you should feed your ants even less protein, but for Lasius niger you should probably not exceed the protein-to-carbohydrate ratio of 1:5.

An important sidenote to this study is that it was performed on worker ants without any brood, meaning they weren’t able to regurgitate the protein in order to transfer it to larvae. In a colony, most of the protein would not be digested by the worker ant like in this study. Further research is therefore needed to determine the effects of diet on colonies.

Implementing the results of this study for the ant keeping hobby, I would suggest that synthetic foods (such as honeydew surrogate), which force the ants a fixed intake of nutrients, should be prepared with a bit of care. Increasing the amino acid concentration in the honeydew surrogate recipe for example, would probably be a bad idea for most ant species. You should stick with the original recipe. When providing protein and carbohydrates in seperate sources, you shouldn’t worry too much though.

Feeding ants
Lasius niger feeding on honeydew secreted by aphids. Natural honeydew has very low protein concentrations.
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The Dementor Wasp Is Named After Harry Potter’s Dementors

A new species of wasp is named after the soul-sucking dementors from the Harry Potter books. The dementor wasp, or Ampulex dementor, belongs to the family of cockroach wasps (Ampulicidae). These wasps sting cockroaches in order to paralyze them, so their larvae can feed on the living cockroaches.

The Dementors from Harry Potter are fictional creatures that deliver a Dementor’s Kiss in order to consume a person’s soul. The victim is left in an irreversible vegetative state, a fate considered worse than death.

The dementor wasp’s sting resembles the Dementor’s Kiss, inhibiting certain behaviors of the cockroach, so it doesn’t flee. The cockroach is partly paralyzed and doesn’t resist when the dementor wasp pulls it by its antennae. Just like with the victim of the fictional Dementor, the cockroach’s free will is permanently gone. Although it’s alive, its body is just a non-responding, empty shell.

Even more interesting is the way the dementor wasp was named. The Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin asked visitors of the museum to vote on a name. They could choose from four options and in my opinion they chose the coolest. The museum named the wasp through voting in order to engage visitors in biodiversity research. I think they did a great job.

dementor wasp
Ampulex dementor – Photo by Bernard Schurian

However, this is not the first time an animal is named after a fictional character. The jumping spider Bagheera kiplingi is named after the vegetarian black panther Bagheera from Jungle Book, because the spider, like Bagheera, has a mostly herbivorous diet, which is unique for a spider. There is also an arachnid named Draculoides bramstokeri, a name I assume doesn’t require further explanation. Other recognizable examples include the spider Hortipes terminator, the fish Otocinclus batmani, the hexapod Gollumjapyx smeagol, the wasp Polemistus chewbacca, the genus of mites Darthvaderum and, while we’re on a Star Wars spree anyway, the trilobite Han solo.

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