In the Netherlands, many ant keepers feed their ants something called “honeydew surrogate”. It’s a homemade golden liquid of which the composition is designed to imitate the honeydew secreted by aphids. In nature, honeydew is the main source of nutrients for many ant species. Homemade honeydew surrogate contains sugars, amino acids and vitamins, in concentrations that are almost identical to that of natural honeydew. However, its amino acid content is ten times higher than that of natural honeydew. This is done on purpose, because in nature, ants have to travel much longer distances to gather honeydew than in captivity, using up a significant part of the sugars and therefore concentrating the amino acids in honeydew before reaching their nests.

Many ant species seem te love honeydew surrogate. I feed it to my ants and when I’m short of insects to feed them, the amino acids in honeydew surrogate are an excellent replacement for insect protein. However, I like to add insects to my ants’ diet, just to make sure they get enough protein. Honeydew surrogate is easy and cheap to make and the batch will last for quite a time, depending on the number of colonies you have and their sizes.

I guess you’re dying to know how to make honeydew surrogate for your ants. I’ve translated the Dutch recipe for honeydew surrogate that can be found here on AntForum.nl (page is in Dutch). All credits go to user Mika, the inventor of honeydew surrogate, and to user Floris, who took the time and effort to share the recipe. My purpose is to make it accessible for other countries as well.

Honeydew surrogate recipe

Ingredients:

  • 25 ml of liquid amino acids (also known as BCAA) *
  • 50 ml of maple syrup, honey is fine too
  • 130 grams of glucose (also known as dextrose or grape sugar), table sugar is fine too
  • 480 ml of water

You will also need:

  • Measuring cup
  • Kitchen scale
  • Stirrer (e.g. spoon)
  • Syringes (no needle required)

* You might wonder where to get liquid amino acids. Liquid amino acids are sold in (online) sport supplement stores. The supplement serves as a quick and easy source of amino acids for bodybuilders. Try to look for liquid amino acids in ampoules, because you will only need one ampoule. They often come in packs of 10, 20 or 30, so although one ampoule isn’t expensive at all, the whole pack will be expensive while you won’t need all ampoules. Try to share the ampoules with other ant keepers and split the costs, or try to get your hands on one ampoule from a bodybuilder or a nearby gym.

 

Honeydew surrogate
All you need to make honeydew surrogate

Time to make the honeydew surrogate. Dissolve the glucose in the water in a large container. Stir or heat to increase the dissolution rate. Now add the maple syrup and stir. Finally, add the liquid amino acids and stir. Your honeydew surrogate is done! This recipe yields about 650 ml honeydew surrogate.

Honeydew surrogate is prone to spoiling, so it must be freezed prior to storing. I always fill a few syringes with the solution and then I freeze these. I store the remaining batch in a large bottle and freeze that too. When I need to feed my ants, I thaw a syringe by placing it at room temperature for about an hour. When all syringes are empty, I thaw the large bottle with the honeydew surrogate batch and refill my syringes after cleaning them thoroughly. Using this method, the batch lasts for months. Bon appétit.

Honeydew surrogate
The “golden elixer” of ant keeping. On the left: what honeydew surrogate looks like when finished. On the right: honeydew surrogate frozen in syringes.
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10 thoughts on “Honeydew Surrogate: Ants’ Golden Elixer

    1. I’m not sure what the product you link to contains. In which country are you located? Liquid amino acids (or BCAA’s) should be available as a bodybuilding supplement. You can order it online as well.

      1. I’m in the US. I have found amino acids online but only in powder form. Would you happen to have a link for a liquid version online?

        1. I did an extensive search for US suppliers, and you are absolutely right that it’s kind of hard to find in the US.
          The product we have been using for years in the Netherlands among ant keepers is this one: http://www.sportfoodshop.com/artikel.php?artikelgroep_id=190 which is manufactured by a Belgian company. But unfortunately they don’t ship to the US.

          On eBay I’ve found this product:
          http://www.ebay.com/itm/T-J-Clarks-Liquid-Amino-Acid-Advanced-Formula-/141418013265?hash=item20ed2ba251
          This product (shipped from and to the US) approaches the composition of the Belgian product. Not all amino acids match, but the purpose is to offer your ants as much different amino acids as possible in higher concentrations than natural honeydew. I would use one or two servings (1/2 to 1 tablespoon or 8 to 16 ml) of this product in the recipe. This product also contains minerals which is a good thing. We strive to offer vitamins and minerals to the ants anyway by adding maple syrup to the recipe.

          However, if you decide to buy, please test the product with some worker ants first before offering it to your colony, just to make sure its components are tolerated. And, as mentioned in the article above, always keep offering insects as a protein source besides honeydew surrogate.

          Hopefully this has been helpful. If you succeed to make the honeydew surrogate, please let me know your experiences.

    1. That’s a good product. It contains even more different amino acids than the product I use. Note that they are softgels with liquid inside them. You have to cut open the softgels in order to obtain the liquid aminos. Also you should calculate how much softgels you have to use to get a total amount of amino acids equal to the amount in the recipe. Compare with this product: http://www.sportfoodshop.com/artikel.php?artikelgroep_id=190

  1. Hi, This is a very helpful article thank you.

    I made this using the recipe (one change is I used golden syrup) but so far have found that my Pheidole pallidula colony will not touch it? Any ideas or advice would be greatly welcome.

    1. Thanks. That’s weird, because Pheidole pallidula should accept honeydew surrogate. I’m wondering if you provide them with seeds? If so, then it might be possible that they get enough sugars out of the seeds and therefore don’t touch the honeydew surrogate. To test this theory, you could check if they accept normal sugar water.

      1. Thank you very much for your reply. I haven’t offered any seeds as yet, is there a particular type? (forgive me I am a novice)
        Funny enough I did put a small test tube of sugared water in which remained untouched (3 days) until this evening and I am seeing the most activity I have seen from the colony since one of the wax worms I chopped in two, decided to survive and crawl into the nest area!! ( a very interesting encounter that ended up with the queen getting stuck in and biting the wax worms head off – I was strangely very proud!)

        1. Bird seed is fine, make sure you crush it a bit to make it easer for them to consume, it’s a small species after all.
          You’ve got a tough little queen there, great to hear she’s able to stand up for herself!

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