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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Ant Keeping Struggles

Last months, I’ve been periodically working on a big formicarium for my Lasius niger colony. It took a while to get things done, because I was very busy. However, now the summer vacation has kicked in and I’m back from my holiday trip, I thought it was a good opportunity to finish the project.

The idea is to carve out Ytong nests and place these vertically in an aquarium. The spare space in the aquarium serves as the foraging area. The entire formicarium is therefore settled in one aquarium, without having the need to connect the outworld and nest through cumbersome ways. On Antforum.nl we call it a “formiquarium” (a pretty clever portmanteau, isn’t it?). The front and sides of the aquarium will have nests and the top of the nests will be covered to serve as the foraging area.

I’ve been carving out the Ytong nests. So far, so good. However, today I shattered the aquarium, which I found in a second-hand store for around 5 dollars! I accidently kicked it with my knee. So now I’ve got to find a new aquarium and I doubt that I will be so lucky again to find it that cheap.

(Photos with phone.)

Yeah, I did that.

Although the project is delayed until I have a new aquarium, I will tease you with the Ytong nests, which are already finished. The three blocks are supposed to be placed in an aquarium as shown, and the top will be covered with some kind of panel for the ants to forage on. The empty space between the blocks will serve as a water reservoir.

Work in progress.
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