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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