Hi, I’m Sonata, the Editor of Ant Keeper Magazine. Like you, I’m an ant keeper. Ant keeping is not what anyone would call a mainstream hobby, so I’m always interested in how and why people got into ant keeping in the first instance.
As a parent, I’m always looking for fun ways for my childerbeasts to learn more about the world and I’ve always felt that pets are a good way to do this. However, at the moment, something like a dog or cat would be a bit too much to juggle. Also, I don’t like to do what everyone else does (those who know me well will know about my inability to follow, or even read instructions, those are the first things to go in the bin!). I was looking for something small yet interesting. I was looking for something easy to care for, because we all know who ends up looking after everything, right? I was looking for something that didn’t require too much cold, hard cash.
Considering my options
I looked at African Pygmy Hedgehogs (cute! Expensive!), Giant African Land Snails (we’ve actually got those too, but that’s a different story), reptiles (expensive setup) and more. I’m not sure exactly where I first spotted ants, but I quickly realised that they fulfilled a lot of criteria for me. Easy to care for (depending on species), cheap to start up in, interesting life cycles and remarkably easy to get hold of.
I soon fell headlong into the world of ant keeping, discovering websites, online ant stores (who knew? You knew!), online communities and more! I couldn't wait to get started (for the kids, of course!) and I looked at the usual suspects for buying ants, including eBay, but fortunately, I steered clear of that minefield.
I decided that going native would be a good way to start as native species would be easiest to get hold of and if the children lost interest, then we could always release them safely into the wild. This is a great way to get into ant keeping, particularly if you’ve got children involved as there are low entry barriers to getting started. In certain parts of the world, such as the US, it is also the only legal way to keep ants as importing or exporting ants across national and even state borders is illegal.
Photo by Sonata Winchester
Happily, I was lucky enough to have decided to get into ants right around the onset of nuptial flight season here in the UK. Our very first queen – a Lasius niger – showed up while I was waiting for my eldest daughter to finish up her French lesson! We didn’t have a test tube, so I emptied out a tube of saline wash from the first aid kid in my car, stuffed in some tissues and added some water from my water bottle. I caught Gilly and we officially became ant keepers!
As I hadn’t quite expected to spot queens just yet, we didn’t have the equipment, so I had to order some test tubes and dig out some cotton wool. However, we made sure Gilly was comfortable until this arrived. The excitement of catching our first queen was amazing.
Ant keeping in earnest
Photo by Sonata Winchester
Our first season was really great. I soon learned to carry test tubes with me and took advantage of opportunities for queen collection at the various activities my children went to. Karate was a great location for Myrmica species! At netball, we caught two Formica fusca queens! Our back garden was amazing for all types of species. In all, we caught six different species of queens in our first season! In the years since, we still haven’t beaten that record.