While many ant keepers happily keep both exotic and native ant species, there are many who also believe that keeping to the species you would find naturally in your region is the more ecologically responsible way to keep ants. In countries like the US, there are even laws to back up this approach, with bans even on taking ants across state boundaries.



Keeping exotics

It’s only natural, as ant enthusiasts, to be interested in different species of ants, and the more exotic and rare they are, the more they may appeal to some keepers. For those of us in regions where ants go into diapause over the cooler months, there is little to do and little to see in native colonies, so having an exotic colony or two can give us a little ant fix over the winter months. 

As these species generally come from warmer climates, they will often need a little extra warmth during cooler weather. Learning to care for these different species with their different needs helps in developing a keeper’s own skills and experience, especially with some of the more difficult-to-keep species. This means that you may have to invest in equipment like heating mats and thermometers to keep these colonies comfortable. Exotic species are also generally more expensive to purchase than native species,, although this obviously depends on the size of the colony, how common the species is, and how popular they are. 

In addition to any legal considerations there may be in your local region, ant keepers with exotic colonies in their collections also have a responsibility to ensure that these colonies do not escape to potentially impact the local environment. As demonstrated by such invasive species as Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) and red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta), the potential consequences of exotic species escaping and becoming entrenched in non-native regions can be dire, resulting in significant damage to local wildlife, property, and more. This can be as a result of physical destruction, competition with native species or through disease.



Keeping natives

There are many pros to keeping native species of ants. Not only are they already adapted to your local conditions, which means that you won’t need to bother with any heating mats, thermometers or any particular monitoring equipment, so there will be more money available to spend on ant real estate! If you time it right, you can also catch your own queens during nuptial flight seasons, meaning you can get into the hobby or add to your existing collection with minimal investment.

Choosing to keep natives also means that you don’t need to worry about the ecological consequences of any escapees, although this does only relate to those caught within your region. If you have purchased native species from an ant dealer, please do bear in mind that some of these may still be imported from other countries that also have these species natively and thus the threat of disease crossover if they come into contact with the external environment is still relevant. Remember, the source of your ants colonies matters!

Legally, there are some laws in certain countries that govern keeping or catching certain protected species. Catching some Formica species (for example, F. rufa) is illegal in certain parts of Europe, so it’s a good idea to check on your local laws before getting your test tubes out.



So there you have it, some of the main considerations when deciding on whether to keep natives or exotics include cost, ease of care, legality, and ecological concerns. Many ant keepers happily keep both natives and exotics. It’s a great way to enjoy the benefits of both worlds and learn more about different species of ants that originate from different parts of the world. Seeing some of the amazing adaptations that ant species from around the world have developed is a great learning experience. However, it’s important to make sure you’re aware of the laws surrounding the import of ants if you are considering keeping non-native species and, whether you are buying natives or exotics, always buy from a reputable dealer!

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

Photo by Zen Chung from Pexels

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.

Getting ready

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.

The excitement of ant keeping still hasn’t stopped, it has only grown. With the magazine, we can share some of the joy of that with others in the ant keeping community worldwide. With readers in 23 countries across the planet, I’m sure there are some great stories of how you got into ant keeping! If you’d like to share your story with us, please write it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and tell us in 500 words or less how you go into ant keeping.