It is time to start your own ant colony. You are ready to catch your first queen and make the first step in your new ant-keeping hobby. Catching queen ants can be an exciting, nerve-racking, or even disappointing experience. You have to be patient and observant when you are on the “hunt”. It might feel a bit like a treasure hunt, being outside, watching the ground, and turning around rocks and branches. But if you follow a few simple rules and be patient, a beautiful first queen ant will soon be yours.
As a whole, you can either look for queens in an already established ant colony and dig her out or search for a freshly mated queen after her nuptial flight. In that case, you can take a walk on a warm and sunny day in spring or summer after a rainstorm and search for a queen crawling on the ground.
In the following sections, I will elaborate on how you can find or dig up a queen in more detail.
How to Catch a Queen Ant
Before you get your containers and test tubes ready, you should ask yourself if you need a queen.
A queen ant can up to almost 30 years, depending on the species, and will continuously produce eggs. She will be the center of your ant colony, responsible for the growth of the nest.
With a queen ant comes responsibility, just like for any other pet you might own. Catching a queen leads to a long-term commitment.
It will also take some time until you can see worker ants crawling around. For some species, it takes up to one or even two years before you can move them into a formicarium.
If you want quicker results and you are looking for some ants for your ant farm in order to learn a bit about their behavior and to study their life, you might be better off with only worker ants.
Ants can live without a queen and will build tunnels, and collect and disassemble food. They can live between a few weeks and some months.
But if you want to start your own pet-ant colony from scratch, you will need a queen ant. And this is how you can get one:
What is the Easiest Way to Get a Queen Ant?
Before you go outside to look for queens, be sure to be equipped. You will be disappointed if you find some beautiful queens, but have nowhere to put them in order to bring them home safely.
You will need test tubes and cotton to close them or snap cap vials. If the vials close air-tight you might want to punch a tiny hole in the lid so that the queen can breathe.
You should also already prepare some test tubes at home. This is where the queen will incubate over the next few months.
Now, what is the best time to find a queen? Most ant species prefer a warm and sunny day in spring or summer to send out their queens to mate. Wait for a rainstorm and look for queens on the next day.
A rainstorm leads to humid soil which is perfect for the queens. They are planning to dig into tree trunks and the ground after they are mated.
A light breeze will help them fly. So these are the perfect conditions: Warm, sunny, humid, light breeze, and a day after a rainstorm.
The so-called nuptial flights, in which the male drones and winged queens fly around to mate happen all day (and even night) long.
Don’t worry too much about the exact time, just go outside during the day and try your luck.
What is a Nuptial Flight
The nuptial flight is the time in which an ant colony sends out their winged male ants and winged virgin queen ants to fly away, mate in the air, and build their own colonies. Every ant species has its own timing for its nuptial flight.
When a queen has successfully mated, she will land on the ground, in many cases throw their wings off and start looking for a nice place for her new colony. This is the perfect time to catch her!
Ways to Catch a Queen
There are two ways to catch a queen.
The first is to catch her after her nuptial flight before she started her own colony.
The second way is to catch her out of an already existing colony. This method requires more than just a test tube to catch a queen because you will try to dig out as many ants as possible.
Before you catch a queen, make sure to check the laws on collecting insects in the area.
Many regions have certain rules when it comes to collecting and keeping ants and you don’t want to break any laws.
If you go on a queen hunt on public ground, get permission first.
Catch a Queen After Her Nuptial Flight
Now let us start with the first possibility: Catch a queen after her nuptial flight.
The queen is successfully inseminated and is now crawling around on the ground to find the perfect and safe stop for her new colony.
Equip yourself with test tubes and containers, one for each queen you find, and go for the hunt.
You can start looking in your own backyard or in the neighborhood. Take a walk to parks, or playgrounds.
Look under rocks and in and around rotten trees. The most important thing is to keep your eyes open and to the ground when searching for queens.
Some might still have their wings on. This is not necessarily a bad sign. Some queens throw their wings off quickly after they mated and landed, but some will keep them on for quite a while.
Just look for any kind of movement on the ground and be patient. Queen ants are not sitting on the ground, waiting for you to catch them.
But get too frustrated if you can’t find a queen right away. Ants are everywhere and if you are patient enough, you will find a queen for sure.
If you find a queen, gently put her in your transport container and make sure not to hurt her.
You can either let her crawl on your hand and then put them in the container or place the container over her and then gently put something underneath and turn the container around.
Only put one queen in one container.
It happens that queens fight or even kill each other and you don’t want to take that risk.
Do not stop collecting when you caught one queen. The more queen ants you catch, the higher the chances that at least one will successfully build a colony.
Catch a Queen Out of an Existing Colony
You can try to catch an entire colony including a single ant or go for an ant species with several ants and just try to catch as many ants as possible to increase the chances to catch at least one queen.
An example of ant species with multiple queens is, for example, the Myrmica Rubra, also known as European fire ants.
The queens of this species tend to build their colonies together after their nuptial flights.
If you go for the Myrmica Rubra, you can look for a nest and dig them out. Collect as many ants as possible.
The chances are very high, that you catch at least one queen ant. But beware, the European fire ant got its name for a reason.
Their stings are very painful and similar to the fire ants from the Solenopsis family. You should definitely wear gloves and rubber boots since these ants are highly aggressive and their attacks are very painful.
You can also try to dig out an entire colony.
Prepare yourself with some buckets and a shovel. If you want to make sure that no ants escape from the bucket, you can put baby powder on top of the bucket and the ants won’t be able to climb out.
You should wear gloves, rubber boots, and prober pants that won’t allow ants to crawl on your legs.
The queen of a colony is somewhere in the center and very well hidden and protected. Try to dig gently and don’t destroy too many tunnels or you might squish the queen.
Put shovel per shovel in the buckets and close the buckets with a lid. Otherwise, your queen might escape. When the entire ant nest is in the buckets you can start digging gently through the colony.
You should do this outside due to obvious reasons. Try to follow the tunnels with a spoon or something similar until you find your queen.
The queen is the biggest ant of them all with the biggest abdomen.
You might be wondering if a queen ant ever leaves her nest, and you can find your answer here: Does a queen ant ever come out.
But the short answer is: Not voluntarily. But in jeopardy, she might come out.
How Does a Queen Ant Look Like
Every day you see ants crawling around, some are tiny, some are major workers, some are soldiers and some are queen ants. But how can you distinguish a queen from other ants?
As a whole, queen ants are generally larger than workers, they have wings or marks where the wings originally were. Queen ants have a bigger thorax which is often higher than the thorax of other ants due to their wing muscles. They also have a big abdomen to be able to lay all the eggs.
How to Differentiate the Queen From Male Drones and Major Worker Ants
As a whole, queens can be differentiated from make drones by their size, thorax (the middle part of the ant’s body), and abdomen. The abdomen is bigger than that of male drones. The queen is also overall bigger and has visible wing scars on her thorax where the wings broke off.
The most noticeable difference between the queen and her workers is the size. Queen ants are much bigger than most of her female worker ants and also bigger than the male drones.
In some cases, ant species have major worker ants that have similar sizes as the queen. If you are not sure, whether the ant you found is a major worker ant or a queen ant, you can have a closer look at her thorax.
The middle part of the ant is called the thorax. This is the part, where the wings grew.
This part is often raised and shaped like a plateau or dome. Many queen ants throw their wings off, once they are mated because they don’t need them anymore.
You can either find queen ants with their wings still on or, if you look close enough, with marks where the wings once were.
Male drones also have wings, but they never throw them off and male ants die right after their nuptial flight.
They are also a lot smaller and thinner than queen ants and have tiny heads.
If you see an ant with wing marks on her thorax, you can be sure that this is a queen.
If you are still not sure, if you caught a queen or a worker ant, you can have a look at her abdomen.
Compare it with other ants from the same species. The abdomen of a queen ant is way bigger than of a normal worker.
This abdomen will lay all the eggs and needs to be that big.
Can a Queen Ant Fly
A queen ant can fly right after she leaves her colony for the first time. She will take off for her nuptial flight in which she mates with a male drone. After she is successfully inseminated, she will hit the ground and never fly again, even if she keeps her wings on.
They simply need to be kept dark and with a source of water. The test tube is perfect for this. The easiest way is to create a sort of water reservoir in the tube by filling it with 1/3 water and then putting a cotton ball in it. The queen will be able to drink from it without drowning.How do you get a queen ant to come out? ›
A toothpick can be used to get a queen ant out of her nest. Simply insert the toothpick into the nest opening and wait for the queen ant to come to the surface. Once she is on the toothpick, carefully remove her from the nest.Can you put a queen ant in an ant farm? ›
You can make an ant farm using just worker ants, but they'll be happier, and your ant farm will last longer, if they have a queen to look after. The queen ant is about 3 times bigger than the worker ants. See if you can find her and add her to your ant farm. If you're lucky, she might lay eggs!Is queen ant rare? ›
First, it's important to note that it's extremely rare for most people to encounter a queen. That's because it's the job of the colony to protect the queen, so she stays hidden in a wood nest most of time. Carpenter ant queens are much larger than other ants in the colony and may measure up to an inch in length.Can a ant colony survive without a queen ant? ›
Worker ants may last weeks or months without a queen. If you want to start an ant farm fast and you want one that will only last for a few weeks or months, all that you will need are some worker ants, without a queen.Can you lure out a queen ant? ›
A toothpick can be used to get a queen ant out of her nest. Simply insert the toothpick into the nest opening and wait for the queen ant to come to the surface. Once she is on the toothpick, carefully remove her from the nest.Will ants leave if Queen dies? ›
The answer is obvious: the colony dies. Ants won't flee to another territory if their queen passes away. Instead, they continue bringing resources back to the settlement until they die of old age or external causes. There won't be a successor to the queen if one dies unless it was a rare situation of multiple queens.What time of year is best to catch a queen ant? ›
Day length, temperature, and rainfall are just a few of the variables to take into consideration for your area regarding when a queen will do this. For dryer areas such as the Southwest, it will usually be in the springtime, whereas later summer monsoons may be the ideal time in other regions.What do ants do when the queen ant dies? ›
While the queen is alive, she secretes pheromones that prevent female worker ants from laying eggs, but when she dies, the workers sense the lack of pheromones and begin fighting each other to take on the top role.Does a queen ant ever come out? ›
You will rarely spot a queen ant outside of the nest because she spends most of her life laying eggs. If the queen is out of the nest, that means it is mating season, and she's on the prowl for a mate.
For one thing, queen ants can be incredibly long-lived – one scientist had a queen that lived for almost 30 years. In the wild, it's not uncommon to find queens that are more than a decade old. Ants from other castes may have a lifespan of a few months to a year or two.How long does it take for a queen ant to make a colony? ›
Depending upon the ant species, it may take from one to several years for a colony to become large enough for the queen to begin producing virgin queens and males that will leave the colony, swarm, mate and begin a new colony in another location. This process and behavior is typical of most ant colonies.
Queen ants typically do not forage, but use the proteins from their decaying flight muscles as a food reserve.Can ants have 2 Queens? ›
Often, an ant colony has more than one queen. The upside: Multiple queens, each raising broods of worker ants, can produce a larger initial workforce in new colonies, increasing the chance the colony will survive the first year.Are queen ants born or made? ›
Ants adhere to a caste system, and at the top is the queen. She's born with wings and referred to as a princess until she takes part in the nuptial flight, mates with a male ant, and flies off to start her own colony.What is the oldest queen ant? ›
A queen ant Lasius niger (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) has the longest recorded adult life of any insect: 28¾ years in captivity.Is there a king ant? ›
In the ant kingdom, there is no such thing as a king ant. The ant castes (queens, workers, and males) perform specific tasks and work together to achieve a peaceful and working ant colony. The queen ant is given the title because she is the mother of all the ants in the colony.Can worker ants turn into queens? ›
The team found switching the expression of just a single protein, Kr-h1, in the brains of ants is enough to elevate an ant from worker to queen. Kr-h1's responds to two hormones: one found more in workers, and one found in greater abundance in queens.What does a queen black ant look like? ›
The carpenter ant queen is a fertilized, functional female of the colony. She is wingless, about 13 -25 mm long, colour is dependent on species but often range from dark brown, reddish, yellow, or black tones. Similar in appearance to worker ants, the queen's body is divided into a head, thorax, and abdomen, or gaster.Do queen ants fight back? ›
New research demonstrates that queen ants fight by antennal boxing to become the reproductive queen, and that worker ants reinforce queen behavior by feeding dominant females and expelling, or killing, their weaker sisters.
The queen ant will have scars where the wings once were, which you should be able to see if you examine her closely. Her trunk is usually as wide as her head, and her abdomen is large because her primary responsibility is to lay eggs for the colony. If you see an ant with a smaller head, it's most likely a worker.How many queens are in an ant colony? ›
Indeed, researchers have found that ant colonies usually have about three females to every male. It was the exceptions to this rule that intrigued evolutionary biologist Laurent Keller of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and his colleagues.What kills the queen ant? ›
Since the queen ant stays hidden inside the colony for her entire life, she can only really die from two causes: worker ants or humans. Worker ants will kill off multiple queens but sometimes go too far and accidentally kill all the queens.Does killing ants attract more ants? ›
Yes, killing ants attracts more ants because they release pheromones that alert nearby ants. The pheromones that ants release signal to the other ants about danger. Ants are good at communicating, and an ant dying lets its fellow colony members know about death.Do ants feel pain? ›
Can ants feel hurt? As far as entomologists are concerned, insects do not have pain receptors the way vertebrates do. They don't feel 'pain,' but may feel irritation and probably can sense if they are damaged. Even so, they certainly cannot suffer because they don't have emotions.Can you buy queen ants in the US? ›
We sell Ant Queens and Ant Colonies, to be kept as pets in so called Formicariums, Terrariums for Ants. You start with a single Ant Queen or a Queen with a small group of workers and watch them grow their colony over time.What color do ants avoid? ›
invicta workers do have color vision and have a preference for green, orange and red and least prefer blue. “Many people would not consider studying if ants have color vision because ants generally rely on chemicals instead of vision when exploring their environments,” Carbaugh said.Why do queen ants remove their wings? ›
Once the male and female mate, the female "queen" will remove her wings to start a new nest. The male drone, whose only purpose in life is to mate, will live a few months at most, then die after mating.Do queen ants sleep at night? ›
Yes, they do. In this research environment queen ants would sleep significantly longer per episode. In fact, each sleep episode for a queen ant would last just about 6 minutes, while worker ants would only sleep for just over a minute.What are ants afraid of? ›
Both cayenne and black pepper repel ants. Ants hate cayenne pepper. Black pepper will work just as well too. Locate the source of the ant infestation problem, sprinkle some pepper around that area and if possible, create a wall that will stop the ants from accessing your household.
Can ants disobey their queen? Unlike in human monarchies, however, the queen ant doesn't exactly “rule” her subjects. She doesn't bark orders or threaten, “off with their heads!” if they disobey. Instead, the real power behind the throne is none other than ants' natural instincts.What spice do ants hate? ›
Cayenne pepper / Black pepper
How it works: The spicy, strong scent of cayenne pepper (or black pepper, if that's what you have) irritates ants, and they try to avoid it. Pepper's scent also masks the ants' pheromone trails that lead them to food sources in your yard and home.
Size. Dinoponera contains one of the largest species of ants in the world, with female Dinoponera gigantea specimens measuring 3–4 cm (1.2–1.6 in) in length. Size is the most obvious character distinguishing Dinoponera from other genera.Do queen ants feed themselves? ›
Depending on the species, the queen ant will form some kind of nest and make tunnels and cells in which to brood her young. In general, queen ants eat whatever the rest of the colony eats. But while the queen ant is laying eggs and colonies are being established, the worker ants give her food and dispose of her waste.Do ants go to sleep? ›
YES, THEY DO - but not in the sense we understand sleep. Research conducted by James and Cottell into sleep patterns of insects (1983) showed that ants have a cyclical pattern of resting periods which each nest as a group observes, lasting around eight minutes in any 12-hour period.How many ants does a queen lay a day? ›
Queen ants can produce about 800 eggs per day. A “mature” colony can contain more than 200,000 ants along with the developmental and adult stages of winged black-colored male and reddish-brown female reproductives.Do queen ants need oxygen? ›
Like all animals, ants need oxygen to survive.What time is the best to find a queen ant? ›
Day length, temperature, and rainfall are just a few of the variables to take into consideration for your area regarding when a queen will do this. For dryer areas such as the Southwest, it will usually be in the springtime, whereas later summer monsoons may be the ideal time in other regions.How much does a queen ant cost? ›
Typical queen prices are from $20 to $50 (plus shipping), depending on breed, location, time of year and the type of producer. Large producers that raise 10s of thousands of queens on a tight schedule tend to be on the low side as they rely on volume and quick turnaround.Can ants spread without a queen? ›
A healthy colony can survive for months without a queen. The colony will continue to live as it did with the queen, but the only problem is that egg production ceases. Without the queen, there won't be any changes to the directives given to the worker ants so they will just continue to collect food.
Since the queen ant stays hidden inside the colony for her entire life, she can only really die from two causes: worker ants or humans. Worker ants will kill off multiple queens but sometimes go too far and accidentally kill all the queens. Other than that scenario, a human is likely responsible for a queen's death.What is the lifespan of a queen ant? ›
While some types of ants have multiple queens, most colonies only have one that lays hundreds of eggs annually. Protected and cared for by workers, these females rarely leave the nest. As a result, the lifespan of a queen ant can last anywhere from 2 to 20 years, depending on the species.How long do ant queens last? ›
The ant royals can live for decades. Scientists have found out that queen ants can live up to ten or even fifteen years in favourable environments. In a laboratory, they can live up to 30 years. Unlike the queen, the males live just about a week. Female workers can reach about a year and then they die.Can you buy a queen ant in the US? ›
We sell Ant Queens and Ant Colonies, to be kept as pets in so called Formicariums, Terrariums for Ants. You start with a single Ant Queen or a Queen with a small group of workers and watch them grow their colony over time.Do queen ant bites hurt? ›
Queen ants cannot sting. They are relatively inactive and immobile and they primarily engage in feeding and laying eggs. They are dependent on other members of the ant colony for defense.Can you start an ant colony with just a queen? ›
How do I start my Ant Colony? The best way to stock your ant colony is to farm your own colony from a single queen ant captured in your area during mating season. Capturing a newly mated queen ant is the first step, as she will be the seed that will perpetuate your colony for years.What happens if a queen ant bites you? ›
What happens if a queen ant bites you? During an ant bite, the ant will grab your skin with its pinchers and release a chemical called formic acid into your skin. Some people are allergic to formic acid and could experience an allergic reaction from the ant bite.What happens if you remove a queen ant? ›
The answer is straightforward, the colony will eventually die as well. Ants don't flee to another territory or nest if their queen passes away. Instead, they continue bringing resources back to their settlement until they die of old age or external causes.Can ants feel pain? ›
Over 15 years ago, researchers found that insects, and fruit flies in particular, feel something akin to acute pain called “nociception.” When they encounter extreme heat, cold or physically harmful stimuli, they react, much in the same way humans react to pain.Do ants fight with their queen? ›
The ants were observed fighting, both queen to queen, and worker ants to queens. However the inter-queen fighting involved ritualistic antennal boxing and mandible threats, while the workers were more vicious, and also pulled and bit low ranking queens. The top queen was decided by the infighting between the queens.