Review of AntStore’s Starter Kit M – 25×15 Farm Arena Centre

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This is the starter kit I purchased from Antstore. It wasn’t the cheapest option to start with but I had decided I wanted a more natural habitat  and went for a glass constructed option. The service from Antstore was good. Responses to my initial enquiries (seeking advice) were timely as was the actual purchase and delivery of the kit. The ability to track delivery progress was a definite plus.

Packaging was excellent and it arrived undamaged with all the necessary parts of the kit present. These setups are made to order so there is a short lead-in time before despatch. Their website was also useful with it’s instructional videos and fact sheets. Some fact sheets were in German but a quick copy-and-paste of the text into Google translate solved any translational issues.

The kit itself is of a good quality and well made. I encountered no issues in quickly setting up the outworld (arena) and ant farm. It does help ensuring you have watched the video and studied the relevant fact sheet beforehand.

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Contents of after unboxing …

The arena comes with integral temperature and humidity gauges which assist in ensuring optimum conditions are maintained for your chosen species of ant in the setup. There are pre-drilled holes at either side of the arena to connect to the ant farm as well as those to add a water bottle and feeding tubes which can be serviced externally without disturbing the arena. Blanking plugs are provided for any holes not used. A full list of of the items included in the kit is available on the website so you can see exactly what you get before you order.

You can see the setup looks pretty neat when assembled. All in all I am happy with my purchase and most importantly the ants seem to like it! More about them in my next blog entry.

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It Arrived Today!

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I finally bit the bullet and decided on the setup I wanted to try out initially. So what do you think I went for?

If you read my last post you’ll have guessed! When I open the box you’ll see exactly what I spent my money on and I’ll be reviewing the setup and service I received in my next blog entry. And yes there will be a few pictures to go along with it.

Just to put your mind at rest, the ants arrived safely and are currently, eagerly (I hope), awaiting installation in their new habitat!

My Setup!

After several days of painstaking deliberation I have finally come up with a couple of options for my final setup. I can’t recall exactly how many websites I will have trawled through to get to this stage!

So what have I decided? Here’s the first option :

Ants Starter Kit – Farm Arena Centre
Retailer : Ant Store, Germany.

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This looks like a quality classic ant farm design supplied by a leading European retailer. It is constructed of glass and consists of a farm unit together with connectable outworld area. All materials, together with food supply, comes with the setup. Good instructions are on the website to assist with setting up. Despite the video section being in German it all looks quite clear and straightforward.

There are cheaper options of this setup type (from the same retailer) but the dearer option does have a few “bells and whistles” going for it. A temperature and humidity gauge helps ensure the right climatic conditions are maintained for your ants. Feeding and the water supply can be achieved without removing the outworld lid if preferred.
So this looks a good interesting option to offer my ants a more natural environment. A one where they can dig out their own nest.

Horizontal Acrylic Nest and Outworld (Mushroom Design)
Retailer : Anthouse, Spain

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A different type to my first option. All acrylic, with nest and outworld combined in one unit. It has a water tank under the raised nest which minimises the need for regular hydrating of the nest area. It comes supplied with ants (Messor barbarus) from this retailer via Amazon.

It’s cheaper than my first option albeit a more sterile environment for the ants. Many ant-keepers, however, do use these setups. The big advantage is being able to see your ants close up and colonies seem to thrive in them.

So which one will I choose? You’ll have to wait for my next blog entry to find out!

Ant

Formicariums

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So now I have to give some thought to habitat type. There are quite a few nest choices from which to choose. These include the following :

Soil/Sand Nests

This is probably one of the most common types which you associate with ant-keeping. Slim-line versions basically consists of glass, clear acrylic or clear plastic panels which are sealed with a small gap between them. This allows you to fill the container with the medium you are using. Because of the small gap you can see the ants digging and forming their tunnel systems.

An alternative is a tank system which provides plenty of expansion area for the colony to grow into. The disadvantage of course is that you will not see the ants when they are under the surface. Above the surface forms a very natural “outworld” for your ants.
You will need to ensure the nest is kept hydrated, although too much water can flood some of the tunnels killing your ants! Care must therefore be taken.

Both types are very natural habitats and give you the chance to view your ants at work as they dig out their colony habitat. With the slim-line version you will ideally need to attach a separate smaller tank area the ants can use as their “outworld”. This is where your ants will forage for food and deposit their rubbish, dead ants, etc from the nest area.

Ytong Nests

These are a type of aerated concrete block with tunnels and chambers carved in them by hand or with machinery. A clear acrylic or glass cover is placed over the finished tunnel/chamber complex which gives you excellent views of the ants inside. Integral water troughs help you control the amount of moisture in the nest through the aerated concrete.

Acrylic Nests and Outworlds

Being a newcomer to the world of ant-keeping, until I started researching, I had never come across this option. There are numerous styles and designs of this type which consist of clear acrylic. Nest and outworlds can be purchased integrated together or as separate detachable units. The variations seem endless. They are a good option, offering excellent views of your colony. Darkness in the nest can be easily emulated using a red acetate covering. As many come in modular format this assists in expanding your nest or outworld areas easily as your colony grows.

These are the main nest types but there is a huge variety of designs and styles to choose from from UK and European retailers. So you need to do your homework to find out what is best for you. I have a lot of hard thinking to do now before taking the plunge!

Messor barbarus

This is another good species to start with and are also known as “Harvester ants” because they collect seeds, chew them and make “ant bread”. The ant bread is then eaten by the colony. Seeds are stored in “granaries” within the nest. These are also single Queen colonies.

The Queen can grow to a size of 15 to 18 mm whilst the workers range between 3-14 mm. There are 3 castes of workers – minor, media and major. Minor workers are the smallest who tend to the Queen and work around the nest. Media workers are slightly larger and chew seeds with the major workers. They also forage for the colony. Major workers, the largest caste, defend the colony and nest.

They can be kept at room temperature but more success with colony development is aided by heating nest area to a steady 25 degrees centigrade. Once again, a heat mat with thermostat control can be helpful in achieving this. Ensure the nest is in darkness or covered with red acetate for best results.

These ants hibernate through the winter until about late March. As they are used to a warmer climate than the UK then they should be hibernated at approximately 15 degrees centigrade and no colder if possible.

There main source of food is seed. You can feed them bird seed or specifically rapeseed, dandelion seeds, flaxseed, canary seed, grass seed and sunflower hearts. Make sure the seed is free of pesticides!

They also require protein for brood development. This is in the form of insects or meat (cooked chicken). They do not openly accept sugar/honey water, only if there is no alternative water source for them.

Nests need to have some dry areas for seed storage. With a soil or sand set up, if there are no dry areas, issues can arise due to potential seed germination!

In summary, an easy species for the beginner although sufficient steady heat for the nest area works best. Darkness for the nest and minimum disturbance/vibrations will aid early colony development.

More detail is available through internet searches.

Lasius niger

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This is a really good hardy species to start off with. Known as the common black garden ant. They only have one Queen in the colony. The Queen can grow to a size between 6-9 mm, whilst the workers average 3-5 mm.

The Queen lays tiny eggs which then develop through a larvae and pupae stage. The larvae spin themselves are a cocoon in which they pupate. While the species do well at room temperature, brood development can be sped up by increasing the temperature to 23-25 degrees centigrade. A heat mat may help in achieving this.

Lasius niger hibernate through the winter from about October to around late March. Hibernation can be helped by reducing the temperature to around 10 degrees centigrade but not much lower. No feeding is required during this period but ensure the nest is hydrated. To bring them out of hibernation increase temperatures slowly.

As far as feeding is concerned they accept a variety of food. Sugar water and honey is always good as are fruits such as slices of apple or pears. Ant jellies/jams are available as sugary supplements to purchase.

Aside from the above which provide instant energy (particularly for the worker ants), they require protein for for the queen and the brood. This can be in the form of live/dead insects or even cooked meat (chicken). Be careful when giving live food, particularly to small colonies, as they may not be able to overpower the intended prey and there is the potential for casualties amongst your colony.

Mealworms are commonly used. These can be purchased live. Before feeding your ants the intended food source can be dipped in boiling water to kill it and it also ensures that any nasty microbes are killed before feeding it to your ants. Other insects such as bluebottle flies, fruit flies, spiders, wasps, bees, crickets, etc should be treated in the same way.

They’ll usually adapt to any nest types that are are available to purchase. Just ensure they have access to a steady food and water supply. Try not to stress them out by handling the nest/outworld containers as they can be prone to vibrations. It is a good idea to keep the nest in a dark condition. This is easily achieved by covering the area in red acetate as the colour cannot be distinguished by ants and they perceive it to be dark. This allows you to see the ants and there activity without causing any undue stress to them.

I have tried to cover some of the main considerations on raising this species in captivity but there is a lot more detail to be had through internet searches for this ant.

Early Thoughts

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I’ve been doing an awful lot of research these last few days. And guess what? Yep, I keep changing my mind on the the type of species to start with as well as the formicarium set-up. I seem to make my mind up and next day change it again!

I have found plenty of useful retail websites (in the UK and abroad), Youtube channels and a really good Facebook (Ant Keeping UK) community. So for a first time ant-keeper there is a lot of information available to help you get off to a good start.

I have narrowed down my choice of ant species to two. Lasius niger and Messor barbarus are both good beginner’s species to start with. Easy – most of my research indicated. Let’s certainly hope so!

My next couple of blog entries will give some detailed information about these species which, apart from anything else, will give me a good source of reference during those early days of getting my colony established and thriving. I am sure the Facebook community will also be useful in problem solving any issues I experience early on and as my ant colony develops.

So, all I need to think about now is the right habitat to start out with bearing in mind my I will be starting with only a few ants initially. It will take time for the colony to grow and as the numbers increase there will be options to increase the habitat size. Who knows, I might even expand to keeping more than one colony!