While many types of ants could live in ant farms, all of the ant farm stores in our lineup agree that western harvester ants are the ideal species for ant farms. Scientifically named Pogonomyrmex occidentalis, western harvester ants are large enough to be easily observed within the tunnels of your ant farm. Harvester ants are known for building huge mounds, which are formed by removing dirt and sand from below the ground and depositing it in a pile on top. This practice is exactly what can be witnessed in an ant farm, where material is cleared out to form tunnels and then deposited at the top of the container.
In the Southwestern US, harvester ants thrive in dry desert environments. They are named “harvester” ants because of their practice of shredding plant matter into small pieces and using it to build mounds.
Because ants are so hardy and industrious, they can easily become a threat in a foreign environment. Ants cannot breed without a queen, so it is illegal in the US to ship queen ants across state lines, due to the risk of nonnative species threatening local wildlife and displacing local insect populations. When you order ants online from one of our ant farm stores, you will not receive a queen and therefore your ants will only survive for up to a few months.
Another option is to collect native ants from close to your home to populate your farm, and you may even be able to find a queen ant to start a real colony that keeps growing and reproducing. However, before you decide to use a local ant species, make sure that the farm will contain the ants (they can fit through very tiny spaces) and that you don’t mix more than one species of ant in your farm. It is recommended that you start with no more than 20 ants in your new farm.
Ants have complex social systems for building and maintaining homes and caring for the queen. Each ant colony has a much larger queen that lays all the eggs. Some species have more than one queen per colony. The remaining ants in the colony may be sterile females or males. Within an ant colony, there is a distinct division of labor between different ants. For example, “worker” ants might be responsible for maintaining the habitat, carrying away waste and dead bodies and other tasks. “Drone” ants are fertile males whose only role is to mate with the queen, after which they die.
The harvester ants you order from our ant farm stores are worker ants, who will spend the majority of their time creating, cleaning and maintaining the tunnels in the farm. When an ant dies, the other ants will carry it to an area of the farm designated for waste. Once a bit of waste is placed in the designated area, all the ants will use that spot like a trash pile. Ants are very efficient at keeping their habitats clean. It is up to you to remove ant carcasses and other waste from your ant farm to avoid mold and bacteria from forming, which could kill all of your ants quickly if left unchecked.
Many of the ant farm stores on our list also contain information about caring for your ant farms. You can also check out the article “What You Need to Know About Ant Farms” to learn more about setting up an ant farm.