Today at the pool I caught the following queen ant as she was finishing up her nuptial flight.
The queen ant landed right next to the baby pool while I was watching my daughter swim. I am sure the life guard thought I was crazy as I ran, I mean briskly walked to the bag and retrieved the tiny jar I carried around just for this event. For some reason queen ants see the light reflecting off of surfaces of water and head towards it. Typically they try to land next to it, in what I can only surmise a an attempt to find a place that will have the moisture they need for the coming months. Many times they miss and land in the pool, resulting in a slow suffocating death. A fertilized queen behaves differently than a regular ant. Regular ants typically scurry, stop, sniff with their antenna, and scurry some more. Queen ants are like tanks, they just plug along and try to run down any hole they can come across. This is why I typically catch them wondering aimlessly on streets and sidewalks. There are no holes for them to run down there.
The best way to catch a queen ant is to do a google image search on queen ants and memorize what they look like. Then train yourself to look for bugs moving on the sidewalk or roads as you walk and catch them scurrying around. It is surprising just how many queen ants are out there between the months of April – August. I began to notice them everywhere.
There are other methods, I have caught some queens by turning over logs and very, very quickly catching the queen before she runs under ground. I have turned over many, many, rocks but never found any lurking there that I could catch. I have also dug up many mounds, but the tunnels can go for up to three feet deep or more and when danger hits, the queen dives deep. When it came to digging my only success was to completely shear a queen ant right in half with the shovel. I was frustrated after three hours of digging a three foot deep hole next to the fence that I now had to fill up. Trying to use a screen mesh to filter the ants looking for a queen did not work either.
As you can see from the photo, the best way to store a queen ant is in a test tube half filled with water and a cotton ball that is shoved down into it. The cap is yet another cotton ball. The queen ant does not need any food, nor will she eat any if offered for about two months. Ants typically take 24-55 days depending on the temperature to develop from eggs to workers. The temperature has to be above 75 degrees for the eggs to develop, but not above 95 degrees. This is why you find eggs and pupae so close to the top of the soil in mounds you dig up, because the ants put them up close to the sun to give them heat. They won’t develop very fast or sometimes at all if they are kept down below where it is cool.
Stay on top of the development, as soon as the first ants hatch the queen is going to want some food. By placing them in a plastic tote container and lining the top with a thin stretch of olive oil, you’ll prevent them from crawling out, but not hurt them. Put some watered down honey, meat, and fruit in there for them. Remember to change it out to keep the mold from growing, which in turn attaches to the ants and grows on them resulting in the death of the queen.
I try to collect about 9-10 queens, because 80% of them will not mature. There are mites that burrow in and kill them, mold, fungus, and of course the crazy queen that lays eggs everywhere but does not take care of them so they never develop. I suspect those are underutilized queens.