Dear Reader,

Quite a while ago we had a little visit from Jan Kofahl, a young expert on formicaria and very enthusiastic "ant farmer". He wrote a little text for our website on keeping ants as pets and what to bear in mind when trying to breed ants. Here is what he wrote, maybe it will encourage one or two of our readers to breed his own little ant colony at home or at his Institute.

′House ants′ in a different view: ants as pets

In almost every subject, be it aviation or arts or anything else, you will find enthusiasts besides professionals, discovering their interest in the topic. Not much different it is in myrmecology: On the internet we have several message boards where people from all around the world share their experiences in keeping ants in formicariums at home.
Though most information is located on German and French boards, there are English platforms as well. The probably most popular English board is German web sites with much information about the topic are and A popular French site is named

People have different aims when starting myrmecology as hobby. Some will try to raise the number of workers in a colony as numerous as possible, others just like to watch them hunt for food or take care of their brood. Due to the enormous number of ant species and their different life styles, there will always be a species fitting to the enthusiast's requirements.
Before you get started, there are a few points you should bear in mind:

After you have chosen the species you want to rear, find as much information about them as possible. The web sites listed above will help you a lot at this. If you still feel certain about the species, find a place you can purchase the ants and the set up. There is a growing number of shops in a bunch of countries you can get ants and the establishment from. Many (online) shops are located in Germany, France, China and Taiwan, a few in the US and Japan.
An alternative to purchase ants are private websites like or where some species are offered from private persons as well. Most colonies sold on these places are grown up ones, first bought from the shops.
One of the biggest advantages of native species is their cheapness. Find out at which time queens of your favoured species are having their mating flight and with a bit of luck, you will find one for free.

The best way to design your vivarium for ants (formicarium) is to copy the natural environment. This way you will prevent most mistakes.
Most people want to see the processes going on inside the nest. Therefore an observation nest is very useful. The most popular form of observation nest is the so-called ant farm. In an ant farm, the ants will dig in a flat layer of soil placed between two glass panels.
Alternatively you can build an observation nest consisting of plaster of Paris or cellular concrete. Both materials are used similarly, as they keep the moisture inside the nest. Aerated concrete is a relative hard material so you will need a drilling machine or something similar to shape the chambers and corridors.
If you want to build the observation nest with plaster of Paris, you will first need to build a negative of the nest. You can use materials such as plasticine or polystyrene which do not coalesce with wet plaster. After you built up the burrow system just pour the wet plaster into the mould.
In both cases, plaster and cellular concrete, a glass plane is glued or bolted on top of the nest.

To study your ants hunt for food, you will need an arena. Some enthusiasts like to design the arena as natural as possible. Others just use simple plastic boxes grouted with plaster. There are pros and cons for both forms. In a natural habitat, its much more difficult to observe the ants. On the other hand, the ants will show a more natural behaviour.
While searching for information on the internet, you will find out which kind of nest and arena is the best for you and the chosen species.
Keeping ants is a very young hobby compared to others; therefore many secrets of the hidden life of ants are still waiting to be discovered. It does not always need professionals to reveal these.

Prepared with this grain of information, take a look at the ant-sites listed above. Even without any interest in keeping ants yourself, it is very interesting to read the reports about colony growth and behaviour.
For people usually only dealing with pinned insects, it might be a very refreshing experience to handle these tiny vivid creatures. Try it!

Jan Kofahl