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Dork (Dayton)

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  1. Last year I wrote a basic primer on how to blacklight queen ants. It is located here if you haven’t seen it and are interested. Following that I received many requests for details about the materials and methods I used aside from the general reasoning and approach that was explained. In other words … everyone wanted to know where to get the stuff and how to do it the way we do it! So here is a follow up post to explain to those interested exactly how to make what we use. The entire setup will cost you about $200 and can be bought and made in an afternoon. Here are the supplies you need … - T12 blacklight bulbs x 4 - $13 each or about $50 total ( https://www.lowes.com/pd/GE-40-Watt-48-in-Medium-Bi-pin-T12-Black-Fluorescent-Light-Bulb/3400504 ) - Shop Light Fixtures x 2 - $20 each or about $40 total ( https://www.lowes.com/pd/Lithonia-Lighting-1233-Linear-Shop-Light-Common-4-ft-Actual-5-5-in-48-in/1000410165 ) - Full height (like 6’) garden “Shepherd’s Hooks” x 6 - About $13 each or about $80 total ( https://www.lowes.com/pd/Garden-Accents-84-in-Steel-Painted-Metal-Shepherd-s-Hook/3342788 ) - White flat Twin sheets x 4 - $5 each or $20 total ( https://www.walmart.com/ip/Mainstays-200-Thread-Count-Twin-Flat-Sheet-ARCTIC-WHITE/55583603 ) - 1” PVC pipe (10’) x 2 - $2-3 each or about $5 total ( https://www.lowes.com/pd/Charlotte-Pipe-1-in-dia-x-10-ft-L-200-PSI-SDR-21-PVC-Pipe/1000080801 ) - 1” PVC coupling x 1 - damned near free ( https://www.lowes.com/pd/LASCO-1-in-x-1-in-x-1-in-dia-Coupling-PVC-Fitting/1067437 ) - Duct Tape - Extension cord(s) Step 1 - Duct Tape FTW !! You need to duct tape the two light fixtures together. USE A LOT! Make sure you tape the fronts and back and ESPECIALLY the ends. The photos below look a little ragged, but this unit has been outdoors all the nice days for a year now. Yours will look cleaner. Step 2 - Prep the Fixtures The fixtures will come with some cheap chain meant to hang them with. Instead of using it the way they intend, drill 4 small holes in the 4 corners of your new (now duct taped) single fixture. Divide the chain in two and create two “loops” with it as pictured below. This way you can slide it back and forth and adjust the angle of the light super easy. Step 3 - Get Your Sheets Together Arrange two sheets end to end and two more end to end below them. We take the time to sew these together now. But when we first started we used Duct tape and that works fine. Similarly, we sew a cuff in the top of the sheets to slide the PVC pipe through (like a curtain) for more easy hanging. But you can also just duct tape the sheets to the PVC if you prefer or if you are sewing impaired. Step 4 - PVC Easy Mode Plug each piece of PVC pipe into the coupling creating a 20’ long pipe. DO NOT glue it or you’ll never be able to easily move it. Attach your sheets to your PVC pipe with a sewn cuff or duct tape. Step 5 - Stake Your Claim Find your blacklight sweet spot and plant 4 of your Shepherd's Hooks in a row about 4’ apart. Have the hooks facing TOWARDS where your lights will be. Step 6 - Hang it Up ! Rest your PVC frame over the Shepherd’s Hooks. About half of your sheets will be laying on the ground. That is intentional. Step 6 - Let There Be Light Plant your last two Shepherd’s Hooks just at the edge of the sheets on the ground about 6’ apart and hang your light (via the two “loops” of chain) between them. Plug it in and you are GTG. If you want, you can secure the sheet to the ground with little spikes. Photos below are the completed set up, the set up at dusk, the set up at night and the set up from 100 yards away. This thing draws queens from a mile away.
  2. I said "plan in place" by October. You don't have to hibernate til like Thanksgiving.
  3. If you don't plan on hibernating your ants or won't have a solid plan in place by October, release them now, please. It is enormously important for the health, comfort and flat our survival of your colonies and proper hibernation is every bit as important as proper feeding. If not hibernated properly the BEST case scenario is they will survive, not lay next year and the lifespan of your queens and workers will all go down dramatically. After laying dozens or hundreds or even thousands of eggs during the Spring/Summer/Fall, your queens need (and deserve) a rest. Nearly all native Ohio ants need to be hibernated. Opinions on the ideal temperature vary. But most agree that 40-45 or 40-50 seems about right. However, it is not as simple as putting them in the fridge at 45 degrees when November rolls around. Ants survive winters, sometimes in extended sub-freezing temperatures because they create a “biological anti-freeze” that makes their hemolymph (similar to our blood) unable to freeze at temperatures that they normally would. This substance is called glycerol and is biochemically manufactured. This means THEY NEED TIME to prepare and produce this. Pop them in the fridge at normal fridge temperatures and they may die in hours. But if you give them a few weeks to get ready and let them prep their hemolymph with glycerol, they get their well-deserved snooze. There are two basic ways to hibernate your ants … outdoor and indoor. Irrespective of what method you choose, they should be insulated with a towel or the like and will not eat. But they still need water. If they are in a test tube and the water is low, switch them to a fresh one before hibernation. And if they are in a formicarium, you will still need to hydrate the nest every couple of weeks. The outdoor way is to let the natural environment give them the cues that winter is coming by moving them to an unheated garage, basement, crawlspace, etc. Do this weeks before it will get cold … October 1st is a good target here. They will sense the temperatures dropping and be ready when it gets really cold. If you choose this method know that even these areas sometimes may get too cold on polar vortex days or the like. So monitor the temperature and be ready with a space heater for an hour or so here and there if need be. The other method is an indoor hibernation. You can accomplish this with a fridge, or even better, a wine fridge/cooler. Most regular refrigerators have a max temp of 40-50. Even at 50, that’s a shock to go from 75ish to 50ish suddenly. It is far better to have a dedicated fridge or mini-fridge that you can start around 60 or so. The way to do this is to prop (and secure) the door open somewhat. Testing of this PRIOR to hibernation is ideal. Then you can close the door a little more each week so the temp drops little by little. Testing on our mini-fridge told us to leave it open 12” on week 1, 6” on week 2 and 3” on week 3. On week 4 we closed it on it’s highest temp setting. This provided a temperature decline weekly from 75 in our ant room to 60 then 55 then 50 then 45 on the sequential weeks. This year out of 30ish queens/colonies, we only lost one parasitic Lasius queen who did not appear well before hibernation to start with. And all colonies are booming. The HUGE advantage a wine fridge/cooler has is that the max temp setting is far higher than that of a regular fridge or mini-fridge. So you can just put them in there, set it at 60 and lower the temp each week without messing with propping the fridge door open. We wish everyone the very best of luck this Winter. Get your hibernation plan in place NOW !!!
  4. VERY nice synopsis! Thanks!
  5. How to Blacklight Queen Ants I am no expert. But our blacklight setup seems to be working and I get a lot of questions. So I’ll attempt to cram my limited knowledge about the subject into this document for two reasons. First, to help anyone wanting to catch boatloads of queens while relaxing at twilight and night time. And, second, so I don’t have to type all this out in Discord 12 more times. And I will follow this up with a detailed photo description of out particular setup. Why it Works? All insects are attracted to light and UV light in particular. Each species has a different visual spectrum and different wavelengths seem to attract different bugs. Ants are most attracted to UV wavelengths of 420-490nm. Most fluorescent black light bulbs will get you near the bottom of this range which is fine. This range is visible to humans as well and we see it as “blue” or “black light”. You could just use full spectrum light and attract just as many queens. But the larger the spectrum of light you put out, the more different critters will come a calling. Black light allows you to get all your queens with fewer “trash” bugs. The best you can do would be to use a specific 450nm LED light source. But those are STUPID expensive. You would get no more queens, but you would get FAR fewer “trash” bugs to sort through and get bit by. When queens fly they use those 3 primordial eyes on top of their head (called ocelli) to help them navigate. They generally point them towards the moon which keeps them level to the ground. When they come near a black light setup, they point them towards the black light or sheet and fly right into your loving arms. That’s why they generally hit the light or sheet hard and fall to the ground. They are not flying to it to investigate, they are flying full speed and crash into it. You may well HEAR a Campo hit your setup before you SEE it. This is why it is IMPERATIVE that there is as much sheet on the ground as there is hanging upright. You will find FAR more queens on the ground part than on the hanging part of the setup. What makes a Good Blacklight Setup? 1 - You need the right wavelength or close to it. Without the right wavelength, queens simply can’t see it. Getting close to 420-490nm is fine because regardless of what wavelength you read on the bulbs you buy, they all have a range. (except LEDs) For example, the tubes we use are supposedly 415nm. But they likely emit 365-465nm or something like that. So you only need to be close. 2 - You need as many lumens as you can get. This is the “brightness” of your light source. If you have a wavelength queens can see, you want them to see it from a LONG distance away, right? It’s the difference between attracting queens flying through your yard and attracting queens flying through your neighborhood. If you want the species variety of your neighborhood and not your yard, crank up the lumens! Blue LED Christmas lights emit a perfect 450nm. But they are so dim that a queen would have to be right in your face to see them. 3 - Be smart about your backdrop size, composition and positioning. If you have the most powerful light source money can buy and shine it on a postage stamp, you won’t be very successful. Similarly, if you have a weak light source and shine it on the side of a house, you’ll have no more success than shining it on a smaller surface that can be fully illuminated. So match your lumens to your backdrop. But bigger backdrops pull queens from further away. So max that out. And make sure whatever material you choose for your backdrop is reflective. White sheets are fine. But anything that absorbs light is counter productive. Lumenous flux (brightness of your sheet) falls off by the inverse square of the distance. So the closer your light, the brighter your sheet … twice as close … 4 times as bright! Set your light source as close as you can to your backdrop ensuring that it can still illuminate the whole thing. What Location is Best? You can spend an incredible amount of time, money and effort optimizing all this stuff and place the perfect black light setup in a bad location and you will be disappointed. The location you select to set up shop will have an ENORMOUS impact on what you attract. Here are a few thoughts in no particular order. Be near woods (many wood-dwelling species are night flyers) Be near water (water = insects = ant food = high ant and queen density) Be in the open (that’s where they actually fly and see you from FAR away) Don’t be where anyone sprays insecticides (humans = BAD) Don’t be near other ambient light (it competes to attract YOUR queens) Don’t be in “developed” areas (dilapidated/ignored yards are THE BEST) So How Do You Actually Do It? There are 3 basic approaches. The first is the “Blacklight Trap” approach. People have constructed some amazing contraptions that not only attract the queens, but then trap them in some kind of receptacle. This is easy mode, but does have its drawbacks. Most of these are small setups that do not have the drawing power of a proper setup. So you are often trapping your yard and not much else. And you’re trapping other queen killing bugs along with them. So there’s a risk. But they are absolutely unbeatable for “set and forget” overnight type purposes. Next is the “Chill and Check” approach. This is when you have your proper “big boy” blacklight setup and check it every 10 minutes or so to see if anything has come along while you attend to some other activity like gaming, chores or enjoying your favorite cold beverage. This approach has the advantage of being less boring and allowing you to get something else done at the same time. It also lets you NOT sit in the middle of the mosquito frenzy surrounding your setup. But queens don’t always hit your sheet and hang out until it’s convenient for you to come collect them. Sometimes they run and sometimes they fly away. I prefer the “Queen Fishing” approach. This is when you sit by your setup, watch, listen and wait. It’s more work and more boring. But like everything else in life … you get out what you put in. You will miss almost nothing if you do this and get up to check closely for smaller queens periodically. I personally LOVE fishing and find this relaxing. You will learn to ID drones and MANY other insects by their shape, movement and behavior. In short order you will rarely need to even get up to “be sure” that that bug is or is not a queen. It definitely gets easier with time. Practical Recommendations Wear long sleeves and long pants Have a good strong flashlight DO NOT use bug spray Have some kind of head/face cover if possible ALWAYS have a catching cup in your hand “Prime Time” is the two hours starting 30 mins after sundown If there’s no rain, leave it up and check in the morning once more Look close … some of the best queens are super small Watch the ground part of the setup the most cause those are the “runners” Watch for drones … they will tell you what is coming in the near future Don’t forget to check the light source for queens Don’t forget to check the back of the sheet for queens Be careful where you step Bring PLENTY of cups … if you hit a local flight, it’ll get crazy FAST !!! Happy Anting !! If you're interested in building a top notch blacklight setup, check this out!
  6. 1 - It is rare that we ever even do that unless the logs are going to be trashed or burned or whatever such that anything living there will be killed anyway. We will roll logs and lift stones, but rarely break apart stuff that isn't doomed already. That said, we take every opportunity we have to go through "doomed" wood whenever we can, have done it a bunch and have many queens and founding colonies to show for it. 2 - I realize that I am kinda "militant" about this stuff. But, remember, when you trash a log you are destroying a microhabitat that is a very limited resource and environment in many ecosystems. And if you've ever done it, you've seen just how many organisms depend on rotting logs. So you are displacing multiple species and reducing the lifetime of that log as a home from 5+ years down to one. That’s an 80% reduction! 3 - If you're going to do it, IMO, you will kill queens if you swing a claw hammer like that video shows. Besides, if the wood is so tough that you need that degree of force, it's not rotten enough for a founding queen to set up shop in anyway. You might find established colonies in tougher wood, but you're not going to get those queens very often anyway and will likely just stress or kill the colony. You want founding queens ... stick to the superficial rotten wood that comes up easy with the flick of a pocket knife. We generally slide a pocket knife into a seam and gently twist or lift. Work the surface of the log and leave the deeper stuff alone. That way you destroy less habitat and leave the rest of the log to rot again next year. 4 - If you see that huge scatter of ants, STOP! (unless the log is doomed anyway) That’s an established colony and your chance of getting that queen is pretty low. She will be deep and protected. Or you may be in a satellite colony if it’s mature such that she’s not even there. Another good “stop sign” is majors. If you see majors, you KNOW there are at least 100 workers in that colony. In other words, it’s NOT a founding colony and, hence, your chance of collecting it and getting the queen is considerably lower. 5 - Campos are not like other species. They don’t do the “Formica freakout” when uncovered. When a founding Campo queen is exposed, she will often just sit still or bury her head in the most concealed part of the remaining chamber. And if most of her cell is intact, she will almost always just “hide in plain sight”. Her workers will scatter. But they will also come back if you leave the queen there. Be patient. A typical Campo founding chamber from the previous year will have 6-8 workers in the Spring, 15-20 in the Summer and 30-35 in the Fall. If the queen is staying still, get the workers first. They are critical. 6 - If the logs you are looking through are small, carry them to concrete before picking through them. When workers scatter, you can cup them easily and collect them later. And a queen will almost NEVER disappear into the leaf litter when on concrete. Right? 7 - If you are working over leaf litter, bring a large bin. We use a 1’ x 2’ tupperware container to put under wherever we are working. So when you lift up that bark and ants fall out, they fall into your bin and not the leaf litter nether. We also bring a fluon lined 5 gallon bucket. If ants fall in the bin, dump them into the bucket and pop the bin back under your work area. It’s MUCH less likely the queen drops into the “leaf litter oblivion” that way. Also, that 5 gallon bucket is perfect to place a large piece of wood with ants all over it so you can go though it later when you’re not freaking out about all the ants scattering. And ALWAYS put the queen in a snap cap or cup and NOT in a big bucket. Protect her. 8 - Speaking of the queen, I would never, EVER use forceps on a queen. Even soft tip forceps can cause mortal injuries. The queen usually isn’t in freak out mode and, frankly, it’s just not necessary. Take your time and gently pick away the surrounding wood while making sure if she falls, she goes in your bin or onto the concrete. If she runs, just block her towards your container or cup her if you are able. We bring toothpicks and Q-tips to coax queens out. We also often have used those maple tree “helicopter seeds” as little brushes to bring them out of their chambers. Blowing into the chamber is a good way to agitate both workers and queens to get them to show themselves without having to “dig” them out and risk injury. 9 - We all love ants and we all want to find and collect any and all we can. But, remember, experts estimate that only about 1% of all queens in a given nuptial flight survive through the founding stage. That means every time you collect a solo queen who’s walking around after her flight looking for a place to found, you only have a 1% chance of actually preventing a successful future founding colony. It’s a small risk. However, if you collect (or accidentally destroy) a founding colony, there is a 100% chance of preventing a successful future founding colony. It’s 100 times the risk. If you really love ants, keep that in mind before breaking out the claw hammer on every rotten log you come across. 10 - Instead, talk to people about “doomed wood”. If you ask around, you will be amazed at the number of friends, family and co-workers who have wood piles that are doomed. And the vast majority of folks are happy to allow you to come over and look. Picking through these actually puts you in the position of savior. If you don’t pull those founding queens and colonies out of there, they will be discarded in a dumpster or burnt alive in a fireplace. It’s a great feeling.
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