I've never kept a colony journal before, so I am super excited to start one now!
I have had a couple of Formica subsericea colonies for over two years now, and I would like to paint you a picture of the life of my favorite Formica subsericea colony. I only know rough dates from the past, but as I update the journal I'll try to be more specific!
March 21, 2017
On this day I caught my first ant queens! Well, technically I had caught queens before but I had no clue how to raise them. This year, however, I was ready. This day, in particular, was the first warm day above maybe 60 or 70 degrees in March and really felt like a true spring day.
Under a couple of rocks in a flower bed right next to some woods on my property, I found two Formica subsericea queens and two Lasius parasite queens. They had likely all been under those rocks since the end of autumn as it is common for both of those species to over-winter before laying eggs.
April 25, 2017
I have waited a month to check on my queens, and both Formica queens have around 4 to 6 larvae now! I can't wait until my first nanitics hatch. Also, I took this time to feed both of my queens a drop of honey. I know it is not necessary, but the queens were drinking from the honey even before I put the cotton ball back on the test tube.
May 20, 2017
Both queens have their first nanitics! I checked on them at just the right time too, as the nanitics were both still light-colored and shakily moving around. It is interesting to see how closely both queens followed the same schedule even though they are separated. They both also laid a second, slightly larger brood of eggs about a week before the nanitics eclosed. At this point, I attach an Ants Canada Test Tube Portal to each of the tubes to act as a mini outworld. The only food I feed them is honey and crushed fruit flies, once a week. I have noticed stark behavior differences in the queens though. One is extremely upset whenever I check on them and even rushes out of the test tube in a fright. The other queen, however, seems to barely even notice my presence.
May 29, 2017
I notice the nanitics venturing out of the test tube for the first time. At this point, the "skittish" queen has around five workers, and the other has four.
July 17, 2017
Development is going nicely, the second clutch of eggs has finally hatched bringing the colony count of each colony up to about 10 workers. They no longer seem afraid to forage during the day and tend to send a larger number of workers out when I feed them.
Late November 2017
After August, development really slowed down and I did not notice any more eggs being laid even though there was still brood in the developing stages. By mid-October, all of the brood had eclosed and colony activity diminished substantially. I decided to put the queens into hibernation the first day I noticed the ground was frozen. I kept them in my fridge set to 37 degrees for most of December but moved them into a smaller mini-fridge set at ~40 degrees.
Early March 2018
On the first Saturday of March, I took my queens out of hibernation and they were both doing well. It took them about a week to work their appetite back up but they started eating ferociously and liked eating meat more than ever before. I attached a larger outworld setup to both of their Test Tube Portals and started feeding them a mix of superworms, bologna, apples, and honey.
Development is happening much slower than I expected. Both colonies have maybe 30 workers at the peak of Summer, but surprisingly the number shot up to maybe 50+ for my "Oblivious" queen. Foreseeing a huge growth in population, I moved them into a Tar Heel Ants Discus formicarium. Sadly, my "Skittish" queen refused to move from her test tube when I noticed they were hollowing out the cotton ball holding back the water. A few weeks later of them not moving, and I work up to a whole bunch of dead brood and ants, reducing the colony to maybe 10 or 15 workers with no brood. At this point, it was already late in the Summer, and the queen laid no more eggs that year.
I put both queens back in hibernation when I noticed the first snowfall of the year. This year's hibernation was much less stressful because I knew they had survived the same conditions last year so I was confident they would survive this year's hibernation.
March 1, 2019
I brought my queens out of hibernation! They both are doing well, and I am eager to move my "skittish" queen into a new Tar Heel Ants Mini Hearth I got for Christmas as I did not trust them in the test tube anymore. March 13, 2019
Both of my colonies are doing great, although it seems only seven of my "Skittish" queen's workers survived hibernation. They both have been eating a ton of protein however and have very similarly sized brood piles which surprised me given the differences in colony size at this point. I am also noticing more repletes being formed in my "Oblivious" queen's colony. (Pictured) Also, my Skittish queen finally moved into the Tar Heel Ants nest and they seem to like it much better than their test tube. I hope they can get back on their feet soon!
April 2, 2019
Both colonies have amazing piles of brood and larvae! Maybe 30+ so far. My "Oblivious" colony is really starting to look like a typical colony I would see in the wild, with many workers just milling around in the Outworld. I can't explain it, they just act like a more mature/typical colony. They even seem to move more confidently. My "Skittish" colony is not doing too great and only has 3 workers at this point. I have never had a colony drown themselves in honey before, but I have already lost three workers in the past two weeks from them falling in. I am doing nothing different from the other colonies and I don't know why this is happening! I have resorted to giving them a little bit of honey on a stick every few days. I can't wait until their new brood pile starts to hatch and they can get a decent amount of workers back to stabilize the colony and help it grow.
One drawback to the circular nest is that it is extremely hard to get good lighting in any photo.
(Condensation on the glass makes the brood pile hard to see, but there is a substantial amount of eggs and larvae there.)