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Orbyx

Ponera Insights

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While I wasn't originally interested in keeping Ponera, after learning about their unique life style and that their colonies stay very small, I became interested.

After looking around, it seems like people have an extremely low success rate raising queens and they're generally considered a pain. So, challenge accepted.

Yesterday, I went anting in my yard, hoping to find some Ponera just to get more familiar with them. I did find some and noted I only found them underneath things. Then I cracked open an acorn and found a colony. I had an idea for a Ponera habitat and figured now was a great time to test it. So first, the home I built:

(Note: I don't have pictures because I was working fast and ponera are hard to photograph)

  • I took one of the jars I use for my micro-outworlds (~ 2 inch cosmetic jar) and drilled a whole about halfway up for a connecting tube, just in case.
  • Next, I put a layer of sand and aquarium rocks in the bottom, to act as a water reservoir.
  • On top of that, I put a layer of 50/50 reptile sand and peat moss. The only reason I did this was because I'm hoping the sand lightens the color of the substrate enough that the ants are easy to see. Otherwise, they don't seem to like pure sand.
  • Next up, I put a thin layer of soil from the outside - this has several little white bugs/aphids/springtails that I am hoping will inoculate the soil and provide some extra food. Plus, I'm hoping it smells like home and helps them transition. 
  • On top of the soil, i placed a piece of clear plastic that I cut into a ~1.5 inch circle and put a rock on top of that. 

With this setup - I'm hoping they nest under the plastic, and when I lift the rock I can see them. This also serves another purpose: I can pour water in as I see the sand at the bottom dry out and the plastic will funnel the water towards the sides of the container.

Now for my observations:

  • Ponera can not handle smooth surfaces. Like at all. Absolutely can not climb on glass or plastic and will actively avoid walking on it. When I was collecting them, I put the split acorn on a small plastic lid and was hoping they would scatter so I could grab them. They were swarming all over the acorn, but refused to go on the plastic. If one did fall on the plastic, they were not thrilled. Sometimes they would walk normal, other times they would fail around like they were having a seizure. I legit though they were reacting to something, until I realized that 1) I've had other ants on this plastic with no problem and 2) they just couldn't get traction. They even behaved this way on dry reptile sand. So, housing them in 100% sand or on slick things is a no go.
  • Which gets me to: I am confident, not only from what you read but what I saw, the traditional test tube setup will NOT work for these queens. I think starting/keeping them in something like what I built will work, and I'm still trying to think of a modified test tube setup that will work. I have a few ideas I'm going to test out with the colony I now have and will let you guys know if I come up with something that works. And by works, I mean something where you can see the queen and brood and they still feel comfortable. Let me know if there's anything you want me to try!
  • They are fine with a 50/50 sand peat moss mix. The colony has been happily digging tunnels in the setup I gave them! I was worried it would contain too much sand, but clearly they are fine. 
  • They are gathering under the plastic a little, but they seem to like digging tunnels more right now. They might move to the middle as I add water. We'll see.
  • I did have a spot of pure sand in their habitat, and even though it was wet, they didn't walk on it. Once I removed it and replaced it with dirt, they immediately started exploring that area. So, I don't know if I'm going to push the blend of sand/peat moss much further. I can see them well enough now, although it would be nice if their substrate was a little lighter. There might not be anything I can do about that though.
  • They will eat small, crushed moths. I have small moths in my home (Indian meal moths). I read that ponera mainly like soft bodied things, so I figured I've give it a try. I cut the moth in half and threw it in. They liked it! I've also read of colonies eating wax worms, so I think as long as it's soft, or the insides are accessible, they'll like it. 

And that's all I have for now! I'm hoping this at least gives some more insight into this ant and we can become more successful with keeping them. 

 

 

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I'm not surprised by that. Like I said, they actively avoid smooth surfaces. I'm experimenting right now to see if I can come up with a modified test tube setup for them. Otherwise, if you want to have them, you'll need to provide them with some kind of "natural" setup. My colony seems to like what I'm providing them.

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On 4/20/2019 at 5:16 PM, Orbyx said:

I'm not surprised by that. Like I said, they actively avoid smooth surfaces. I'm experimenting right now to see if I can come up with a modified test tube setup for them. Otherwise, if you want to have them, you'll need to provide them with some kind of "natural" setup. My colony seems to like what I'm providing them.

what you could do is put some dirt in the tube so they would use that, or buy some custom test tubes with the stuff set up inside

 

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Alright, trying to get caught up with updates: My experimental test tube setup was a success!

1410177896_poneratesttube.png.97b15a57035b635d98d352f9865ae3e9.png

I'll explain in more detail when a catch a founding Ponera queen in a few months and really put it to the test (I'll start an official journal then) - but I basically unrolled half a cotton ball and ran it down the length of the tube as I did a normal test tube setup. I then made sure the cotton was wet all over and hoped it would stay wet since it's attached to the reservoir. So far so good! I also sprinkled in some reptile sand for giggles since all my ants seem to like it. While this setup makes it a little difficult to see eggs - you can clearly keep an eye on the ants which is nice!

I've been feeding them soft bodied moths from my house (Indian Meal Moths) but recently switched to wingless fruit flies with great success. They even hunted the live flies! I dump a few in every other day half smushed/half live. I'm guessing cut up wax worms would also work well (soft bodied) and they are usually for sale at any place that sells reptiles. 

Oh, I also have a heating cable at the front of the tube like all my setups and they seem to avoid it. So, they probably don't even need it and room temp is fine.

My goal with this setup is to make something that anyone can easily replicate and where the ants are easily view-able. So, far I'm meeting that goal! Now to confirm that it works for founding queens...

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