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Dork (Dayton)

How to Blacklight Queen Ants

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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!

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Brother, I'd like to know the specific model and parameters of the ultraviolet lamp tube.

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