Harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex sp.)

The life cycle of ants is an example of complete metamorphosis - egg, larva, pupa, and adult.  In each colony there is usually only one queen and a few reproductive males and females called swarmers that are produced after several years of a colony being established.  Mating takes place in May to June in flight by these reproductive swarmer ants.  Shortly after mating, the male dies.  Each fertilized female (a future queen) loses her wings and selects a nesting site.  The eggs are small, white, and oval.  They hatch into larvae which are nourished by the queen until they pupate.  After the first offspring emerge as adults, these wingless workers begin to take care of the queen and her subsequent offspring.  During periods of warm temperatures, the entire cycle from egg to adult can be completed in three months.  Ant colonies survive for as long as the queen lives.  While worker ants may live for a month or two, queens can live up to 15 or 20 years.   Mature colonies may have thousands or even millions of individuals enlarging the colony, foraging for food, or caring for the larvae. 

Availability: These need to be ordered and will be available after spring break.  Many ant species can be huge pests.  Because of this, you will receive colonies of workers with the queen removed, so if they do escape, they cannot become established.  The workers may build tunnels and lay eggs; however, all the offspring will be males.  Without a queen, the colony will not be permanent.

Housing: Place ants in a plastic or glass covered container (can be an ant farm if you find one) with soil.  Control of moisture is critical.  A dry culture will soon die.  A water-saturated culture will mold, producing foul conditions which are unsuitable for ants.  If the container is too damp, use a fine mesh screen as a temporary cover to allow moisture to escape.  Remove any mold; however, if there is extensive mold, move the ants to a fresh container with a very small piece of potato or apple for food and moisture.  If the culture seems too dry, add damp paper, cooton, or sponge to the container.  Check frequently to determine the moisture condition.  The ants will dig tunnels in the soil for their colony to live in.  If you want to see the ants in action, you should have a very thin clear container, like an ant farm, for them to live in.

Food: Feed them bits of vegetable, fruit, raw meat, or dry cereal, but remove any uneaten food before it molds.  They particular like sweet things, so a cotton ball soaked in a 10% sugar water solution will go over well.