Entomologist and ant specialist Roberta Gibson answers your ant farm and other ant questions. Homeschoolers and students, here is your chance to ask your ant questions and have them answered by an ant expert. Questions answered so far include what to feed your ants, will the eggs hatch, can the sand get moldy, what kind of ant do I have, and information about indoor / outdoor ant colonies in a terrarium setup. Ask and the Consult-Ant will have the answer for you.

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The Unschooling Handbook
How to Use the Whole World As Your Child's Classroom
by Mary Griffith
Unschooling, a homeschooling method based on the belief that kids learn best when allowed to pursue their natural curiosities and interests, is practiced by 10 to 15 percent of the estimated 1.5 million homeschoolers in the United States.

Homeschooling Our Children Unschooling Ourselves
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Patrick Farenga, editor, "Growing Without Schooling": An honest and touching account of how homeschooling leads to new attitudes and possibilities for learning.

The Complete Home Learning Source Book
The Essential Resource Guide for Homeschoolers, Parents, and Educators Covering Every Subject from Arithmetic to Zoology

by Rebecca Rupp
This ambitious reference guide lives up to its name. Practically three inches thick--and we're not talking large print here--it's packed with titles, ordering information, and Web site addresses. From where to send away for a kit to make your own Chilean rain stick to how to order a set of Elizabethan costume paper dolls, the book connects families to a world of learning possibilities. Book titles, short synopses, authors' names, publishers, and years of print make up the bulk of the guide.

Home Learning Year by Year
How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool Through High School

by Rebecca Rupp
A structured plan to ensure that your children will learn what they need to know when they need to know it, from preschool through high school. Based on the traditional pre-K through 12th-grade structure.
It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all the answers.
~ James Thurber

    Ask The Consult-Ant

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    October 3, 2008
    I live in Ridgecrest, CA (The Mojave Desert) down the road from the Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake and we just caught the biggest Queen ever. We have alot of big black ants here around our housing complex and they mostly come out after 5pm when it starts to get a bit cooler, and are pretty much harmless.

    What I believe to be their Queen, is almost 2 inches in length, is a light tan color, very long front legs and rear legs that almost look like a crickets legs (bent shaped) and very large pinchers that are beak like and not your usual standard pinchers you see on an ant. What can she be???

    We found her in our house and at first we thought she was a baby scorpion, and she was hard to catch since she ran fast like a spider.

    I appreciate any info you can give me. I will try to get a good photo for you once she calms down a bit.

    Thank you in advance,


    Dear Hope,
    Good thing I'm from the desert, because I'm pretty sure I know what you have. It's not an ant, but a sun spider. Look at this photo from Wikipedia and see if it looks familiar.

    They are also called wind scorpions or camel spiders. The scientific family is Solfugidae, or sometimes solpugid.

    Don't worry about the fierce looks, they are pretty harmless to humans. They feed on small insects and are spider relatives.

    Let me know if I guessed right.

    The Consult-Ant

    Thank you so much for getting back to me. After I sent you my question and after over an hour of web searching, my husband did find what it is. I've been reading up on these creatures. They are very aggressive and i've been reading stories about huge ones in the middle east chasing troops around their compounds. Thank you for verifying our find! Have a great weekend!


    Dear Hope,
    Be careful about exaggerated claims about camel spiders. Many of the wild stories about camel spiders in Iraq are urban myths.

    The Consult-Ant

    September 11, 2008
    Ok thank you! I'm glad to hear that she is normal hehe.

    Should I be feeding her? Sugar water right? When I give some to her in another part of her home, she looks like she wants some! she looks alive and walks in the direction of the food a little, but won't leave her area... She has no workers yet, and I have not seen any eggs either. I dont want to scare her and give her the food to close to her - or should I?

    And I think its REALLY exciting!! I just want to make sure she is ok, and happy and isn't dead the next time I look at her.

    Thanks so much for your advise,


    Dear Cheryl,
    Don't worry, your queen shouldn't need any food right now. Before the queens leave their home colony they store up a lot of nutrients. (That's why a lot of animals try to eat queens, because they are nutrient rich and more tasty than a regular worker ant.) Then after she takes off her wings, she can use her flight muscles for food, too. After all, she'll never fly again, so she won't need those muscles. Her body will break down the muscles and she can use the proteins for making eggs and feeding her larvae. With both those reserves, she should be fine.

    She may, however, drink sugar water if you offer it. I wouldn't put it too close, because it could get moldy quickly.

    Ants are really interesting. Did you know your queen could potentially live a long time? The oldest queen kept in a laboratory lived 29 years.

    Thank you for your insightful questions.

    The Consult-Ant

    September 5, 2008
    Thank you so much! I have a few more questions please.

    She's not moving from one part of the ant farm, does this mean she likes this part? It was a lighted area, but I darkened it so maybe she will be more comfortable?

    Is there a way to tell if a queen ant is happy? hehe she doesnt do much, she cleans herself, and moves dirt a little...then sits most of the day zoned out or something hehe - is this normal?

    Thanks for all your help,


    Dear Cheryl,
    Your queen ant sounds like she's absolutely normal. Once an ant queen has found a safe place, she will just sit there quietly most of the time. Sitting still is her way of conserving energy until she has some worker ants to help gather food.

    Have you seen any eggs yet? If she's going to try this season, I would suspect you should see something soon.

    Even if she lays eggs, she'll just sit there. Not very exciting for you, but normal for her.

    The Consult-Ant

    September 2, 2008
    Hello, I just stumbled onto this Lovely site and wanted to thank you for answering our ant questions!! Everyone in my family thinks I'm a bit strange for keeping ants - its nice to see that even if I am, I'm not alone, hehe.

    Although, my brother did find me a nice red queen ant soon after I told everyone that I was looking for one (I think shes a carpenter ant). I put her in my ant farm a day or two ago (she had her wings still). She doesn't have her wings anymore, so I am assuming she had mated before she was captured, and will start laying her eggs soon. How long do you think I will have to wait before I see an egg?

    Also, is she concerned about the size of her ant farm at this point? I have two ant farm villages for now - is that big enough for her to start laying eggs? Or too big?

    I read somewhere that ants are sensitive to light, is this true? I taped some black construction paper around one of the large ant village domes to give her an option of a darker place to start laying eggs. Do you think this is necessary?

    I had an ant farm about 10 years ago - I started out with a bunch of eggs and black ants and they did well - They even made their own queen!!! I let her go to go mate - I'm often curious to know if she started a nice large colony out there somewhere... hehe.

    Anyway, I am very excited to start a colony with a queen this time - any advise would be a wonderful gift.



    Dear Cheryl,
    Thank you for your questions about ants. Don't worry about your family, you never know where an interest in ants may lead you. Nice that your brother found you a queen.

    As for your queen, you may see eggs pretty soon if you have the correct conditions. Generally ant queens like quite a bit of humidity, but not so much that things get moldy. Don't give up, however, if she doesn't lay eggs. It may be too late in the season for her to start this year. She can go six months or more and still lay eggs that will hatch.

    Starting out, the queen will want a cozy, dark place. You won't need to open things up until she has some workers. The workers will start to move around more to look for food. You'll be able to tell when they need more space.

    Queen ants do prefer dark places if given a chance. Your idea to tape black paper over the dome is a good one.

    Sounds like you have a good start. Good luck with your ant farm,

    The Consult-Ant

    July 15, 2008
    O.k, so I live in the high desert of southern california, and finally! we had a massive thunderstorm!

    I've always wanted an ant farm but i knew that the queen was an important factor. So now I have a Queen meadow ant and outside my yard there are hundreds of those little mounds that the queen makes when she is finished mating, and there are also black harvester ants as well, all kinds of species. My question is, is it possible to put a queen meadow ant in the same "glass tank" with a black harvester queen ant? I really want to have both species!! but I only have one fish tank.

    What do think? Thanks for your time!!


    After a thunderstorm is a great time to find queens, no matter where you live. Congratulations.

    I am sorry to say that ant queens of two different species are not likely to get along. Sometimes two queens of the same species will set up a colony together, especially in species known to have multiple queens. However, different species are going to fight.

    One idea would be to keep the queens of different species in separate smaller containers, like test tubes, for awhile. That way you can see which ones do better in captivity. Also, if one isn't mated or doesn't lay eggs, you still have an active colony to put in your tank.

    Good Luck,

    The Consult-Ant

    June 27, 2008
    I've caught two carpenter ant queens(during mating time) and i've been keeping them in a jar; they seem to co-exist peacefully (they keep all their eggs in one pile)and they have 30+ eggs and a few larvae. I'm planing on transfering them to a larger cage when some of the workers are born and i was wondering what i should have in the cage for their home? I've had mound building ants before but never carpenter ants.


    Dear Ike,
    Congratulations on your carpenter ant queens.

    Once the workers emerge from their cocoons, they will start looking for food. Up to now the queens have been supplying their own food, although they probably took some from you if you provided it. In the cage you will need to provide some sort of place for the queens to have their eggs. One simple "nest" is a large test tube. Fill it about 1/3 full of distilled or clean water. Then push a clean cotton ball into the top of the water, so that one side is in the water and the other side is pretty dry. This keeps the water from coming out, but keeps the inside at a higher humidity. Make sure everything is as clean and sterile as possible so that mold doesn't grow.

    You might want to add two test tubes so the queens can have a choice to stay together or not.

    In another area of the cage you might ant to add a feeding station. Make sure it is easy to reach in, remove old food and clean up.

    Here is a picture of the test tube nest test tube nest

    And here is a link for building ant nests.

    Good luck,

    The Consult-Ant

    June 26, 2008
    I live on the north oregon coast and we have ants that are completely black except for their head which is red they also burn when they sting you, if you put them in a jar and shake'em arround they have a formaldic smell. What kind are they???


    Sounds like you have some lively ants.

    I can think of several different ants off the top of my head that could roughly fit that description. I would need some more information to narrow it down. First of all, how big are these ants? 1/2 inch? 1/4 inch? 1/8 inch? When you say they have a red head, does that include the middle section, which has the legs? Are they truly stinging, or merely biting? The reason I'm asking is that the the most common red-headed ants do produce a lot of formic acid, but don't have stingers. They can only bite. You can see some pictures of this kind of ant at Formica rufa group ants.

    But there are other ants that also look like this.

    If you could tell me a bit more about where you found them, that would be really helpful too, like were they in a mound, under a log, that sort of thing.

    Thanks for being curious about ants,

    The Consult-Ant

    June 24, 2008
    Hello, Just want to say I really like what you are doing.

    I'm interested in ant farms, as an urban planner I think we have a lot to learn from them. Not that our cities should BE ant colonies, but I think there is inspiration in natural systems.

    I was wondering, have you ever heard of an ant farm that connects the indoors to the outdoors?

    I was thinking it would be excellent to have a terrarium setup, but for ants that can actually get outside and provide for themselves.

    How far will ants travel for food? The terrarium could be (tightly) connected to a hose which runs outside. What do you think?


    Dear Dave,
    What a cool idea. You know, people have done similar things with honey bees for a long time and have been quite successful.

    Having worked with ants a bit, here are a few things to think about.

    You would have to be careful to choose species that no one would consider to be pests. For example, I personally think carpenter ants are wonderful, gentle giants and would make great pets but many of my neighbors would probably disagree. Some people might think all ants are pests, which of course is not true. Also, you would want to use local species. Introducing species to areas where they haven't been found previously leads to all sorts of problems.

    You would have to make sure the ants wouldn't be running into areas where people use pesticides, either.

    Ants have minds of their own. You would have to make their indoor home extremely attractive or they would be likely to find a new home and move their colony. One way to prevent this would be to take a tip from the beekeepers and make the opening to the outside too small for the queen to pass through.

    How far will ants travel for food? That really depends on the species of ant. Think of the highly mobile army ants, which can travel for miles, whereas tiny acorn ants may only go yards.

    The Sonoran Arthropod Studies website has some information about raising ants in captivity. At the home page, look at the picture of the whip scorpion. On the bottom right, there is a link to "the instar, previous issues." Click on that link. Once you are on that page, scroll to the bottom and click on "other articles of interest." Scroll down a bit to "Casa Hormiga." That has some interesting articles about ants. Other articles on the "other articles" page might also be useful.

    If you have a zoo nearby, check to see if they have an ant exhibit. Although they are not always successful (I've seen some poor exhibits), they might give you some ideas.

    If you have any more specific questions, feel free to ask.

    The Consult-Ant

    April 24, 2008
    Do Ants Prefer Sugar or Tuna? Thank you.


    Dear Lauren,
    That is a simple question but I'm afraid there isn't one simple answer. It depends somewhat on what kind of ant you have, and it also depends on what time of year it is and what life stages are present. However, before I go into details, do you really have to give them only one or another? Why not give them both?

    Okay, so let's say you can only give them sugar or tuna. The general rule is that adult worker ants tend to use sugar-based foods, for two reasons. The first is that anything an adult ant eats must pass through a very narrow passageway, their "waist" is extremely thin. Adult ants can only eat liquids, so sweets like honey water or sugar water are easiest for them to eat. Also, the ants are not growing, so they need energy from sugars to move around more than proteins like tuna to build new muscles or to grow.

    On the other hand the youngsters, the larvae, are growing and need a lot of protein like tuna. When there are a lot of larvae present, the workers tend to pick up "meat" like pieces of insects or tuna to feed them. The larvae are able to process those kinds of foods. Ant colonies tend to have a lot of new larvae in the spring and early summer in places with distinct seasons.

    Different species or kinds of ants also vary in their preferences. A common name for one species is "grease ant" because they prefer oily foods. Some ants collect seeds, some eat a fungus. If you know what species your ants are, or can find out, then you can look up what they like to eat and get a better idea what to feed them. Let me know if I can help.

    The Consult-Ant

    April 1, 2008
    My friend recently purchased an ant farm and received the ants my mail.They started with about 20 ants but in just 2 weeks are down to 5. They have made a few tunnels but the nice white sand that came with the kit is now a much darker not so nice looking color. I'm keeping the ant farm for a while and she has given me some new sand thinking maybe the old sand is moldy and their environment is killing them. Do you think this is the case? She has been feeding and watering them daily. I'm a little worried that I may do more harm than good trying to change the sand in that I may hurt them trying to get them out. It is the Uncle Milton Ant Farm. Any advice?


    Dear Robin,
    It is wonderful your are taking such an interest in your friend's ant farm. I wish I had better news. I'm afraid what is happening is pretty standard for ant farms. You see, once the worker ants have been removed from their queen and fellow workers, they usually do not live very long. If you can see obvious mold, then changing the sand might help for a short time. Healthy colonies can usually keep mold at bay, but with only five ants, they probably are overwhelmed. If you can't really tell if it is mold or not, I would say leave them be. It could be the food has caused the discoloration.

    Good luck,
    The Consult-Ant

    March 24, 2008
    I have recently captured a black carpenter ant queen an some of her eggs. She had only 5 workers with her when i found her but was unable to capture the workers. Is she going to be good this way? Will her eggs hatch and start working, and if so how long will it take?

    Thank You,

    Dear Cory
    Congratulations on finding a queen. The queen should be fine without workers. As long as you feed the queen something like honey/water mixed together and soaked into a cotton ball, she should be able to rear more workers on her own. If she only had 5 workers with her, she was probably a new queen from this year.

    As to whether her eggs will hatch, it will depend on the time of year and the temperature. Don't be disappointed if she eats some or all of the eggs in the winter. She should lay more in the spring.

    You probably already know you can't add workers from other carpenter ant colonies, because they would fight with the queen. But if you can find cocoons (or pupae), the queen will accept those. When the workers emerge, they will treat the queen like their own.

    Good luck,
    The Consult-Ant

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