Ok. I have gotten alot of requests from people wanting Queen ants for their ant farms and from people wanting to buy entire ant colonies. I decided to do a bit of research to see what I could come up with and here’s what I found out:
There is always the option of digging up your own colony and queen ant, and so I’ve made this how-to-find-queen-ants guide below. For all of you wanting to buy a queen ant, here’s what I know.
Buying a Queen Ant
We all know that The Department of Agriculture prohibits interstate shipment of queen ants. They don't want reproducing ants going into other states where they may start colonies that could damage agriculture or the ecosystem. However, they do issue permits to certain people for the Study of Ants (myrmecology). You can visit their website for info on obtaining a permit for a Queen Ant.
This website, The Sonoran Arthropod Studies Institute does research on Arthropods (which include ants) and they already have all the necessary permits to obtain Queen Ants. It looks like they are always accepting new members and you can find alot of information about obtaining a permit or a Queen Ant on their site or by contacting them. (Update 2014: It looks like this site is shut down)
This site, Antsectopia is based out of the U.K. and has a huge variety of Queen Ants and Colonies for sale. I’m sure they are not allowed to ship to the U.S., but they probably could once you obtained a permit. They likely could tell you what you need to do in order to receive shipments from them as well. There is more information here at their main site. (Update 2014: Antsectopia is no longer)
Finding a Queen Ant
There are a few possibilities:
You can dig her nest up and find her. This is a tedious and difficult method and may not always be successful. The queen is very difficult to get. –Ant
I have done this numerous times. For Formicas (larger small mound building species) I use:
- Spade shovel
- 2 five gallon buckets
- 2 covers for buckets
- Metal spoon.
- Newspaper (a section will do)
- Jars/bucket with 1-2" inside near rim treated with oil
The process I use is to locate less developed nests (smaller). Then I carry shovel, buckets, and covers to site of nest during mid to late day (when sun has warmed upper soil).
Next, I cut a circle around colony usually about size of bucket or smaller if possible. Think of this like cutting a 6" deep hole of sod; but don't pull up the section until you have made your circular cut. When your ready lift the whole section out of ground -- intact if possible -- put in first bucket. Then while the nest is disturbed, begin to quickly dig the rest of the soil following chambers and tunnels until few ants are found or bucket(s) are full. As buckets get full, place covers on them.
Now, take the bucket(s) home and begin to manually sort (using spoon, newspapers for the refuse soil and jars/bucket to put the workers, pupae, larvae, eggs in while looking for the queen(s). Once the queen is obtained, then one can decide whether to keep sorting to obtain more workers or eggs, larvae pupae, etc. I have found eggs are very difficult to spot in many species unless they are still in wads of multiple eggs. Under large rocks mid-day or there about: Similar process as above, but usually one doesn't need to get as much soil and one may see immediately the queen. I've turned large blocks many times and seen huge colonies -- with a queen scrambling for cover. --Mr. Ant
Rotting boards are good candidates. In West Virginia this summer (1999), I found three species all with queens under a rotting dog house we had to move. --Anonymous
Carpenter ant queens, at least in Michigan, can relatively easily be found in late fall or early spring (in cool temperatures) by locating a large tree stand with a fair amount of downed and rotting logs. By carefully peeling off the bark one should easily be able to find a carpenter queen with her first brood (in some stage) in a egg shaped chamber between bark and wood of tree. Being prepared with collection jars (large mouthed mason work great) and sharp long knife. One places a small section of bark over the 1.5" oval chamber and cuts into the tree to extract completely the 1.5" oval chamber and surrounding wood. --Mr. Ant
Wait for the nuptial flights during the spring and summer seasons. The new queen ants usually fly away after a rain storm during a warm temperature. It depends where you are, and the development of the colony. Most species of ants will mate in late spring and summer (June through August). --Ant and Angelo Scott
Nuptial flights are the best time to get queens. Many times I seem to miss them for various reasons. The best reason to get nuptial queens is they are MUCH less sensitive to light than full blown native colonies (which I have observed take some time to acclimatize to light). Also, you get to see the full development cycle. It is important make sure to feed your queen before she enters the chamber as this will give her a much larger first brood than otherwise would have occurred. She will greedily gorge herself and then you can finally put her in your terrarium. --Mr. Ant
Finding colonies with queens is best done during the first really warm weather of spring. At this time, queens come near the surface to warm up (just as they later retreat into the depths to keep cool once hot weather fully sets in). Placing covering objects such as flat bricks, stones, or old boards over known nest sites will help induce the ants to come gather under these in a few days or a week, making it easier to capture a whole colony. When you find the queen, capture her FIRST in a small container, and THEN go about scooping up the rest of the colony. Queens are very shy, and hide quickly at the first disturbance of the colony. --Dr. Ant