Lab rearing fire ants for research

Here is an illustrated guide to maintaining fire ant (S. invicta) colonies in the lab for research purposes. Assistants in the Ross lab or anyone working on fire ants is welcome to refer to this page.

The knowledge here is taught by Dr. Kenneth Ross and his predecessors. I have also drawn from my own experience.

Collecting fire ants:

Lab rearing:

undefined Diagram of a rearing unit

Fire ant colony in a dish nest

A. Rearing tray

Just a plastic tray with fluon applied on the inner walls. Ants will slowly climb up the corner (1-3 months). When/Before ant workers escape, transfer the colony to a newly fluoned tray.

Wash the used tray thoroughly, and clean off the fluon on the walls. (Better to wash twice in 3 mins each than to wash once in 6 min, because only when it is dry can you tell how much fluon remains, and the second wash will completely clean off the old fluon.) Apply new fluon to the new dry tray, using 1 part stock fluon: 2 part water solution.

B. Nest

Petri dish filled with dental powder-enhanced plaster. Ants prefer living in a “natural” habitats (e.g. soil), but such nest allows easy manipulation of the ants for research purposes.

Must add water to the plaster at least twice a week. A nest with more content (larvae and pupae) retain more moisture so adjust the amount of water added each time. Check on the monogyne queen every time you water the nest. If the queen is missing or dead, take notes.

C. Water tubes

Culture tubes filled with water, plugged with cotton. Make sure the cotton ball is tightly packed to prevent workers from chewing through it.

D. Food

I put a dish for ant food just so the leftover food can be easily removed when changing the tray. Give less food to a colony that has more leftovers.

Sugar food – made of baby food, mashed potato flakes, sugar, and peanut butter; Protein food – made of dog food, salmon, tuna, and peanut butter; Frozen crickets or dried crickets (rehydrate before feeding).

Some photos (by me) –

Fire ant brood
Workers carrying brood
A monogyne queen and her workers
Polygyne queens
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