Here is a illustrated guide to maintain fire ant (S. invicta) colonies in the lab for research purpose. Assistants in the Ross lab or anyone working on fire ants are welcome to refer this page.
The knowledge here is taught by Dr. Ken Ross and his predecessors. I have also drawn from my own experience.
Collecting fire ants:
Diagram of a rearing unit
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 are escaping, transfer the colony to a newly fluoned tray.
Wash the used tray thoroughly, clean off the fluon on the walls. (Better to wash twice 3 mins 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 complete clean off the old fluon.) Apply new fluon to the new dry tray, using 1 part stock fluon : 2 part water solution.
Pitri dish filled with dental powder enhanced plaster. Ants prefer living in “natural” habitat (e.g. soil) but such nest allows easy manipulation of the ants for research purpose.
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 as you water the nest. If the queen is missing or dead, take notes.
C. Water tubes
Culture tubes filled with water, plugged by cotton. Make sure the cotton ball is tightly packed to prevent workers from chewing through it.
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 – make of baby food, mashed potato flakes, sugar, peanut butter; Protein food – make of dog food, salmon, tuna, peanut butter ; Frozen crickets or dried crickets (re-hydrate before feeding).
Some photos (by me) –