Although many of these queens are offered for sale individually some are purposely kept back and allowed to raise new colonies - which are then sold at a later date.
We also use excess queens of some species like seed to produce future colonies. This is done by placing fertilized queens in prepared burrows / chambers under stones etc. helping them avoid most of their natural predators and giving them a higher chance to start colonies. Foundation places are carefully marked and revisited a few months later when many of the queens will have succeeded in raising young colonies. We can then harvest these ‘assisted natural colonies’ as required. This has proven quite successful with ground nesting genera such as Carebara and some Camponotus.
We practice what we like to call ‘an ethical renewable collection policy’ -
obtaining our queens and colonies by several methods,
which have minimal impact on the existing wild populations.
Some young / mature colonies are specifically collected from cultivated farmlands. Here mature colonies are frequently poisoned by the farmers as they are considered pests which hinder work on the land and / or affect the crops grown by damaging the plants.
Species such as Carebara diversa and Solenopsis geminata frequent this open exposed type of habitat and we are in effect saving these colonies from a slow painful death.
We are also continually on the lookout for forest clearance projects / new building sites etc. and ask for permission to collect from these sites before the ground work commences. Collecting from these areas saves the colonies that would otherwise be destroyed once the heavy building / landscaping work commences.
We also maintain several ‘cultivated mother colonies’ of certain species in our garden and on our own farm land. These are protected against predators and regularly fed to encourage them to increase in size.
These colonies then produce yearly crops of alates which we can collect, and we can also remove ‘parts’ of the colony at regular intervals. Species such as Anoplolepis gracilipes and Paratrechina longicornis which both produce large multi queen mega colonies are maintained and collected this way.
In some cases, we will collect wild colonies from certain natural localities - but are very careful on how this is done with the aim of not upsetting the natural balance.
For example, we have only found Diacamma scalpratum in one particular secluded forest that is owned and protected by the monks of a nearby temple. This species does not have nuptial flights as such and propagates itself by division. This is a very slow method of propagation and over collection could quickly cause the natural population to collapse.
To provide a continual supply of new colonies we have assessed the total number of colonies inhabiting the forest and allowing for maintaining the wild population have worked out we can only harvest between 8-10 colonies a year. This amount allows the natural population to maintain its numbers - and will allow us to continue harvesting colonies for many years.
While we are collecting this species, we purposely leave the larger colonies which are near the time of division, and give additional food and remove potential threats to the existing colonies.
Setting up a mobile light trap which is powered from a car battery.
This enables us to collect from locations where there is no access to mains power.
Our ultimate aim regards collection is to be able
to offer for sale many different species - which we
have managed to source from stock that otherwise would have been lost to natural predators or environmental dangers.
And - to collect from areas which we have 'managed'
and where the removal will have minimum impact on
the population of existing colonies, and hence not
affect the balance of the ecosystem.
Carebara diversa can be found nesting in open exposed places near cultivated farmland.
Forest habitat where Diacamma scalpratum can be found.
Where colonies have been removed from the wild and we have had to dig them out the area is always returned to its original state before we move on - with all holes filled in and vegetation replaced.
It is in our best interests to maintain the wild colonies to provide a continual source of stock. If we depleted these colonies by destructive overcollection we would have fewer colonies to sell in the future.
'Ant hunting' in the rainy season - mosquitoes, scorpions, snakes, poisonous caterpillars and giant spiders are just a few of the perils.
Over the past eight years we have designed and perfected our own special light trap. This is used during the alate flying season to capture new queens of those species that fly around dusk or later.
In nature many of these queens would be taken by predators such as bats, geckos, frogs and other ants etc. and we are in this case utilizing stock that is usually lost during the foundation stage.