Keeping our ants
Our ant farm compliments the orchid business and the colonies are being kept in what was previously one of our orchid growing shade houses - which has been specially modified to keep and raise colonies of ants.
The ant colonies are housed in artificial observation nests which are made from plaster of paris (quick setting gypsum). The chambers in these nests are carefully designed regards depth and size to correspond to the species being housed. We have found that many species don't respond well and seem insecure if kept in nests with chambers that are not the correct natural size. Short connecting tunnels are drilled into the plaster to link the chambers and there is an entrance that leads out into a foraging area.
The nests have a water trough at the back which is filled about once a week, and the water then disperses through the plaster giving a moisture gradient, with higher humidity in the chambers near the trough. To keep the interior chambers dark the nests also have a removable wooden cover.
These gypsum nests have proven to be quite successful and the ants seem to like them. They also allow us to observe the whole colony very clearly, enabling us to check on the colony size and to ensure that they are strong and healthy with fertile queens and plenty of brood, prior to being offered for sale.
Although we keep newly collected female alates in test tubes we do not keep any of our colonies in test tubes. We have found that keeping colonies for any length of time in just a test tube results in ‘colony apathy’ often resulting in the colonies becoming listless and eating their brood.
Colonies kept in sealed test tubes are also unable to dispose of their waste and frequently end up succumbing to various diseases, especially forms of fungus and mould which can quickly pollute the air and kill their brood and / or the entire colony.
Previously we took a selection of colonies back to the U.K. when we returned with consignments of orchids, and then posted them out to customers who had ordered them.
However, we found that the time taken to reach the customer after two separate journeys often resulted in the more fragile species suffering stress and loss. So we now post all colonies out direct from Thailand. This has the benefit that there is only a single journey required. We have found that this is much better for the colonies and turns out quicker than the combination of two journeys.
We have been posting colonies from Thailand for over eleven years. With the knowledge gained from sending out previous orders and our tried and tested packing method - they easily survive the short transit time, and arrive in good condition with the minimum of loss.
We supply a range of interesting exotic ant / termite species. Some are easily kept and suitable for general hobbyists,
others are more specialized and are for the more experienced enthusiast.
The species we sell are offered in various sizes from newly mated female alates - to large mature colonies.
We take pride in the quality of our colonies - and our aim is to offer a good range of strong, healthy queens / colonies.
The observation nests are kept in semi natural set ups with plenty of foraging space. This helps to reduce stress on the colonies and helps stimulate them to remain active and carry on breeding.
Living in Thailand enables us to observe the ants natural habitats which helps us gather information that we use to successfully keep them in captivity - and the artificial habitats we keep them in are landscaped according to the species housed. For example: those for Tetraponera which is partially arboreal have plenty of branches for them to climb over, and those for Odontomachus which are ground foraging are landscaped with a layer of dead leaves.
Large mature colonies are kept in glass tanks and smaller colonies are kept in large plastic bowls. Tanks for species that can easily climb are also covered with a netting lid.
To stop the ants from escaping all the habitat containers are stood on a water bench - and the water is continually circulated by a small pump.
Colonies are kept in artificial nests that allow us to easily check on their size and health.
Habitat containers are all stood on a water bench - and the water is continually circulated to stop the ants from escaping.
We do not use any form of heating for our colonies and in northern Thailand there is a distinct rest period during December / January - when the night temperatures frequently fall to 10-15 C.
This period of rest is important for the colonies well being, and they should not be kept at the same constant temperature all year round. This short rest period over the winter seems to invigorate the colonies. It also seems to stimulate the production of alates - as many species start to raise their alate brood in the period just after their winter rest, when the night and day temperatures start to rise.
Humidity is also very important and the general rule we follow imitates the natural rhythm of 'low humidity during the day and high at night'. To create this we usually give the habitat containers a light misting in the early evening.
An environment kept at a constant high humidity is unnatural - and will result in conditions that various moulds and pests such as mites will thrive.
Buapin (Pin for short) and her sister have a small farm in Thailand where they grow rice, maize, vegetables, fruit, herbs etc; which are all sold on the local market. As a business partner she allows us to operate the orchid nursery and ant farm on part of her land.
She also helps us with maintaining and updating all the official Thai documentation required - such as the business registration documents, the export license renewal and the annual financial accounts - which all have to be submitted in Thai. And, occasionally she will even accompany us on jungle explorations, although she is more interested in collecting the local wild herbs and mushrooms than looking for ants!
Mature colonies are given a good sized foraging area that is landscaped to mimic the ant's natural habitat.
We have our own dedicated ant farm. This was established in April 2010 and is situated in northern Thailand.
The business is run by Peter and his Thai partner Buapin. Peter studied commercial horticulture in the U.K. and progressed from being a grower to senior management in the garden center industry. While he worked in the U.K. he also had his own small business importing and selling tropical orchid plants.
In 1995 he became self employed and moved to northern Thailand, where he set up an orchid nursery. Having an orchid farm in Thailand enabled him to greatly expand his business, allowing him to grow orchids with the minimum of costs.