You don't have to spend any money to begin your ant-keeping journey. All you need is this guide, a bit of luck, and a lot of patience!
What do queen ants look like?
There are a few things you can look at for you to know if you're looking at a queen.
- Size - Queens are almost always larger than workers. If your ant's bigger than her friends, she could be a queen. Though, she could also just be a major worker, or a different species from her friends. Check for other signs!
- Shape - Worker ants have a small thorax (midsection). If you see an ant that has a big head and gaster (ant-butt), BUT a small thorax, she's probably just a major worker. If your ant has a large thorax as well, you've probably got yourself a queen!
- Wings - This is what that large thorax was for - wing muscles! Only queens and drones are born with wings. If your ant has wings, you have either a queen or drone!
- Wing Scars - Queens cut off their own wings after mating. This may sound gruesome, but it helps her dig her founding chamber! Big, bulky wings aren't really useful for crawling and digging. If your ant has wing scars, it's definitely a queen!
How do I find queens?
I highly discourage digging up established colonies to find their queen. What you want to find is a freshly mated queen from nuptial flights!
- Bright light - Ant queens and drones are attracted to light! Either visit bright lights, or leave one of your own lights on. The alates (queens and drones) will gather near bright lights. This works out even better when the lights are illuminating white walls.
- Gardens and forests - Ant queens, of course, come from ant colonies. You will find more ant queens near lush gardens and forested areas. Malls have tons of bright lights inside, but you won't find too many ant queens there.
- Weather - Nuptial flights don't happen every day. In fact, for temperate regions, they only happen in spring! Ant-keepers in tropical countries (like the Philippines!) are lucky. We get nuptial flights all year. Nuptial flights are especially common during the rainy season!
- Time - This will vary per species. Nuptial flights can happen any time of day, but often occur close to sunrise or sunset. For light baits in the Philippines, I get best results turning my lights on 30 minutes before sunset then looking for queens as the sky darkens.
- Luck - All these tips just increase your chances of finding a queen. If it's an hour past sunset and you still haven't seen any queens, it's time to enjoy your dinner and try again another day.
Out of all these factors, I'd have to say luck is the greatest factor. I once spent a whole weekend with my mind set on finding at least one queen. The location was great - I drove an hour to a forested area that had tons of ants. The timing was great - it had rained earlier that week. I set up a light trap both nights and found ZERO queens. I drove all the way home, only to find a huge Camponotus queen chilling on my garage wall.
I hope this helps you find your own queen ant!