Formicarium of the 4/4
Formicarium of the 1/4 is back and this time we're bringing you a very special social planted formicarium from the owner of Exotic-Ants.de, Enrique Baumgarten.
Check out the details as written by Enrique Baumgarten below.
I've already kept some native species as a child, now as a professional ant lover and seller there are many colonies in stock to choose from. For my own passion there are just a few of interest to me now. Special species that are able to see well such as Gigantiops destructor, the ant with the largest eyes in the world as an example. It is always a thrill to observe them, above all when they live socially with other ants, like Pseudomyrmex. This is my favorite genus of ants: These tree-living-ants can also see little movements close to them or in the near distance. They hide as a reaction behind leaves or jump to other branches. Their nests are also in hollowed branches which makes them easier to keep. So that’s why I often write something about societies of ant-species that are kept together in a jungle-terrarium, simulating tropical landscapes. So here I want to tell you something about this artificial habitat and its residents.
The size of this tank is 80 cm x 80 cm x 35 cm. The terrarium is made out of glass and tenuous wire mesh is applied in areas for ventilation. The modified standard-design makes it easier to handle the following part, the rear wall: It is made out of Xaxim to grow many epiphytic plants. This is not just for fun and attractiveness of the small jungle. The vegetation also creates additional surface for the ants. For the plants on the ground I use volcanic stones and gravel. It keeps the soil well drained and ventilated. Organic fertilizer is used two or three times a year. What kinds of plants are useful for the ants that live in this artificial biotope? Of course plants that produce some nectar and that can be kept small in the terrarium. Passiflora has many species that fulfill these requirements. In my case it is P. helleri and in former times P. auriculata. Other plants are common in such matters. Unlike in artificial nests I only use natural materials in this setup: small rotten branches for Crematogaster, cork tubes (and peat) for Gigantiops and branches from Buddleia, Forsythia and blackberry for the Pseudomyrmex.
Pseudomyrmex künckeli, Gigantiops destructor, Crematogaster sp. are the species that are kept together in this artificial habitat. Maybe they know each other from nature, because they appear in the same spots in the rainforests of South America. Let`s start with the smallest species, Crematogaster spec
(Tococa). It is a very small Myrmicinae that often lives as a small colony in Maieta and Tococa guyanensis, but there is seemingly no more liability between these two species. Nests can also be in rotten wood and small branches on the ground. The special thing about this ant is that they appear rarely when there is feeding time. Many Crematogaster species got invasive when they were kept in formicariums, but not this one. It's life consists mostly of waste, rests and sugar-water. When these ants appear, it is spectacular, because you can see big ant trails and luckily no aggression between these Crematogaster and the other two ant species. In the early days of the formicarium, Gigantiops destructor could be watched, while some workers pecked the smaller Crematogaster, but immediately stopped when smelling their repellent defense. Since these first encounters there were no more aggression. Gigantiops is easier to see and so it appears much more often. These Formicinae interact by reacting on optical stimuli, which is what makes them very exciting to observe. Their nests are also in rotten wood and other cavities. I prefer cork tubes with diameters of 3 cm to 7 cm. Gigantiops builds nests out of peat when it is wet enough. The Pseudomyrmex lives in the simulated canopy in branches of blackberry. The ants can scoop out the mark of these branches very easily. Most important fact about keeping Pseudomyrmex is that their nests have to dry completely after rain. Mold and fungi around the nests of these ants are deadly for them. So if everything can dry after simulated rain, the ants will thrive. There are also some Pseudomyrmecinae that can survive in very humid conditions and rotten wood, but P. künckeli and many others in captivity need dryness in their nests.
We've kept Pseudomyrmex künckeli since 2012, Crematogaster sp. since 2013 and Gigantiops destructor since 2014.
Except for the formicarium, the substrates, plants and ants, there is not much maintenance needed for this setup. Let`s talk about some additional little things. Spring steel tweezers are useful for most ants, you can get them in different hardness. A syringe is a helpful tool to place sugar-water on leaves or bowls. The epiphytic plants have to be misted. This may happen automatically or with an analog pressure sprayer and your own regularity. Technical problems may arise with automatic devices, so I prefer the human resource in this case. It is also safer for the animals, Pseudomyrmecine ants need water to drink in the morning and a dry nest for the whole day. Both are easier to control by observing and acting accordingly.
The lights are very important. For the first few years I used four fluorescent tubes. The result was quite nice, light and warm. This season I changed to LEDs. Well, the light color is not comparable to the fluorescent tubes, it is much brighter. But unfortunately the colour is a little colder in the artificial habitat with LEDs. So we will see how the whole thing is working in the winter and I suppose that there will be some change again to raise the temperature. So if you keep the temperature between 22 °C at night and 29 °C at daytime, the ants will live successfully in your artificial habitat.
So if temperature is best at round about 28 °C – it is feeding time: The main inhabitants (Pseudomyrmex künckeli) of this artificial habitat like most kinds of insects, especially when they are the correct size to be carried away. That means micro and small crickets, flies or even male bees (all frozen). Best for them are fresh larvae of different insects, they can drink their blood and portion the flesh to give to their own larvae at home. An important aspect of feeding within this species setup is the time and availability that it is offered to the ants to dismantle their prey: If another bigger ant species comes and takes the prey completely away with her, the Pseudomyrmex are no longer able to eat. So this should always be noted when putting peaceful ant species together. Many problems appear because of wrong feeding techniques: One colony gets the most, another nearly nothing. It is clear where that leads. So always make sure that all species get what they need and if need be add some changes in what and when you offer and ensure availability for all colonies.
Feeding Gigantiops is a little bit different. They also like frozen or alive take- away-insects, but they never stay with bigger prey and dismantle it at the same spot. Prey for Gigantiops is always carried away by these small jumpers. Pseudomyrmex and Gigantiops have good eyesight and both use this sense not only to escape from bigger predators, they also recognize smaller insects, which are possible prey. In captivity this kind of hunting can be simulated with fruit flies. Gigantiops should also be fed with alive Colembola to observe how they play hide and seek together.
Crematogaster is an example for uncomplicated feeding: In the first one and a half years they were seen just a few times. I suspect that they lived on garbage left by the other ants. In later times they appeared more often in bigger numbers but never got aggressive against the other species. As you can see in the photo they like sugar water and if possible they take away a cricket leg. I always feed them in small bowls in the canopy, where the Pseudomyrmex live. So it is ensured that all ants get what they need and that they can be observed.
Pseudomyrmex künckeli is now five years in captivity. They were discovered as a small colony so the age of the queen is not known. Gigantiops was raised out of a queen, so this one is now approximately about two and a half years old and doing fine. The Crematogaster disappeared after three years – I suspect the queen died after two years after forming a big colony with 1000 to 2000 tiny Crematogaster workers and a few alate queens. A new young colony was introduced to the formicarium this summer. I am looking forward to this micro- super-organism. What should be changed or bought? The most important thing when keeping exotic animals and plants is space and time. There has never been a formicarium, terrarium or artificial habitat that will remain large enough. So next time the terrarium will be bigger – just like all times before.
A big thanks to Enrique Baumgarten for showcasing this formicarium. We appreciate the insight into the world of planted formicariums. We hope you guys enjoyed it.