A wild queen appears

Ever since I can remember, I've had a general, amateur-level interest in ants. As a child, I would watch them in my grandparents' garden and feed them communist biscuits (growing up in Eastern Europe in the 80s I didn't have much else to give them). Later, I read Bernard Werber's trilogy The Ants, which was a sci-fi work that presented ants as intelligent. I was rather skeptical about that claim, as well as several of the ants' exploits throughout the books, but there were a few nuggets of fact in there that ratcheted up my interest a notch. After I met Stroomschok and found out about his childhood myrmecology ambitions, I had a vague idea that we might get an ant farm, but in my mind they were big aquariums filled with dirt, where most of the "action" was hidden from view.

Image result for bernard werber fourmis livre de pocheImage result for bernard werber the ants

Fast-forward to July 5th. Walking home from the train station at the end of a work day, I notice a large ant scurrying on the pavement in front of me. Thinking to show it to my boyfriend, I pick it up. Halfway through, she jumps off my hand and runs for the hills (the metaphorical ones, Netherlands is extremely flat). However, when I look down I notice more of these big ants, milling around. Oh well, I'll just capture another one then. Triumphantly displaying my achievement on a leaf, I walk into the house announcing that I found a big ant and my boyfriend should come look at it. Obviously, him being the expert, it is immediately identified as a Lasius Niger queen.

A D&D dice box is emptied of dice and filled with some dirt from the garden, and the queen is promptly housed within. I guess we're committed to this ant business now, so I start searching for ant farms online, coming across the beginner antkeeper's bane - the gel farms. Because I like overdoing things, I order two. Also because I like overdoing things, I accept the offer of more queens from my boyfriend's youngest brother, who delivers a "modest" catch of 6 queens. Then I catch two more on my way home a couple of weeks later, because they looked cute.

We are now up to 9 Lasius Niger queens. The initial one has been moved to a smaller box after a failed attempt to transfer her into the gel farm (rookie mistake, fortunately she recovered and laid a fresh batch of eggs). The 6 ones from my boyfriend's brother are housed in spice tubes, and named accordingly - Anise, Ginger, Saffron, Cinnamon, Rosemary and Thyme. The 2 most recent ones are housed in tubes that used to hold Greek spices. I tentatively name them Lamb and Moussaka. Moussaka is extremely fussy and won't settle down, so we move her to a dice box with humid sand in it. She is still fussy, won't burrow or lay eggs or even sit still for a minute. Maybe she doesn't like the sand. We put her in another dice box, this time with some rich black soil from the garden. She still won't settle, so I give up and store her on a shelf, wrapped in tinfoil. Lamb, on the other hand, is being a good girl - laying eggs immediately and not making any fuss.

Now that we know that the gel ant farms would not work, we start looking into more advanced methods of ant-housing. Most ant keeping stores are located outside Europe, but fortunately we come across a German website that sells some very professional-looking farms, arenas and assorted paraphernalia, as well as ants. We now spend so much time on this website researching ant things, that it gives me an idea for the name of our first Lasius queen, the one we decided that will establish our very first colony: Ameising Grace, from German 'ameisen' = ants. Now you know. :)