Last Friday was not even the 13th

My girlfriend, her curiousity thwarted and patience tested by our Lasius niger queens happily dozing off over their brood for the last month, decided to get herself some other ants. They had to be bigger, have more cool 'features' and not require another month of waiting for workers to arrive and start doing interesting things.

So she ordered a Messor barbarus queen with a few workers, a Spanish 'harvester' ant that has a special caste of large workers to act as can-openers for the tough seeds they collect. They also came with a nice ready-to-go kit containing a gypsum nest, an outworld, necessary tubing and a lot of food.
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Messor barbarus: queen, minors, mediums and a big red-headed major.

This was to be the first ant species we'd care for, not accustomed to our lousy Dutch weather. Reading up on their care, I saw several people commenting on how this species gets chilled in the mail and required warming-up once out of the box.

Typically a heatmat is used for this, but the one we ordered hadn't arrived yet. So instead I decided to put the test tube containing the budding colony under the new infra-red heatlamp I had just modified with a dimming control. I put it on 25% (the lamp itself already only 50 Watts) and put it a good 40 centimeters away from the test tube which I also had covered with a sock. When I put my hand under it, the warmth was barely noticable on my skin.

It would only be a few hours before my girlfriend would come home to cozy, warmed-up ants and happily unpack and assemble their new nest for them to move into (and, knowing ants, probably ignore it for the next few days).

It would have been the kickoff for a weekend of leisurely observing these awesome little creatures and a nice closure of my extremely hectic Friday. A Friday that might just as well have been on the 13th. Going to the city for a early-birthday present of a macro lens for her camera, only to find out photography stores have become a thing of the past (for good reasons). Buying and immediately having to return a fruit-fly breeding jar, because it's paper-thin bottom broke after a single slight tap. Casting a gypsum formicarum and having it stubbornly still refusing to leave its mold.

Pile upon this a ton of general household mishap and mayhem, lead me to make the mistakes leading to a true tragedy. The scatterbrained mistake of not checking upon the ants sooner. The unthinking mistake of not giving the ants a place to move to if they didn't like me warming up their home. The careless mistake of using an untested heatlamp without even having a proper thermometer.

Such a sad sight...

On a side note... where hell did the queens antennae go? I took this picture today and I already noticed yesterday one 'feeler' was missing, but didn't think too much of it. Maybe I hadn't noticed before and she always had just the one antenna, having lost before she was found and put into a test tube. Ants can actually do fine with just one antenna, losing a bit of their navigational sense, but that's a wasted skill on queens most of their lives anyway.

But now both the antennae are gone! They are not laying around in the tube either, I looked. Besides: it's not like those things fall off on their own. So... did the workers feed them to the larvae or something... what the hell?

Anyway, most of the workers survived (weird, considering the much larger queen didn't). Also alive are about six pupae, among which one larger one and about a dozen larvae. So in an attempt to get at  least something positive of this tragedy, we're planning for Operation: Save the Orphans.

Tomorrow we'll try to rescue the orphaned brood from their now aimless sisters in an attempt to get them adopted by a new Messor barbarus colony. Wish them luck!