Colony Antics: All the little ladies, put your antennas up (multiple species)

Content warning: Baby pictures

As I threatened in my last post, the next update is on ant babies. Quite a few of our colonies have either eclosed their first workers, or they have added to the ranks of their workers. I won't cover every single new arrival, as exciting as each of them have been for us, but I'll go over the highlights.

The first to greet new arrivals was the efficient colony of Queen Dutchie. The royal nursemaids helped the two new workers emerge from their pupal form and into their glorious new life as loyal subjects of Queen Dutchie... wait, why are they white? Well, as it turns out, newborn ants are translucent in their first few hours, their colour gradually changing and darkening as their exoskeleton hardens. The upside is that you can spot the noobs right away.

Before the two new workers could stand on their own, their minders started acting very strangely - carrying them back and forth through the corridors and chambers. At some point, one of them even had the audacity of dumping a newborn in the same room as Hilda, but of course she ain't got no time for babysitting, so she scampered away.

The next colony got a rather... artificial population boost. No, we haven't been meddling with in-vitro ant reproduction, simply applying a classic antkeeping technique called 'brood boosting'. You see, adult ants from different colonies (even if they are the same species), have distinct pheromone markers that allow them to differentiate between nest-mates and not nest-mates. Thus, if you would try to add some workers from a different colony to your own, they will very likely fight each other. However, brood (a collective term for ant eggs, larvae and pupae) does not have this kind of olfactive allegiance. You can happily kidnap some brood from one colony and give it to another, and the second colony will likely raise them as their own. Which is why, when we found this in our garden, we engaged in a little brood boosting of Goldilocks's colony.

We scooped up between 50 and 70 cocoons from the wild colony and, not knowing any better, I just dumped them all into Goldilocks's little tube. This caused a frenzy of confused activity from the tiny workers and the queen herself, who didn't know what to do with such a huge influx of new brood. As they threatened to work themselves into paralyzing indecision, we took the extreme measure of moving them into their gypsum nest ourselves, rather than wait for them to do it on their own. Using a small, soft brush and pieces of kitchen paper I collected brood, workers and queen from their catch tube and placed them in the outworld.

From there, it was enough to drop one worker and a few cocoons into the nest itself, and things just fell into place. That first worker figured out what a nice place the nest is and started pulling cocoons in by herself. Soon, others joined her, until all the workers had formed an efficient pass-the-cocoon chain and dumped all the brood inside the nest. The queen herself seemed quite content to sit in a corner of the outworld, so with some gentle brush prodding we convinced her to move in as well... where she promptly started causing traffic jams with her big butt.

Still, it all ended well and after a couple of days new workers emerged from the adopted cocoons. These new workers are two times larger than Goldilocks's own, as the first generation of a new queen tends to be on the small side (hence the special term for them - 'nanitics').

Speaking of adopted brood, the orphan pupae from our first Messor barbarus colony have started eclosing as well and two of them have already joined Cosecha Reina's court. The queen apparently took exception to my observation of the event, as she started moving her brood into a covered portion of the test tube. Her workers, oblivious to her royal sensitivities, were moving them back at the other end... and so on, back and forth for almost an hour.

Cosecha Reina shredding a fly to feed her children

An interesting fact about Messor barbarus is that they feed their larvae with a kind of bread that they make from seeds and their own enzyme-rich saliva. We were able to watch them prepare this bread and feed it to the hungry babies. They must have put something special in that last batch of ant bread, however, because LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT LARVA!

And finally, an update on the Spice Girls and the blog's titular Ameising Grace. I am happy to report that as of the moment of writing all Spice Girls have nanitics. It is a bit difficult to count them, them being so small and tending to hide under the queen, but by my last count Rosemary was in the lead with 10, closely followed by Cinnamon (who was the first to eclose a nanitic) with 8. Saffron is being a bit of a disappointment to me, tailing the list with only 3. To make it easier to feed them, we have moved each Spice Girl tube into its own outworld, made from cheese boxes lined with sand.

 And to close it off, Ameising Grace has her own nanitics as well (at least 5 at the last count), but sadly we cannot show you pictures because they're all hiding in their dirt nest.

Spice Girls apartment complex