J and I have a colony of a couple of hundred weaver ants in the second bedroom.
It is so amazing that the entire colony started with a single Queen on our basil plant.
As it rained the previous night, I told J that the Queen just had an orgy in the air last night. She is tired and is looking for a safe place to shed her wings and lay eggs.
I realised now that without any context or knowledge, that sentence above was a choice between bullshit and insanity.
Beginnings of the Weaver Ants Colony
I put the Queen in a takeaway container covered in cling wrap and poked holes in it. She then shed her wings and laid her first batch of eggs within the hour.
(L): Protective Mama with her eggs
(R): Underside of the Weaver Queen
I had no idea what species she was, so I did what any normal person would do. Which was to go to the Singapore Ants Facebook group and ask for help. They told me that she was a genus Oecophylla, a weaver Queen. Weaver ants are tough to keep and are better suited for ‘advanced ant keepers’ (is that what I am now?) Apparently, weavers don’t survive well past their founding stage, and few people in Singapore had success keeping them.
By this point, J was adamant that there would be no ants in the apartment. Yet somehow, the queen lived in the 2nd bathroom, which was dark and airy. She used her larvae to spin a little web to protect her brood. She lived there for about two months before her nanitics (first workers) started exploring the little takeaway box that they were living in. I fed them honey which attracted some crazy black ants in the beginning. The foreign ants did not last long as the weavers tore them apart and lined their heads and bodies on the wall of the container, Game of Thrones style.
Looking back, that was my first clue as to how ferocious they are.
(R): The adorable little web she spun
(L): Her nanitics breaking free from the web and exploring the container
Weavers On The Loose
Since J was in the process of selling the apartment when the colony was rather young (around 20 weavers), they lived in the drawer of the walk-in wardrobe while people came to visit the place. I would think it’s a feature of the apartment to have a takeaway container full of weaver ants in the 2nd bathroom, but J believes otherwise. So into the drawer they went. Until they escaped. E S C A P E D while we had potential buyers of the apartment visiting. Joy.
The little buggers bit through the air holes in the cling wrap and were crawling all over the wardrobe. This was when I learnt that weaver ants have one of the stickiest feet in the ant world. As I tried to recapture them (about ten escaped) before the potential buyers walked in the room, I used a cup and coated the top with vaseline, which should have acted as an ant barrier. I tried to push them into the cup to hold them there temporarily.
They walked over the vaseline like Jesus walked over water.
The good news was, the apartment got sold to the people who viewed the place while the weavers were running amok. So I called them the good luck ants as they escaped in order to spread the good luck chi. Unfortunately, J wasn’t convinced, so I had to get a proper setup for them.
Bonzai-ing a Tree
I got all but one escapee ant back into the container with much difficulty, so I visited Just Ants the very next day. Just Ants should be your first stop if you are interested in raising an ant colony in Singapore. The guys are so helpful and patient with my multiple questions. They have not had success in raising a weaver colony thus far and hinted as to how hard it would be to do so. They also told me about how sticky their feet are, which would have been beneficial information —yesterday.
In for a penny, in for a pound; I bought a 30 x 30cm fish tank. The nice blokes at Just Ants helped me remove a chunk of silicon that sealed the sides of the tank; they explained that even with the ant barrier, weaver ants can grip the silicon and walk on it. Since we did not need a repeat episode of breaking free, I made sure that they were thoroughly scraped out. I also bought the all-important ant barrier from them which I have to say, works magic.
Next, because weaver ants are arboreal, I needed to find a plant that they could live in. I looked through the different types of plants that grow well in shaded areas and settled on a little plant that was sold as an Australian Plant. It was bushy, incredibly verdant and had cute little rocks as decorations. Plus it had the word Australia in it. What could go wrong? I later found out that the decorative rocks were actually the seed of the plant. I had purchased a Moreton Bay Fig, one of the biggest fig trees in the world… I mean, I could bonsai it, right?
Thankfully the weaver ants took to the new
tree plant, weaved the leaves and moved in right away.
A little thing I observed with regards to choosing a plant for your weavers. Lots of people from the forums always suggest using a money plant because they grow well in shaded areas. However, weaver ants tend to bend the plant leaves in strange angles as they weave, so it generally stresses the plant. While money plant doesn’t need a lot of light, I found that their leaves are rather fragile and not as hardy as other indoor plants.
Another thing you might wish to consider is a grow light to make sure the plant gets more light than needed to compensate for the stress out leaves. Weaver ants have no issues living in bright environments so you’ll get to observe them plenty in the light. In fact, a bonzai-ed version of the Moreton Bay Fig works well as the plant was very hardy. My weavers are currently on their 4th plant.
(L): Holding on to a folded part of the leaf
(M): Tapping on the larvae’s head makes it spit out silk to glue the leaves together.
(R): Overnight growth spurt of my bonzai-ed tree.
This was the final look of the tank after I was done with it:
(L): Side view of the tank
(M): Besides the fig, there were two other plants that did not last long
(R): I fashioned a cover for the tank to prevent lizards/ flies from going in
I loved this ‘terrarium’ style natural look, but it wasn’t long before I took most of the other stuff out beside the main plant and a couple of pebbles. One of the challenges I faced and am still facing is keeping the tank clean. Unlike other species of ants that keep a little rubbish corner, weaver ants throw their rubbish out of the tree or wherever they feel like it. Occasionally when the mood strikes, they like to dig up and throw soil around the tank which earned them the nickname, ungrateful little critters.
I clean the tank once a week to rid it of mealworm carcasses (part of their diet) and other dead stuff so that mould does not get a hold of the plant or the colony and kill everything. So while there are really cool pictures and videos on Youtube and Facebook on ‘Natural Styled’ formicarium/ tanks with daily timed water sprinkles to mimic a tropical thunderstorm, no one seems to talk about the longevity of the colony in those environments, let alone the maintenance of those tanks.
(L): Not a happy plant
(M): This does not spark joy. Mould got a hold of the seed of the tree
(R): The beginning of the end, the dreaded black spot in the plant’s leaf
When the plant is on its last legs, I found that the weaver ants tend to behave erratically and will weave in crevices you never thought possible.
As the colony expanded, it soon became clear that the current 30 x 30cm tank was not going to hold them. It was getting next to impossible to clean the tank without getting attacked by them, and you do not want a weaver’s bite. It comes with a free formic acid spray which thankfully, I have not been on the receiving end of.
(L): When the colony was much younger
(M): Clean that
(R): Size difference between a major and minor worker weaver.
In the next post, I’ll talk about how we moved the weavers from a 30x30cm tank to a new custom tank and answer any questions that you might have so ask away!