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How We Raised A Colony Of Weaver Ants – Part 2

Weaver ants at the edge of the leaf

My little critters

In the previous post, I spoke about the beginnings of the weaver ants colony and how they were outgrowing the current 30x30cm tank.

In a dream world, my tank for the weaver ants would be an open concept waterfall, koi fishes, otters, butterflies, different varieties of plants, and isopods all living in harmony. They could build satellite nests, forage, and weave all the time.
Oh, who can forget the water sprinkles that will mimic the occasional tropical storm?
Weaver paradise.

 

I mean, I will even settle for something like this:

 

Giant tank with water sprinkles

Fishes, plants, water sprinkles. What more can you ask for?
Tank from: Green Chapter Pte Ltd

 

The Dream Tank For Weaver Ants

Clearly, the apartment is not going to be able to hold a tree let alone a waterfall anytime soon so it was back to the drawing board and tape measure. I did suggest converting the 2nd bedroom but J thinks that the new owners of the place would not be happy with that.

Honestly, it was a tough decision between letting the weavers go and creating a weaver ant’s jungle paradise. We had to consider factors such as the size of the tank (which had to be rather large as they are growing really quickly), how invested I would like to be in the upkeep of such a large colony, and on a practical end, how do you even move a weaver ant colony? It is one thing for them to move between different plants in the same tank but move from one tank to the next? Where should we even begin?

In the end, it boiled down to having a tank that is big enough to accommodate 2 medium-sized plants at any one time while having enough room to clean around the tank without having an army of weaver ants swarm and try to attack my tweezers when I do that.

Due to the size requirements, an ordinary fish tank is not going to be able to cut it. So we bit the bullet and I ordered a custom 45 x 60 x 30 cm clear acrylic tank with a matte white base and 5 x 45 x 10 cm matte white step at the end of it from Supreme8 Fabrications. It was good quality, solid 5mm thick acrylic, and built incredibly well.

Then came the issue of actually transferring the weaver ants into their new tank. The current plant they were in was not doing well, and remember how I mentioned that they would weave in crevices you never thought possible when the plant is on its last legs? The buggers decided to weave in between 2 wooden pillars which stored their water and honey and moved a portion of the colony there.

 

20210912 IMG 6074 How We Raised A Colony Of Weaver Ants – Part 2 Jamie Chan

Look at how they even weaved the little holes and cracks of the wooden stands. You can see the eggs on the top left and a bunch of pupas on the top middle part.

How they even managed to squeeze themselves into that tiny space I had no idea but they managed to seal up all the edges and any remaining holes. It was chaotic and crazy, but I got to witness what actually went on inside the nest for a little while which was a bonus.

Also, I got a peek into every stage of the weaver ant’s life cycle; from the egg to the larvae, the pupae and finally the adult worker! Fun fact, I found out that the weaver ants pupate without enclosing themselves in silk because they’ve spent that silk on constructing their nests so they are completely exposed as they undergo metamorphosis.

 

Moving The Buggers

Now, the ‘traditional way of moving ants from an old formicarium to the other was to keep a light going in the old tank to annoy them and make sure the conditions of the newer tank was much better than the old. They would then, fingers crossed, shift the entire colony; eggs and all to the other tank. The problem came when, unlike other ant species, weaver ants are actually very used to living in bright light as they are arboreal so their ‘home’ requires lots of light to survive.

Since the Queen was still living in the old plant, we thought we’d move that plant into the new tank with a brand new plant. With long sleeves and double latex gloves, moving the plant was easier than expected and went without too much fuss. The scene I had in my head was weaver ants crawling all over J’s hands in a sort of kamikaze moment trying to protect the queen. Thankfully that didn’t happen but the next step is the headache of how to move the rest of the colony which was currently lodged in between the two wooden stands.

While I had the idea of using a tube hose so that they would use it to crawl from one tank to the next. J used his DIY skills honed from the land where spiders kill and came up with a better idea of building a bridge using three sticks and some sticky tape.

 

(L): Tube Vs bridge. The bridge won.
(R): The old plant (bottom) next to the new and healthy plant!

 

The bridge was genius, the weaver ants took to it much better than the tube which makes sense since they rather climb than explore strange tunnels.
Also, since the bridge is not touching the side of the tanks, it was one less worry for me that the entire set-up would turn into a weaver ants’ Escape Theme Park.

 

Soon we were having an adorable crossing of ants going back and forth between the old and new tank. using the bridge as a superhighway. The bridge also allowed us to get a close-up view of individual weavers; I gave up naming them after a while.

 

 

The Colony Moved – Back

Success! And the colony lived happily ever after.
That is what I would like to say, until the queen move out of the old plant in the new tank in the dead of the night, crossed the bridge, and went back to the old tank. Oh, she also took the remaining eggs/ larvae and pupae with her. This means that the entire colony was lodged in between the two wooden poles…

 

An inside look at the weaver ant colony

Spot the Queen at the top right-hand corner.

I thought it was hilarious that the entire colony moved back. The good news is that we got to see the Queen again and observe what they do on the inside for a couple of days. I loved how the workers arranged the eggs, larvae and pupae according to size. This also gave me a clue as to how big the colony will get in a couple of months time!

 

As much as it would be fun to watch the weavers create new satellite nests, thankfully after a couple of days, they accepted the new plant and the new tank. They carried their larvae over the bridge to start the weaving process on the new plant.

 

Weaving With Weavers

This is why we keep weaver ants and what makes them one of the most interesting species of ants. Watching them weave up close gives you a new appreciation for the teamwork the wears display. They start off by folding the plant leaf; they line themselves up like staple bullets in order to coordinate the movement. Then, they use the silk from their larvae by tapping on its head to glue the leaves together. It takes a massive amount of coordination for it to happen, but they seem to know how and where to be. In the wild, they can be seen building bridges with their bodies to get from one leaf to the other but in a tank environment, a small crossing is all I can witness.

 

When the workers finally finished weaving, the Queen moved (again in the dead of the night) along with her colony, crossed the bridge and made her permanent home in the new tank. I guess unless the plant is ready, she rather not be in it! Bossy little critter.

 

Final Tank Setup

 

New Tank and plant for the weavers

All settled in

I decided against a cover for the tank since one, if a lizard falls into the tank, I’m pretty sure the weavers will win. Two, it enables the plant to grow upwards without any restriction and since the ant barrier is doing its job really well, I have no worries about them escaping.

To help the weavers get to the plant easier, I picked up a piece of driftwood from an aquarium. They technically get around alright by climbing up and down the plant pot but it’s just much easier with the stick. I also wanted to turn the little step at the end where I put their water tower and honey into a sort of recreation centre. Weaver bowling alley/ cinema anyone?

J said no, so I added two scared looking sheeps. Compromise.

 

Weaver Ants Q&A

I’ve got some questions from people and as promised in my first post, I’m going to answer them. I need to preface this with the fact that I am not an ant/ weaver expert. I just happened to raise a 200+ strong weaver colony from a single Queen. My answers are mostly based on observation, conjecture and a sprinkle of common sense.

1) How long have you had your colony? 

The Queen came to us on the 19th of December. Her first workers appeared on the 18th of Jan 2021. She is fully claustral (you do not need to feed her); I left a wet cotton ball for her to take sips of water but she never moved from her eggs. 10 months later, they are in their current tank with room to grow into.

 

2) What do your Weavers eat?

Weaver ants eating mealworms

Weavers on the hunt

They take honey and live mealworms. When the colony was much smaller, I’ll cut up the mealworms for them. Now they take about 10-15 live mealworms a week.
I also feel the mealworms carrots, oats and the occasional apple once a week. I reckon if you keep the mealworms happy, the ants will be happy too.
I’d tried feeding my weavers protein jellies and fruits but they didn’t take to it so I stuck with my mealworm and honey combination.

 

3) The leaf that my weaver ants weaved is dying, what can I do?

If it is just one particular leaf, they will most probably fold another leaf over the dying leaf or weave in a different spot on the plant. If the entire plant is dying, I recommend sticking another plant in before they start weaving in strange places. While there are formicariums designed for weavers that do not require a live plant, where is the fun in that?

Leaf turning yellow

Despite our best efforts to keep the plant healthy, this always happens.

 

4) What is a fun fact about Weaver Ants?

When they hunt live prey, they do this little trick where they bring their prey onto the higher ground as they have the advantage there.
With mealworms, since their weak spot is their belly/ where their legs are, carrying them to a higher place helps them flip the worm and attack their weak spot directly.

Weaver ants being clever

Exposing the underside to attack it

 

5) Is it legal to keep weaver ants in Singapore?

Yes.
Source: J called NParks.

 

Final Thoughts

J and I certainly did not set out to raise a colony of weaver ants but we are glad we did. They are incredibly fascinating to watch and getting to observe them folding leaves to weave has been such a privilege. I hope our weaver ant journey can be a good resource and starting point for beginner weaver keepers.
Here is to the next 200 weavers!

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