How to Catch Ants for an Ant Farm

Three Parts:Collecting Worker AntsCatching a Queen AntCaring For Your Ants

If you've built or purchased an ant farm, you may be wondering how to collect ants to start your colony. You can start an ant farm and sustain it for several months with just worker ants, but for a long-term ant farm you'll need a queen. With a little patience, you'll soon have a thriving colony of ants to watch for hours of educational fun.

Part 1
Collecting Worker Ants

  1. Image titled Catch Ants for an Ant Farm Step 1
    Gather your materials. You won't need much to collect ants, but you'll want to make sure you have the necessary tools on hand before you begin. You'll need a small hand shovel to dig and scoop up ants, as well as a container to store them in. A clear, plastic food storage container or glass jar will work well for storing and transporting the ants that you collect back to your home.[1]
  2. Image titled Catch Ants for an Ant Farm Step 2
    Find an ant colony. If you want to collect ants, you'll need to find a thriving ant colony. Start by searching the yard immediately surrounding your home. If you can't find an ant colony there, you may need to venture out into a more wooded area or try again during a more active period.[2]
    • Spring and summer are the best times to seek out and collect ants. You won't find very many (if any) ants in the winter.
    • Ants can live in a variety of different habitats, depending on the type of ant.
    • Good places to look for ants include in soil, in little mounds close to the ground, underneath rocks and other large objects in the dirt, or inside old wood.
  3. Image titled Catch Ants for an Ant Farm Step 3
    Enter the ant colony and collect worker ants. Once you've found an ant colony, you'll need to enter it using your hand shovel. When you're finished, try to restore the environment back to the way it was when you found it. Return all rocks and other objects to their original location and position so that other organisms can still use these habitats.[3]
    • If you're entering a colony built in the soil or in a dirt mound, simply dig about six inches (15 centimeters) into the entrance of the colony.
    • If you're entering a colony hidden under some object (like a rock), choose a large object approximately the size of a loaf of bread. Flip the object over to find the scurrying ants underneath.
    • Scoop up ants with a hand shovel and put them into your glass or clear plastic container. Make sure the lid is on tight, as ants can climb very quickly and escape.
  4. Image titled Catch Ants for an Ant Farm Step 4
    Watch out for stinging ants. Some ants are capable of stinging you, and may do so if you enter the colony or attempt to collect them. Not all ants sting, but you should be able to clearly see a stinger protruding from the rear abdominal area on ants that will sting. Exercise caution as you collect your ants until you know whether or not they pose a threat.[4]
    • Fire ants can cause an allergic reaction if they sting you.[5] Be very careful when searching for and collecting any insects in the wild.

Part 2
Catching a Queen Ant

  1. Image titled Catch Ants for an Ant Farm Step 5
    Wait for a summer rain. Most queen ants take flight following a summer rain, which triggers their mating period. This is when they are most active and most likely to leave a colony. Even if you can't find a queen ant ready to take flight, you will be able to find one relatively close to the surface for several days after a rainy period.[6]
    • Some ant species will have mating flights in late spring or after winter rains, depending on the region you live in, but the summer mating flight is the easiest and most likely time to find and catch a queen.
    • Be sure to bring a hand shovel in case you need to dig and a container to store and transport your queen.
  2. Image titled Catch Ants for an Ant Farm Step 6
    Dig down into the colony. Once you've spotted a colony in the days immediately following a summer rain, you may be lucky enough to spot a queen at the entrance to the colony. If not, you'll have to do a little digging to find the queen. She will usually be fairly close to the surface during this time frame.[7]
    • Most of the time, the queen will be less than 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) deep in the soil.
    • Be careful as you dig so as not to injure the queen or any other ants with your hand shovel.
  3. Image titled Catch Ants for an Ant Farm Step 7
    Collect the queen and her eggs. As soon as you find a queen, carefully scoop her up into your glass jar or food storage container. A test tube will also work well, if you have one, since you'll be primarily collecting the queen and not a whole colony of worker ants. Be sure to collect any eggs the queen might have with her as well, as these will hatch if brought back to the ant farm.[8]

Part 3
Caring For Your Ants

  1. Image titled Catch Ants for an Ant Farm Step 8
    Check your ant farm for holes. Ants are highly skilled at escaping from containers, no matter what precautions you may take. A store-bought ant farm will probably be safe, but if you've made your own ant farm at home you'll want to check it for any tiny gaps that might allow ants to escape.[9]
    • An easy way to tell if your ant farm is secure is by filling it with water, wiping the outside dry, and turning it upside down to see if anything drips out.
    • Only fill your ant farm with water if it's empty. Do not attempt to test your ant farm in this way if you've already filled it with dirt and/or ants.
  2. Image titled Catch Ants for an Ant Farm Step 9
    Slow down the ants so you can add them to the ant farm. When you are ready to add your ants to the ant farm, they may attempt to rush out of their storage container. You can slow them down to more easily transfer them to the ant farm by placing them in a refrigerator for a very brief period of time.[10]
    • Store the transportation container full of ants in the refrigerator at a low setting, but only for a minute or two. This should slow the ants down sufficiently.
    • Anything longer than two minutes might kill the entire colony, so be sure that you don't leave them unattended for long.
  3. Image titled Catch Ants for an Ant Farm Step 10
    Care for your ant farm. Once your ants are in their farm, they should begin exploring their new habitat and digging an extensive network of tunnels. Like all living things, your ants will have some basic needs that must be met if the ants are to survive.[11]
    • Ants need a source of clean drinking water, but not too much or they will drown. Use an eye dropper to add just a few drops of clean water every other day.[12]
    • Give your ants fresh food every two to three days, depending on how quickly they're eating.
    • Small insects and tiny scraps of kitchen meat are an ideal food source for young ants, while older ants will enjoy some sweet and sugary crumbs.
    • Keep your ants out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources. Try to maintain a steady room temperature of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 24 degrees Celsius).


  • Some people are severely allergic to fire ant stings. Be cautious when working around ants until you know what type of ant you're dealing with and whether you're allergic.

Things You'll Need

  • A sturdy hand shovel
  • A mason jar with a lid, a plastic food storage container, or a test tube
  • An ant farm

Article Info

Categories: Ant Pets