Sunday, 9 December 2007

Death of a monarch

It's quite sad really. The queen of my Leptothorax acervorum colony has died. She was rather unceremoniously dumped at the far end of the foraging arena by the workers. It is possible that they have another queen. I can't check, as I cut the colony out in a piece of turf and, because they have been doing so well in there, left them alone.

I collected the colony earlier this year at Chevin Forest Park near Otley, West Yorkshire. In 2004 I collected a single dealate queen of Formica picea there, well outside of its established range. Despite frequent visits, no more F. picea have been found there. I went this year with Cedric Collingwood, who has helped me look for F. picea before, as we decided to make one last (unsuccessful) visit. The only good thing to come out of the trip was the L. acervorum colony.

Shortly after I got the L. acervorum home they produced an abundance of alate queens, but no males. Later they went into a period of inactivity when I started to wonder if they had all died, but then became active again a few weeks ago. Now that the queen has gone I'm wondering if the workers will produce any males, if there isn't another queen present.

I'd strongly recommend L. acervorum for anyone interested in keeping ants. They may be small, but they're kind of cute and very easy to look after. All they seem to need is a confined space with reasonable humidity and a steady supply of slightly crushed houseflies, which they hollow out. They will also drink sugar solution, but seem to prefer freshly-killed flies.

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