We know a balanced diet would affect our health and wellbeing. But what about ants? Everyone knows ants love sweets right? Well, if you feed primarily sugar to your ant colony, very likely the colony will struggle to grow. So what should you feed to your ant colony then? How often should you feed them?

If you want your ant colony to thrive, feed the ant colony with a good balance of diet consisting of protein, fat, and sugar, and water. The best source of protein and fat would be dead insects which should be given on a daily basis; For sugar, use either cut fruit or syrup. Water supply should be constantly available in the formicarium.

Continue reading to understand more.

Role of Protein and Sugar in an Ant Colony Diet

In general, an ant colony requires enough protein for it to grow. The queen needs protein so that she can produce more eggs, and the babies (larvae) need protein so that they can grow bigger and turn into adults.

If your ant colony does not grow, you probably need to provide it with more protein. What about sugar? Sugar provides energy especially for the workers (which are the adults) so that they can go to look for food and take care of the colony. 

Nutrition Preference

Different species of ants have different preferences over different types of food. For instance, the coastal brown ants prefer food with high protein and fat; while the sugar ants, common black house ants and odorous house ants love sugar.

But wait, how do I know what species of ants am I handling? The thing with common names is, the same species of ant will have different common names at different places by different people! How do I know whether the common black house ants that I am keeping are the same common black house ants that you have mentioned? 

Ant identification can be difficult if you do not have a suitable tool, which is basically an expensive high resolution microscope that allows you to count the number of segments on the antennae, and some basic knowledge on the anatomy of an ant/insect.

You can try to get some help from ant keeping forums on the identification. But even if you cannot, that is generally okay. But of course, if you buy your starter colony from a store, most likely you would know what species you are buying.

Feeding the Ant Colony with Protein

Feed your ants colony with insects!
Insects are good source of protein for ants!

The best source of protein for ants is dead insects. You can easily buy feeder crickets from a local pet store, or find some bugs in your backyard. As best as possible, do not use any dead insects that you found at the roadside or at your backyard because they might have been poisoned by insecticide.

But what if there is no local pet store nearby, and what if you don’t have a backyard? Well, you can try feeding your ants with boiled yolk, peanut butter, canned tuna, or cat/dog food with high protein. I have good experience using peanut butter and canned tuna.

If you are using an insect, you should either use a dead (not frozen) or immobilized insect enough such that it cannot escape from the ants. Note that certain species prefer live insects over dead one. If your colony is small, 1 or 2 cricket legs will do the job. The ants will most likely tear their food into pieces if it is too big and bring it back to its nest.

If you are not sure or if you just want to be extra cautious in the beginning, cut the dead insect into several pieces and put them in the formicarium. The ants will decide how much food they need. From there you can gauge how much food you need to feed them, as well as whether the ants prefer protein food over sugary food. If the ants finish all the food, try to add more food the next day; if they do not, try giving them lesser food.

You should not leave any excess food in the formicarium overnight (or over the day if you feed the ants at night). Remove them once you observe the ants have abandoned the food. This would prevent the food from rotting, which may promote the growth of mold/fungus in your formicarium.

I would highly recommend you to put any kind of food onto a small plastic sauce plate (the one that you can easily get from any fast food restaurant) so that you can easily take out the excess food from the formicarium. You only need to feed them once a day.

Some of the ants are more active at night while some are more active at day time. However, feeding them at day time usually works most of the time. You might want to time your feeding according to their foraging behavior if you find the ants not coming out to forage for food. Lastly, if you are a smoker, wash your hand clean before handling the food for ants because nicotine can affect the well-being of the ants. 

Feeding the Ant Colony with Sugar

Sugary foods are quite abundant and easy to get in our home. You can cut a small piece of fruit like apple and banana for your ant colony. Some people think honey is a healthier choice for ants, but the ants might get stuck in the honey easily and eventually die. Do remember to remove excess food to keep your formicarium clean and healthy.

My personal favorite food for my ant colony is syrup water because it is so easy and hassle-free. Simply mix table sugar and water in a 1-9 ratio and pour the syrup into a small container. Cover the mouth of the container using a cotton ball with a tail. You would want to make sure the cotton tail touches the bottom of the container to keep the cotton moist.

I usually add a few drops of syrup directly onto the cotton ball to make it wet (but not to the point of dripping). Put the syrup container into your formicarium and leave it there for as long as it can last. You can also use a feeder tower (affiliate link) to dispense the syrup.

By doing so you can provide a long-lasting supply of syrup to your ant colony with minimum effort. You will need to refill the syrup only when it dries up. I would change the cotton ball whenever it hardens, typically once a month. The benefit of supplying syrup through this method is that you only need to do it once a month or a week (depending on the size of your container), and that you will not risk having the ants drowned in the syrup. 

Providing Water to the Ant Colony

All living creatures need water, so do ants. To ensure they have enough water, simply follow the syrup water method above without adding sugar.

Feeding the Ant Colony with Fat

Since you are feeding your colony with protein, they will get enough fat so let’s not worry about fat.

Feeding a Starter Ant Colony

Ant colony in test tube setup
A new queen and her brood in a test tube setup. Only water is provided.

A queen will disintegrate her now useless wing muscles or feed on some of her eggs to survive. A fully-claustral queen would have built enough food reserves into her body before she took flight so that she could survive until she raised her first brood (nanitic). Make sure she has constant access to water.

When there are around 10 nanitics, start feeding the colony with protein food (eg. cricket leg or tuna, boiled yolk) twice a week. All unconsumed food should be removed on the same day.

If you are keeping a semi-claustral species, you need to provide the queen with some protein twice a week on top of constant access to water. Increase the amount of food accordingly when there are more nanitics. You should always put the food onto a sauce plate so that you can easily remove the unconsumed food. 

To learn more about ant-keeping, be sure to check out my guide here.