We came up with the idea of using ants to conduct behavioral experiments at Liverpool Life Sciences UTC. We chose a species called Messor barbarus which is a species that eats seeds and farms aphids. These ants need to be kept at around 25OC, with good ventilation and little disturbance, conditions found in the model organism room in the innovation labs.
On April 12th the ants arrived and we placed them into their new home, it was at this point that we had found that the queen had laid a large amount of eggs whilst she was in transit from Spain to the UK, this created a very strong foundation for a new colony. At first no ants left the tube that they had arrived in but over the coming days they soon ventured out into the pipette tip box that we are using to contain them (so that when they are big enough they can move into the formicarium). The hive exploded with newly hatched ants some were just minor worker ants, some were major and some were the soldier ants. The main way to tell the difference is the size, this can be measured using image analysis software such as Image J.
The pipette tip box in the bottom right contains the ants, so far only the minor workers have ventured outside and into the formicarium. We use a red light to observe the ants without disturbing them, this is because the ants vision is shifted away from the red end of the spectrum towards the UV wavelengths.
A few days ago the queen became very inactive and the ants swarmed her, they covered her, we believed that she was dying due to the fact that there was no activity at all, in retrospect we probably should have noticed how much sugar solution was being used up in just one day. Usually the ants only need to have a new eppendorf of sugar solution once every 3 days but at this moment in time they were using up one every day. As turns out the queen had been lay large amounts of eggs at least 10 in her three days of inactivity, from that we guessed that the queen was being fed and looked after by the other ants.
By Jack McKenzie (Ant Man), Erin Ruddock and Mazuba Maambo