How To Care for Messor Barbarus

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Today we are going to learn how to care for a very common ant species: Messor barbarus. By the end of the guide, you will have all the information you need to start growing your own Messor barbarus colony all by yourself!

Let’s get into it!


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Messor barbarus major

Messor barbarus is a species of harvester ant, and it is mainly found In Southern Europe and Northern Africa.

Harvester ant, or harvesting ant, is a common name given to any of the species of ant that collect seeds. These species of ants like to store the seeds inside the nest, keeping them ready for every eventuality.

They usually store them in dedicated nest chambers called granaries, in which the climate is drier and the humidity levels are lower than in the other ones.

They do that to prevent the seeds from germinating inside the nest. Pretty clever, don’t you think?

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Messor barbarus is polymorphic, which means that the workers of this species have different sizes. The queen size ranges from 14 to 17 mm, and from 3 to 8 mm for the minor workers. The majors can reach a length of up to 14 mm, and in some cases, they can even equal the size of the queen!

This species is very easy to recognize! They are very clumsy when walking around, and they are not at all very good climbers. The majors have an oversized big red head, which they use to break the seeds they eat.

Messor barbarus is monogyne, which means that the colonies of this species accept only one queen.

The nuptial flights of this species usually occur in the spring, between late March and June.


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Messor barbarus, like many other Mediterranean species, are very adaptable to temperature changes. They do not have very strict temperature requirements, and they can easily be kept at room temperature.

However, the ideal temperature for this species is between 21 and 26 degrees Celsius. If you live in a cold area or you usually use an air conditioner in the room your ants are in, maybe a heat mat or a heat cable could be useful.

By raising the temperature of the nest the metabolism of the brood will accelerate, reducing the time needed for the ant to fully develop into adults.

Messor barbarus major

When keeping this species you have to consider that they are from very hot Mediterranean regions, like Spain and some parts of Italy. In the wild, they can reach temperatures up to 30 degrees Celsius with no problem!

If kept at a relatively low temperature, they might slow their metabolism, and the queen may lower her egg production.

Messor barbarus is also an extremely fast-developing species! If provided with the right temperature the colony starts to grow exponentially, and can reach 1000 workers in a few years!


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When it comes to humidity levels, Messor barbarus doesn’t have extreme demands. They like a range of moisture levels that go from 50% to 60%, the typical Mediterranean climate.

This range of moisture is perfect for the nest chambers dedicated to the brood and the colony. For the granaries, the chambers dedicated to the seeds, the moisture should be very low, and should stay in the 10% to 50% range.


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Like almost every ant species, Messor barbarus needs some dose of sugar for the workers and some protein for the queen and the brood.

Given their fast growth rate, they need a lot of protein.

Proteins are the building blocks of every animal body, and are essential for the development of the ants. The queen needs protein for the production of the eggs, which will grow into larvae and then into pupae.

During the life cycle of the ant from egg to adult worker, the brood needs a lot of protein to successfully complete the various stage changes. Once the body of the ant is fully formed, the need for protein fades out, and the need for sugar takes its place.

However, unlike other species, Messor barbarus can obtain every element by only eating seeds. The seeds contain some dose of protein, carbohydrates, and also fats!

Messor barbarus majors

When the colony has grown to a certain size, you can also give them some additional source of protein, in order to boost the development of the brood. You can give them almost every type of insect. In the wild they usually eat crickets, mealworms, fruit flies, and spiders.

If you’re reading this guide, there’s a high chance you’re just starting out, and that you just caught your first Messor barbarus queen ant. If that’s the case, you don’t have to worry too much about feeding at this stage.

That’s because Messor barbarus is a fully claustral species, which means that the queen won’t need to eat for at least a month, until she has her first workers.

She especially doesn’t need protein right now, because she can obtain the protein she needs from the decomposition of her wing muscles. However, If you want, you can give her a little drop of honey or some easy-to-break seeds. That should give her the right amount of energy she will need to start her own ant colony!


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Messor barbarus needs hibernation. They hibernate through the winter, from around late October to early March. They need at least a couple of months of diapause, a biological phase in which the queen doesn’t lay eggs.

This phase is very important for the health of the queen, and it’s the only time in the whole year when she can peacefully take some rest.

For this species, the ideal temperature for hibernation is around 15 degrees Celsius. I would not suggest going a lot lower than this, because in some cases it could create some problems in the long-term growth of the colony.

If you haven’t any available refrigerator you can put the colony in the basement or in the garage, where the temperature is not too low and not too high.

If you’re a beginner ant keeper and this is your first hibernation, I would strongly suggest you check out this other guide! Here I explain in detail every aspect of this complex process called hibernation! What it is, why ants hibernate, and what are the most effective ways to hibernate your beloved ants!

Nest Type

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When building or buying the nest for this species, keep in mind that they need a humidity gradient inside the chambers. Some chambers should have low humidity levels, dedicated to the storage of the seeds, and others should have a more humid climate, for the brood and the colony.

Let’s see what are the best types of nests for this extremely cool Mediterranean ant species!

Ytong Nest

DIY ytong ant nest

When it comes to choosing a formicarium for Messor barbarus, you have a lot of options.

One of the most used nest types for this species is Ytong. Ytong is a particular type of aerated concrete, usually used in construction. It is very popular in ant keeping for its moisture-retention properties, and It’s suitable for housing a colony of this species.

This species really loves this material, and if you choose this type of nest you can be sure that your colony will thrive in it! Keep in mind that this species can easily chew through this material, so I would suggest putting the Ytong block into some sort of plastic or glass enclosure.

You can easily find this type of nest online. If you instead like D.I.Y. projects or if you don’t wanna spend a lot of money on a nest, this material is very easy to sculpt! You can easily create all the chambers just by using a screwdriver!

Online you can find a lot of tutorials on how to build one of these! Like this one!

Acrylic Nest

WaKooshi mercury nest


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Get this extremely cool ant nest on the WaKooshi online shop! Use the discount code “BRUMA” to get 10% off your entire order!


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Another option for housing a colony of Messor barbarus is an acrylic nest.

Acrylic nests are perfect for housing almost every species of ants, including the colonies of Messor barbarus. They are relatively cheap if compared to the other ones, and you can easily find them in almost every ant keeping online shop.

When it comes to choosing which acrylic nest to get, you have plenty of choices. All-in-one nests, modular nests, test tube-based nests… You are spoilt for choice!

If you like the idea of housing your colony inside one of these nests, I would suggest you check out this product review! It’s the review of the extremely cool ant nest in the picture above!

Naturalistic Setup

Jar terrarium

Another option could be a more naturalistic setup. For this easy nest alternative all you need is a tank, some dirt, and, if you want, some decorations.

This nest perfectly replicates their natural environment, making it easier for the ants to settle in. When choosing the enclosure for this type of nest, make sure to get one without any gaps between the various parts!

If you like the idea of making a naturalistic setup for your ant colonies, you will definitely like this tutorial! In this guide you will learn everything you need to know to create an amazing jar terrarium, just like the one in the picture above!


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Messor barbarus major
Messor barbarus major
Messor barbarus majors
Messor barbarus major
Messor barbarus queen
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I hope you have found this guide helpful!

Closed test tube setup

If you just found your queen and wanna know how to create the perfect environment for her, check out this guide on how to make a test tube setup! This is the perfect way to start your ant colony!

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