How To Catch Your First Queen Ant!

Where do I find a queen ant? Do I need to buy one online? Is there a way to get one for free? If these are some of the questions that are wandering in your mind right now, you found the right guide!

In this short article we’re going to learn how to catch our very first queen ant, the mother of all the members of the colony!

Messor barbarus queen

As you probably already know, she is the most important component of an ant colony, and in order to start our own little ant empire, we first need to get our hands on a newly mated queen ant!

But how do I catch a queen ant?

To answer this important question, let’s start by explaining what a nuptial flight is!

What Is A Nuptial Flight?

Do you know that weird clouds made of insects that suddenly appear out of nowhere during hot summer nights? Well, that’s exactly what we’re talking about! This is where all the ant magic begins!

A nuptial flight, also known as a mating flight, is a behavior exhibited by certain species of insects in which the males and the females fly high into the air in order to locate and attract potential mates. This behavior is most commonly seen in ants, termites, and some species of bees and beetles.

Ant nuptial flight

Now you may be wondering: but wait a minute, ants don’t have wings! How do they fly? Well, normally you would be right! Worker ants don’t have wings! But there’s a catch! Some types of ants are actually winged! The male and female castes of ants have a special type of wings that enable them to fly just for this very particular moment! Cool! Isn’t it?

During a nuptial flight, the males fly high into the air and start releasing a large quantity of pheromones, particular types of chemicals that are used to communicate with other members of their species.

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The males often fly in large groups, creating the characteristic cloud-shaped swarm we talked about before!

The massive amount of pheromones released by the males start to spread all around the swarm, and with a little help from the wind, it travels extremely far distances! All of this is done just for one scope: to attract all the females of nearby colonies to the swarm!

Once the females have been located and attracted to the swarm, they mate with one or more of the males, before returning to the ground to start a new colony. In some species, the males die shortly after mating, while in others they continue to live and mate with multiple females.

Nuptial flight

Nuptial flights are a crucial part of the reproductive cycle for the majority of species of insects, and play a crucial role in their ability to reproduce and populate new areas. For us ant keepers, this is an extremely important phase, as it provides us with an opportunity to catch lots of queen ants!

One important thing to point out is that not all ant species have nuptial flights, and not all areas will experience them at the same time. These mating flights happen under rare and specific circumstances, such as the right humidity levels, temperatures, and time of the day.

Now that we know what a nuptial flight is, let’s discuss how to spot them, and what factors make them happen.

How Do I Know When A Nuptial Flight Is Going To Occur?

Predicting the exact timing and location of a nuptial flight can be a very challenging activity, however, there are a few general indicators that can help you determine if a nuptial flight is likely to occur.

Many species of insects are incredibly sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity, and will only engage in nuptial flights when a certain set of conditions are favorable. For example, some species of ants only mate when the ambient temperature is above a certain threshold, while others only mate when there’s a high level of humidity in the air.

As a general rule, most species of ants tend to swarm during hot and humid summer nights, which typically occur after strong and persistent rainstorms. In these unusual and infrequent conditions, the environment is typically very wet and humid, making it an ideal time for ants to engage in this spectacular mating behavior!

In these rare circumstances, you will likely see massive swarms of winged ants flying near street lamps, attracted by their strong and bright light.

Street lamp

If you’re interested in these particular behaviors and wanna know more about what types of ants join the nuptial flights, I would suggest you check out this other article! In this one, I explain the different types of ants that we can find in an ant colony!

Now you may be wondering: OK, but what should I do when I see a swarm like the one you just described?

Let’s jump to the next phase!

What Should I Do During A Nuptial Flight?

This is finally our chance to get our first queen ant!

From personal experience, I would suggest you catch more than one queen at a time, as it’s very likely that not all of them will be fertile, and not all of them will survive the long founding stage.

In order to catch our queen during the nuptial flight, it is essential to have the right equipment on hand. A little plastic container like this one is essential for capturing the queen, and will function as a momentary home for our precious ant.

Ant keeping plastic container

Once you have your equipment ready, it is time to head out near the swarm. If possible, try to position yourself downwind of the swarm, as this will give you a better chance of intercepting the queen as she flies by.

Queen ants are very easy to identify! They are usually a lot larger than males, and they also have a bigger gaster and thorax.

When you spot a queen on the ground or on some nearby plant, gently sweep your little container in front of her, and try to capture her without harming her. If you are successful, congratulations! You just caught your first queen ant!

Now we just need to find her a proper house!

Where Should I Put My Queen?

Once we have our little queen ant, it’s time to place her in a comfortable and safe environment! One of the best founding nest options we can use for this scope, is the so-called test tube setup!

This particular type of setup is considered by most ant keepers to be the gold standard of founding nests, and rightfully so! The test tube setup is undoubtedly the best way to recreate the environment that a young colony experiences in the wild, replicating the same amount of space, humidity, and temperature.

Closed test tube setup

You can easily make this great starter nest with very few cheap items you may already have in your home. All you need is a test tube, some cotton, some water, and a long stick of some sort!

If you are new to ant keeping and don’t already know how to prepare this extremely effective type of founding nests, I would suggest you check out this other tutorial! In this one, I explain in detail everything you need to know to create the perfect test tube setup!

Inserting the cotton ball into the test tube

At this point in the article, like the majority of people who are starting to get interested in this hobby, a question is probably wandering around your mind.

Why do I need to do all this work and spend all this time just to get my hands on a newly mated queen ant? Is there a faster way to start an ant colony that saves me this load of time and effort?

Well, actually, there is!

Can I Buy A Queen Ant Online?

Here it is, the million ant question! And for a swift answer, absolutely, of course you can!

Buying a queen ant online has become one of the easiest things you can do as an ant keeper! In the last decade or so, more and more ant keeping shops have started to specialize in selling ants directly to consumers, creating an easier than ever and completely new way to get started with this amazing hobby!

Ant Antics website page

Today, most ant keeping shops also offer the option to buy already mature and large ant colonies! That’s really convenient! This relatively new type of service has opened the door to all-new kinds of ant keepers, expanding the hobby even more!

Buying ants online gives the ant keeper lots of advantages:

  1. It’s a lot easier and more convenient to get your hands on your first newly mated queen ant.
  2. You can be sure that the queen that’s sent to you is fertile and ready to start a healthy colony right from the start.
  3. You have a massive amount of options when it comes to choosing the ant species of your choice.

In a nutshell, it’s basically an effortless task!

If you are not on a budget and don’t mind spending some money to start this amazing hobby, I would suggest you check out this other article! In there, you can find a list of some of the most popular ant keeping online shops specialized in selling queen ants and already mature colonies!

However, like every other thing in this world, this type of service has also some drawbacks. First of all, the price: the more convenient a service is, the more it costs. If you’re a beginner ant keeper who is planning on joining this hobby, you probably don’t wanna spend a ton of money just to get started!

Pheidole pallidula colony inside a test tube

Buying a queen ant online adds another cost to the mix, and given the fact that lots of beginner ant keepers make lots of mistakes at the start of their ant keeping journey which results in the death of the queen, I don’t think this is the best move!

Another negative thing about this service, as you can imagine, is the personal satisfaction aspect. Catching your first queen ant by yourself gives the ant keeper an enormous sense of satisfaction, and seeing your colony grow from the ant you personally caught is incredibly fulfilling!

So, for these reasons, I would suggest you catch your first queen ant by yourself, and maybe start buying ants online only after having accumulated some experience!


So, that’s it! That’s everything you need to know when it comes to getting your very first queen ant! Now it’s time to apply what you’ve learned today, and hopefully you will be able to start your own little ant empire from scratch!

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If you’re new to ant keeping and wanna be sure to start this hobby the best possible way, I would strongly suggest you check out this other article! This is a complete and detailed starting guide to ant keeping, explaining everything you need to know to move your first steps in this amazing and underrated hobby!

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