How To Make a Test Tube Setup – Ant Keeping Basics

Hi guys! I hope you’re doing well!

Today I wanna show you how to prepare a test tube setup for your queen ants, the first step of every ant keeping journey!

What is a Test Tube Setup?

The test tube setup is probably the easiest and most effective way to create a comfortable space for a newly mated queen. This setup creates an environment very similar to the one they experience in nature.

Pheidole pallidula colony inside a test tube

In the wild, after mating with a male, the queen starts searching for a small and quiet space, probably in the soil, where she can start to lay eggs. This tiny space is called the “claustral chamber”.

With the test tube setup, we are going to recreate the same conditions of a claustral chamber, with the right temperature and humidity.

This particular setup will also give you the chance to see inside the chamber, considering it is made up of glass or plastic, and it will also be able to hold a water reservoir.

Lasius emarginatus inside test tube

If you are an absolute beginner in the magic world of ant keeping, I would suggest you check out this other guide! In this one, I list 5 of the most common mistakes that beginner ant keepers make when they first start keeping ants as pets!

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What You Need

For preparing this setup you will need a test tube, cotton wool, and a long stick of some sort.

Test tube setup requirements

Test tubes come in a lot of sizes. The main factor for deciding which size is right for you is the size of the queen you want to put in there. For most ant species a standard-size test tube will do the trick.

Large test tube

Don’t worry if you don’t have the exact recommended size for your species, the queen is very adaptable and will surely lay eggs even in a slightly smaller or slightly larger chamber.

Preparing The Test Tube

Filling The Test Tube

When you have your test tube, the first thing you have to do is fill up about half of it with clean cold water. You can do it directly from a bottle, from the faucet, or by using a pipette, just like I am doing.

Filling the test tube with water

Inserting The Cotton

Once you have the water in the test tube you can then insert a little piece of cotton. To push the cotton ball all the way to the water you can use a wooden skewer or some sort of plastic tool, like the one I am using.

Inserting the cotton ball into the test tube

This way, the cotton will keep the water from drowning your queen, whilst supplying the camber with the right amount of moisture. The queen will also be able to drink from the cotton with no problem, eliminating the need for an external source of water.

One thing I’ve learned from experience is that if you put the cotton ball into the test tube very slowly, you will probably end up having some air bubbles between the water and the cotton

To avoid this issue simply insert the cotton pretty fast, blocking the bubbles from forming.

If you like this very simple but effective nest type, I would suggest you check out this product review! This is an extremely cool ant nest based on the most trusted ant keeping setup of all time: the test tube setup!

Closing The Test Tube

When the test tube setup is completed, gently place your queen in the tube and seal it with another ball of cotton.

Closed test tube setup

Be sure to wash your hands carefully before touching the water or cotton. We don’t want bacteria and mold to start infesting the nest!

If you are wondering how the ants are gonna breathe, don’t worry, there will be sufficient airflow through the cotton for the ants to survive for a very long time!

Recycling The Test Tube

In the event you mess up or need to retrieve the cotton plug inside the test tube, you can take it out by using a pair of long tweezers, the ones commonly used in fish tank setups.

Simply insert it inside the test tube and close it, pulling out the cotton ball.

Removing the cotton ball from the test tube

Covering The Test Tube

Now that the queen is comfortable and safe, you can make the test tube feel even more similar to an actual claustral chamber by wrapping it with some type of dark paper. I like to use tinfoil, which does the job swiftly!

Test tube setup with tinfoil

Here it is! It looks terrific in grey!

Making a Test Tube Holder

One big problem of having your queen or your founding colony inside a test tube setup, is that it’s extremely difficult to make it stay still on a flat surface!

This might seem like a minor and insignificant issue, but trust me: when you start having dozens upon dozens of test tubes all over your room, this can quickly become a real nightmare! You can lose an entire colony just because you accidentally touched the test tube with your elbow!

If you want, you can solve this problem by creating a test tube holder made of cardboard!

Test tube holder

In this other article, I made a dedicated step-by-step tutorial on how to make this super cool type of test tube holder!

This holder is extremely easy to build, and can make your ant keeping journey 10 times easier! With this system you can also better organize your ant colonies, dividing them by species, number of workers, or maybe climate requirements!

I hope you have found this guide helpful!

Antstore antcube arena combi

If you’re planning to buy some ant nests, I would suggest you check out this product review! It’s a really cool ant nest made by Antstore, a great ant keeping company!

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