If you are in the process of starting your own ant habitat, you will need to come up with an effective way to obtain a queen for your new community. Although colonies can survive for a time without a queen, they will eventually dwindle and die out without one, unlike bees which can produce another if necessary. Think of your queen as the procreative center of your colony. Her sole job is to reproduce in order to help the colony to grow. For that reason, she is cared for by workers who ensure that she is fed and that her waste is removed. Finding her should be one of your first jobs.
Unfortunately, you cannot have a queen ant shipped to you over state lines, as doing so is illegal in the U.S. Instead, you will most likely have to do some of the work yourself. During this process, you will get a chance to observe the fascinating inner workings of the community. One way to obtain a queen is to find an established colony and keep it under watch until you see the beginning of a mating flight. These mating or nuptial flights usually take place in early spring or just after rain, on hot or humid days when wind is minimal. Sit back and notice the masses of winged insects exploding out of the colony. At some point in this flight, the future queen will mate with at least one winged male from another nest, becoming impregnated. When she lands, either she will shed her wings on her own or they will be chewed off by worker ants. Therefore, you should look for an ant that drops to the ground and loses her wings. She will be your queen. After she has shed her wings, catch this queen and add her to your colony. Then wait. Two or even three weeks may go by before any of the worker ants come out.
Another way to bring a queen into your habitat is to take one from an established colony. To accomplish this, upend logs and rocks until you find a colony. Then find the ant with the biggest thorax (middle body). This will be the queen. A word of caution: don’t confuse the queen with a soldier ant, which can also be quite large, but also usually has huge mandibles and can often sting. Once you have your queen, also kidnap some of the workers from the colony as well to ensure that she is taken care of properly.
Another way to obtain a queen is to dig up an entire colony, queen and all, and insert it into your ant habitat. This method will enable you to be sure that your queen has the necessary workers to care for her. Plus, it takes the guess work out of determining exactly who the queen is within a colony.
At last, you have laid the foundations of your burgeoning ant community. You have done so either by recruiting a young queen just after her nuptial flight, or by kidnapping one from an existing colony. Now you can sit back and watch, god-like, as your little world flourishes.