Lasius Niger

Queens of the common black ant, Lasius niger, have the longest recorded life span in the laboratory of 28 and 3/4 years (Kutter and Stumper, 1969). This monogynous species occurs in the Holartic region in forests and farm land. In central and northern European meadows, they occur in densities up to 1 mature colony per square meter. Colonies can be marked by placing a concrete paving slab over the colony entrance. The colony places brood underneath the slab for warming during the nonwinter months, which simplifies collection. The colonies do not seem to migrate, facilitating long-term monitoring and collection. Colonies can be huge with 10,000 or more workers, although smaller young colonies are easily maintained under laboratory conditions. Lasius niger has been extensively used in ecological studies as well as in genetic studies assessing colony relatedness, mating number, and sex ratio evolution (Fjerdingstad et al., 2002; Fjerdingstad et al., 2003; Jemielity and Keller, 2003; Fjerdingstad and Keller, 2004). A recent search of the Web of Science Internet database yielded 141 publications on L. niger.

This species has large mating flights in mid- to late summer when hundreds of newly mated deallate queens can be collected. New laboratory colonies can be started in glass test tubes filled halfway with water with a tight wad of cotton holding the water back. The founding queen is placed in the tube which is closed with a cotton plug (Figure 24.2).

The tubes are placed in the dark for approximately six weeks, until the first minims emerge. The cotton plugs are removed from the tubes, which are placed inside plastic boxes with additional water tubes. The inside walls of the plastic boxes are painted with Fluon®, a fluoropoly-mer that most insects have difficulty climbing (available from Whitford Worldwide). Colonies will produce

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full-sized workers after approximately one year and can be transferred to progressively larger boxes as the colony grows. Best results are obtained when colonies are kept at 22°C with 60% constant humidity. Lasius niger prefers liquid food, and our current food mix is 1:1:2 ground meal worms:eggs:honey plus 1% volume of liquid baby vitamins. To facilitate pipetting, the meal worms are flash frozen with liquid nitrogen and ground into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle. Aliquots of the mixture are stored frozen at —20°C and diluted 1:1 with water just before use. Colonies are fed three times a week and are given one or several drops of food, depending on their size.

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