Introduction & Overview
I really love keeping Camponotus vicinus because they are so calm and gentle. Even if you shine a light on them, they're not likely to even move too much. Unlike other ants, they're perfectly fine living under conditions with a lot of light, which makes them an absolutely great species for exploring macro photography and getting used to taking pictures of ants.
While C. vicinus are a little slow growing, they make up for it with their size and pick up the pace once they get over 20 workers. C. vicinus can be found to be both bicolor and monocolored. I would recommend these as a beginner species to those who are able to hibernate their ants.
Disclaimer: Camponotus vicinus are perhaps the hardest to ID Camponotus in North America. There is a lot of variation intraspecies, and they are also extremely similar and often mistaken for many other similar species. (Please reference page 309 of the key for more in depth information on IDing C. vicinus)
Camponotus species can be separated from other formicine genera by their singular hump on the thorax. In North America, it shouldn't be difficult to distinguish Carpenter ants from other genera. Campontus vicinus are of the subgenus tanaemyrmex, and tanaemyrmex can be identified by usually being larger than myrmentoma, not having truncated (flat) heads, and having generally longer heads in the major workers. They also posses a ridge on the clypeus (area above manidbles): picture 5 #1.
First and foremost, color should never be used to identify Camponotus vicinus because they are very similar in color to many other ants in the same subgenus. C. vicinus can be fully black, or also be multi-colored. They measure on average 16mm, and can increase to 19mm if the queens are physogastric. It is difficult to identify Camponotus vicinus without a macro camera. I would recommend trying to collect majors of the same species to pin up and try and identify instead of bothering the queen.
C. vicinus have flattened bases of scapes (bottom of antennae), shown in #1 of Photo 4. Other species similar to Camponotus vicinus will likely have rounder scapes. They also have very few erect hairs on the lower cheek shown in #2 of Photo 5: usually 0 but always less than 4. These characteristics are especially important for IDing lighter colored Camponotus vicinus and macro pictures of these areas are necessary.
It is slightly easier to compare C. vicinus from other black colored Camponotus species of the subgenus tanaemyrmex. They are not caught in the same habitat, as C. vicinus are ground dwelling and nest at the base of shrubs and trees instead of on them. Camponotus vicinus are also less shiny compared to other species, as shown in the comparison between C. vicinus and C. maritimus. However, these comparisons are also difficult to make unless the characteristics are observed of pictures of them side by side.
I highly recommend looking for more information in the key listed below and asking around on discord servers for more information about that could key out Camponotus vicinus.
The most common problem ant-keepers experience is that the ants stress out from over-caring. Camponotus vicinus are fully claustral, and do not need to be fed. In fact, I would advise against feeding or caring for them at all, as giving them liquid sugar may only result in the queen drowning from drinking too much, or throwing up on the brood and damaging them.
While C. vicinus do not stress easily from light and vibrations, I would still keep them away from constant exposure to light, as to simulate their normal founding process as much as possible. These ants will stress out if anything abnormal is placed in their tube, which is another reason why I do not recommend feeding the queens during their founding stage.
Camponotus vicinus perform fine in tubes and do not need any sort of substrate or material inside the tubes with them in order to perform well. The most important factor is to give the ants time to lay their eggs and let the eggs develop. Infertile queens are every day occurrences in the ant-keeping community, and ant-keepers can not immediately distinguish between fertile and infertile queens. I would avoid bothering queens that you think are infertile until a month or two after capture.
Some variants of Camponotus vicinus are polygynous or oligynous and can coexist with other members of the same species—at least until they obtain workers. They will not attack each other during the founding stage, but if you do decide to put your queens together, I would be mindful to make sure that the queens have enough space to move about and not overly bother each other.
Camponotus are very thermophilic, but if it's too hot, they will also be stressed out. Characteristics such as brood eating, extensive cotton pulling, and running around may be signs that their environment is too hot for them.
I have also noticed that in larger Camponotus species, the pupae are very sensitive to humidity and do best when placed in dry conditions. When the cocoons get wet, the pupae inside are often damaged and do not eclose correctly. When it's too hot, Camponotus will stuff their brood onto the damp cotton, which may cause problems for the pupae.
Time to first workers
6 weeks heated
Brodd eating and high humidity
C. vicinus take a few days to settle into their new homes. They will pull at the cotton if they are uncomfortable with their setup, and this can cause them to get tangled up and result in further complications. C. vicinus will usually start laying eggs within a week of being put into their new setup. While they will lay up to 13 eggs, usually, only 2-7 of them actually become workers for the founding colony.
Tubs and tubes
Usually, oligynous variants of C. vicinus will begin to show aggression in this stage, once the workers have eclosed. C. vicinus queen may attempt to fight for dominance, and the exiled queens may be killed or kicked out of the colony. Fighting occurs between the queens themselves, and it is not often seen between workers and queens in C. vicinus. In theory it is possible to try and separate the queens into different "chambers" or "tubes" to prevent them from attacking each other.
Feeding both proteins and sugars to the ants is an absolute must. Sugar sources for them include:
- byFormica Sunburst Nectar
- Perky Pet Hummingbird Nectar
- Sugar water
- Honey (bought from farmers)
- Fruits (apples and grapes from reputable sources that don't use pesticides; also, peel them)
C. vicinus are open to eating a wide range of protein sources. However, it is important to cycle through different protein sources to maximize the variety of nutrients that the ants obtain from their food. I would also refrain from feeding too much of household human foods.
- Fruit flies (obtained through cultures)
- Frozen and cut up insects, including: crickets, mealworms, roaches, moths
- Meat (fed sparingly): chicken, beef, small fish, tuna
Liquid sugar can be fed in a number of different ways to the ants, including on foil, or given through a feeder. Feeders are the most lasting sources for liquid sugar. Once the colony gets more than 10 workers, feeding every other day will maximize the growth of the colony.
Food poisoning is the most common problem in die-offs. Both fruits and insects from unknown sources may contain traces of pesticides that are harmful to the growth of the colony and the health of the queen and workers.
At this stage, it may be necessary to start using barriers, such as fluon, to prevent the ants from trying to escape their container.
C. vicinus likely will not outgrow their tub and tube setup before it is time for them to be hibernated. They hibernate for 3 to 4 months, from November to late february or early march. Before hibernation, you will see brood production slow down gradually, with no new eggs being laid, and the larvae not developing into pupae. This is a sign that the colony is ready to slow down and be put into hibernation.
They will have to be put in fridges or wine coolers to help slow down the colony and simulate their natural environment. I would also recommend gradually easing them out of heat by removing heat for a week or two before putting them into hibernation.
C. vicinus will be ready to move into formicaria once they reach at least 20 workers. However, it is also possible to put off moving them until they grow to at least a few hundred workers, as the ants are not very picky about where they nest, and can stay in a tub and tube setup for a long time. I would also keep in mind that the larger and more extravagant a setup is, the harder it is for them to also be put inside a wine cooler or fridge.
At 20 workers, C. vicinus can be moved to a TarheelAnts Mini Hearth, but they will outgrow it very quickly. I would wait a little longer and purchase a THA fortress for them instead. Larger colonies also do decently well in Camponotus hybrid nests from AntsCanada. Camponotus hybrid nests should be able to last the colony up to 1000 workers, at which point they will have to be moved into a larger setup.
The amount of food that the ants will eat varies, but I would recommend having a large supply of frozen crickets or a colony of roaches to help with feeding the ants as they get larger. At a certain point, the colonies will explode exponentially in size if they are fed enough.
C. vicinus are very common Carpenter ants in western North America. Many people keep these ants.
Yeasts Associated with the Infrabuccal Pocket and Colonies of the Carpenter ant Camponotus vicinus
The ant-keeping discord server helped me to gather a lot of information regarding identification of C. vicinus. I want to shout-out to Pogoqueen for helping me figure out a key for them that will hopefully help other people identify C. vicinus!
I also want to thank cocdeshijie for his contribution of the 3rd identification photo on this caresheet!
I absolutely recommend this species to everyone who can handle them!