I’ve been collecting ants for a relatively short time. My goal isn’t elaborate, I just want to collect the twenty-five most common ant species seen in the pest control industry.
One of the things I’ve labored over is how to actually display and store the ants.
Should I pin them? Should I store them in alcohol?
After some research, I decided to keep the ants in 5ml glass vials filled with 95% Isopropyl Alcohol. I decided on that concentration rate based on a study performed by the University of Florida Entomology Department. You can find the technical notes of the study here, it’s titled “Recommendations on the use of alcohols for preservation of ant specimens (Hymenoptera, Formicidae)”.
According to the study, 100% concentration caused the specimens to become too brittle for future mounting and 70-80% concentration created rubbery specimens that would return to their original death position. In short, manipulating the specimen’s legs and antennae into a natural/living position is easiest done when a specimen is stored in a 95% concentration.
On my trips to Georgia and Texas, I made the mistake of storing the ants in water during the trip home. After all, if ants were submerged in water for a day or two it wouldn’t hurt, right? What’s a little water?
Boy was I wrong.
Two things happen when you store ants in water. First, the ants’ gasters develop a weird streaky look and also bloat up a bit. Second, a scummy discharge begins to surround the bodies. And like mentioned above, these things begin to happen in the first 24 hours.
Oh! If you forget that you stored the ants in water and leave them submerged for a week or longer, your specimens are pretty much useless at that point.
The one thing I don’t like about displaying ants in vials of alcohol is how they are hard to view. They sink to the bottom, the air bubbles and bends in the glass often distort the view, etc. So I’ve often wished for a better way to display the ants.
This weekend, I saw something on YouTube that has me HIGHLY intrigued. A video creator suggests storing the ants in hand sanitizer. I like this idea, because the gel-like substance suspends the ant inside the vial.
I’m certain hand sanitizer will make the specimens rubbery and possibly too soft to move, but after originally positioning the ants in a suspended position, would there even be a need to move them again?
So my new plan will be to collect and store ants in a 95% concentration, but I’ll also display single specimens in hand sanitizer for easy viewing. I assume hand sanitizer will discolor the ants and significantly reduce the specimens shelf life, but provide a much better experience for the viewer.
I’ll keep you updated to my findings!