So You Want to Find a Queen Ant

A very popular question this time of year is, “How do I find an ant queen?”

As with many things, finding an ant queen requires work, patience and sometimes a bit of good luck.

1. The very first step is to make sure you can identify an ant queen from a worker ant when you see one.

(Note:  the middle section in ants is not technically a thorax as it is called in other insects, but is now called a “mesosoma.” Alex Wild in his article at Myrmecos calls it a thorax to avoid confusing beginners, I believe. I originally used an older term “trunk” in some of the figures.)

camponotus-pennsylvanicus-queenThis carpenter ant queen formed a small chamber under the loose bark of a log.

2. You also need to understand the colony cycle in ants.

There are many variations, but in general the colony is founded by a single queen or group of queens. The queen(s) lay eggs that hatch into larvae. Once the larvae are mature, they pupate, sometimes within cocoons (See eggs versus pupae ). The first adults to emerge will be the wingless worker ants.


When the colony conditions are right, the queen lays some eggs that will become new queens and males. The adults will have wings. They are called “alates.”

Camponotus-pennsylvanicus-3-alatesAlex Wild calls the females with wings that have not gone on their mating or nuptial flight “princesses.”  They may stay in the nest for weeks until conditions are just right.

When the winged ants are flying out of the nest in order to mate and start new colonies, it can be called “swarming,” the “nuptial flight” or simply “mating flight.” Unfortunately swarming is also used to describe mass movements of ants, so it can be a confusing word. Generally the workers ants are rushing about in great numbers protecting the emerging males and princesses as they prepare to fly off.

Nuptial flights or swarms of ants

Once they have mated, the “princesses” generally pull off their wings and are ready to start new colonies. This is an optimal time to find new wingless queen ants.

3. Next, learn something about what kind of ants you might find in your area. If you have one or two species in mind (I would recommend larger-sized ants that don’t sting for a first ant farm), then you can look up when queens are likely to be active in your area.

How do you do find out what kinds of ants are in your area? One place to start is AntWeb, which has ants identified by region. See that tab at the top of this page that says Ant-Related Websites, Forums and Blogs? There are a number of blogs that specialize on ants in a given region. (Please let me know if you have one to add.)  You can also search the ant forums by the name of your state or country for more information. You might consider joining an ant forum or social media group to learn more about the hobby, as well.

4. In general, ants tend to swarm associated with certain environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, time of day, and precipitation. For example, in New England, you can be sure to find carpenter ant queens running on the ground the morning after the first spring thundershowers, likely in May. Here in the Southwest, harvester ants swarm after the summer rains in July called monsoons. Learn what conditions the ants you are looking for prefer and watch the weather!

Swarming in winter ants at Myrmecos

More about ant queens and new colonies

5. Finally, nothing beats getting outside and searching around (just be sure you have permission to collect where you search.) Look under stones, sticks or near where lights are left on all night. I found some queens near tennis courts, which have bright lights on at night. Others have found queens that have fallen into pools. Good luck!

You also might be interested in:

Beginners Guide to Ant Keeping

Does anyone have anything to add?

45 Replies to “So You Want to Find a Queen Ant”

  1. I just got an ant farm, 20 harvester ants. No queen. I live in North America Mississippi! Can I find a queen? And will the soldier ants kill her if I set her in there? Please help!

  2. I apologize for the slow response. Most kinds of ants will not accept a queen from another source. If you have a queen, keep her by herself and let her develop her own workers.

  3. Some of the best starter queens are carpenter ants. They typically fly in the spring, starting in May. Watch the weather for the first big afternoon thunderstorm of the spring, when the afternoon is warm and humid, producing thunder clouds. Expect to see carpenter ant queens running on the ground the following day. Try carefully looking under stones or pieces of wood. The weather is the key, though.

  4. There are many different kinds of ants and they live in different places. Try to learn more about the type of ant you want to study.

    If you are looking for queens to start a colony, I suggest you wait until the summer. Many species of ants go on mating flights around the summer monsoon storms.

  5. I live in southern Wisconsin and I want to find a Camponotus queen. When do they take Nuptial flight here?

  6. Try to watch the weather. They often swarm (go on the mating flight) right after one of the first afternoon thundershowers in May.

  7. I live in Rhode Island, there are no recorded information of Ants here, although I know there are some. If I don’t know the species I want to catch, what do I do? Any advice?

  8. I have luck only with fire ant queens usually in winter when it 30 or below I look for a big mouth container fill only the sides with honey or pancake syrup just smig on it on top pouring more at the bottom so when u plunge the open said into the side of ant mount as deep as it could without not disturbing the nest leave it 3 days to a week like that until they had there fill they always move the queen in the container make sure u save the cap to cover and seal the container than check at home see if u get any queens or queen
    I done it several times it weeks for me they move queen in there because its warm

  9. I live in central Illinois. I need to know when carpenter or sugar ants will start nuptial flights.

  10. Carpenter ants start in late April or May after the first hot, humid day turns into a late afternoon thundershower. They have probably already mostly swarmed for this year.

  11. You won’t be able to add a queen in with workers and solders if they aren’t from the same colony. They will likely attack each other.

    According to Antwiki you have some species of Camponotus or carpenter ants. They are good to work with because they don’t sting.

  12. I live in NY and i was wondering when i should look for queen ants as i am currently trying to start a ant farm?

  13. I’m afraid its too late in the year now. Expect the queen ants to start swarming when it warms up in the spring, typically late April to May.

  14. Hi, I was wondering what is the best time of Day to look for the species Camponotus because I live in Colorado US and its the right time of the year but again I don’t know the correct time of day.

  15. Typically carpenter ants swarm right after a thundershower, but you can also find the newly mated queens crawling on the ground the next morning after their flight.

    Good luck!

  16. It really depends on what kind of ant you want to find. Different species of ants swarm at different times of the year.

  17. You guys need to read before you post… The author told you the same things 2 or 3 times. Look it up on google or watch AntsCanada on youtube. He has tutorials

  18. I live in the middle East(UAE), I wanted to know the nuptial flight schedule of the place

  19. I have seen three queen carpenter ants within the past three hours of being outside.. this time of year is the best time to find them.. i even have a collony decoration in my liveing room with two queens two

  20. Hello I live in Ukraine the Carpathians to be more specific I tried searching for ants here but nothing any help would be appreciated

  21. I live in Mauritius, a tropical island. I just want to know when are nuptial flights in tropical seasons.

  22. No. I have identified what looks to be 5 Formica colonies around my house. However, they are killing there queens before they can fly. Why are they doing this?

  23. @goldfish,
    I just caught my first componotus Carpenter ant queen 5 days ago as the sun was starting to set… So start looking. I read something about their nuptial flight from May through July. That was a while back so I may be wrong. Enjoy all!

  24. I live in middle Tennessee. I want to catch a queen ant the is from the species fire ant. I need to know where to look and when to look.

  25. You might want to check papers and books by Dr. Walter Tschinkel. He is an expert on fire ants.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.