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How to care for Messor barbarus

Hello, ant enthusiasts and welcome to the Messor barbarus care guide blog page. Where in this blog post we are going to tell you everything about Messor barbarus, how they live in the wild and how you can best take care of them as pets. Messor barbarus is one if not the most popular ant species to keep in Europe and we are here to offer you a little assistance.

General Information about Messor barbarus

Distribution: You can find Messor barbarus in the Mediterranean where they are very widespread and abundant. In Spain they dominate the plains and make huge foraging trails looking for seeds to harvest and collect but more on that later. Being this popular Messor barbarus has found its way all across the world but has not settled anywhere to become invasive (yet).

Messor barbarus in the news Recently in the news Messor barbarus was intercepted by the Philippine border patrol when they discovered a box full with Messor barbarus heading for the mainland. Being able to disrupt the local ecosystem the ants sadly got destroyed.

Wild lifestyle:

Messor barbarus has gotten its popularity to a simple trait they developed. These ants eat seeds, commonly referred to as harvester ants, these ants search for seeds and crack them to get into the soft insides. These soft insides get chewed on by the workers until it forms ant bread. This bread gets fed to the workers, queen and brood.

Workers gather these seeds as far as 10 meters from the nest entrance. In long columns these ants collect and heard back seeds to the nest where they get further processed. After rain, colonies tend to bring all seed remains outside of the nest and pile them up close to the entrance of the nest.

The nests of Messor barbarus are usually in soil and nests can grow into very large numbers containing 5000-15000 individuals.

Messor barbarus is very polymorphic meaning there can be large size differences in the colony between workers. This species also has a distinct worker and major class and the size different between and in these classes can be quite significant.

Different Messor species in Spain


Messor barbarus is part of the subfamilie Myrmicinae. You can recognise them by their red head and black bodies. The head varies from light to dark red but some form of redness is always present. If they don't have a red head it is not Messor barbarus.

Another way to recognise them is that the propdeum (abdominal segment) is rounded off. It is possible to confuse Messor barbarus with Messor capitatus but the latter does not have a red head and a more square propdeum.

Messor bouvieri is completely black as well. Messor minor is much smaller in size and workers have red on their thorax as well.


Messor barbarus is very polymorphic and workers can range between 4-12mm in size. The queen is around 12-14mm in size being one of the larger ant species in Europe.

Nuptial flight

The nuptial flight cycle is very interesting for the Messor barbarus. Their strategy is to fly very late in the season around September, October and November (sometimes even in December). This way the ant queens hibernate without workers which arrive later in the year around April. This way they have an advantage and allows the queens and workers to start fresh when the season starts.

General information on how to care for Messor barbarus

Introduction By far the most easy ant species to care for, there we said it. Messor barbarus is very easy to take care of but they have one major downside.

They stress very quickly, often referred to as 'stressors'.

This stress is not good for the colony and in most cases will kill the queen. There are a couple of easy solution to fix this. Put your ants in a quite place free from any vibrations, a desk of dressoir you need to access often is not a great place. Next to that we recommend you keep Messor barbarus in the light. This way you can look at them freely without having to take of any covers causing even more vibrations. If you do this you will be guaranteed to easily care for Messor barbarus and get a massive harvester ant colony! The starterset

The Esthetic Ants Starterset

Don't wait any longer and get yourself a Messor barbarus colony for FREE in combination with your starterset.

In this starterset you will get everything you need to keep Messor barbarus for at least 6 months until you need to expand.

It comes with a helpful guide on how to care for them and use the starterset but if you are reading this blog post you already have all the information you need!

Hibernation Messor barbarus hibernates from late December to early March. Most ant keepers however hibernate them from late November to early February which is fine as well. Keeping Messor barbarus at room temperature thus not hibernating them is also possible. However it has been said that this has a negative affect on the lifespan of the queen. This is not been proven just yet. You can hibernate these ants rather warm between 10-15c. Feeding requirements

That is the thing about Messor barbarus. They eat seeds! They also store their own seeds and take for the storage pile whenever they need it. This means you only need to feed your ants ever 6 months or so depending on their size and their storage capability. They do eat insects and other forms of protein but do not need it in order to survive. Messor barbarus like all Messor species do not benefit from drinking sugarwater and get everything they need from the seeds. Messor barbarus needs water. It is very important to them and they drink quite a lot of it. Always make sure your ants have access to water. Temperature If you want to keep Messor barbarus at a nice 21c room temperature that is more then fine. You can also heat these ants up to 28c to really make them grow fast. Humidity The brood of Messor barbarus needs a higher source of humidity to develop correctly. Larger colonies can manage this pretty well without a hydrated nests but for smaller colonies we really recommend an area of moisture where the ants can put their brood. The challenge is keeping the seeds dry and the brood moist. Nest For nests we could not recommend more the Esthetic Ants Mesh nests. We have yet to see a colony fail inside of them. They are a perfect combination of keeping the brood moist and keeping the seeds try. Countless customers have tried it and succeeded every time. With the integrated heat cable slot you can easily warm them and make your colony grow very quickly.

Messor barbarus inside an Esthetic Ants Mesh Nest

Outworld Messor barbarus can benefit a lot from a larger outworld. They do explore and roam a lot looking for seeds. We recommend a larger size then you would normally get with your colony. Progression/Growth When heated Messor barbarus can grow very quickly. Because every environment and colony is different it is quite impossible to give you ball park but if you care for them really well you can expect 50-100 workers between the first year and up to 500 in the second year. Check out this video about Messor barbarus


Ant Field Guide - Europe

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22 de mar.
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Very helpful! thanks alot for all this information.

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