An ant farm or a formicarium is a favorite pet home of most young boys and a dreaded structure for their parents. Whether you are an insect lover or a science nerd, there is no denying the appeal of the ant species. From their digging tunneling activities, their amazing food collecting and processing work (they can lift objects of mass equal to 6 times their own body weight!) to their social structure of queens, drones and soldiers, ants make the coolest companions, especially for kids who have allergies and cannot have pets.
The first step towards having ants as pets, is building a safe and secure ant-friendly dwelling place or an ant farm. Below are instructions on how to build an ant farm out of everyday household items.
How to Make an Ant Farm Using a Jar
This is by far the simplest way to build a formicarium. Use a peanut butter or a large jelly jar. Clean it out well with soap and water. Remove any labels or stickers. The jar should be filled with soil, that does not harden or form thick lumps. It should be loose and airy enough for the ants to dig through. Sand can be mixed with the soil. Sift the dirt well, so that it is loose. Fill the jar halfway with this soil.
Your ant farm should feel like an ant hill. For that "home sweet home" atmosphere, it should be dark in the jar, else your ants will tunnel towards the middle of the jar, making it difficult to observe them. So wrap the sides of the jar with aluminum foil or black or dark paper. Tape the sides of the paper together. When you want to look at the ants, just untape the paper. You can even make a dark paper sleeve, large enough to fit over the jar. When you want to observe the ants, just lift up the sleeve.
You need to prevent your ants from leaving the farm. The metal jar lid can be screwed on but for ventilation purposes, make 5-6 very very small air holes in it. The holes should be tiny, so that your ants cannot crawl through them to escape. Alternately you can make a medium-sized window in the lid. Cover this window with mesh and use a glue gun to fix it on the lid.
Your ants will try to escape by climbing up the walls of the container and attacking the air window. To prevent this, brush on vegetable oil or some petroleum jelly on the sides of the container, above the soil layer. This will make the walls too slippery for the ants to climb out. You can also place the jar in a shallow tub or tank of water, to form a moat. Even if the ants manage to escape the jar, they cannot swim across the water.
How to Build an Ant Farm Using Two Jars
You can also use two containers nestled within one another. The inner structure will occupy space, encouraging the ants to tunnel around it and hence tunnel towards the glass sides, so you can observe them better.
- Use a glass jar and within it, place a soup can or a soda bottle, such that it will fit inside the glass jar.
- Keep a cotton ball dipped in honey or sugar syrup outdoors to attract the ants. Once you find out where is their colony, gently dig out the entire ant hill with ants and using a trowel or small spade, put it into a bucket.
- Take it indoors and pour the dirt and ants, slowly but steadily into the glass jar. Fill this jar until the inner soup can/bottle is buried up to its rim. The ants and soil will occupy the space between the two containers.
- Use a paper sleeve to cover this sort of farm. The lid can have holes or a window. Place this jar in a dark location.
Aside from jars, a slim ant farm is the conventional design used for a formicarium. This sort of farm is like a thin aquarium, a wooden frame enclosing 2 sheets of glass or plastic. The glass sides makes it easier to observe the ants at work. But this sort of formicarium requires some carpentry skills. Wood planks and molding are used to sandwich or wedge together two glass panes. Binding clips or sealant glue is used to seal the frame, so that there is no way for the ants to escape. This is the normal ant farm structure sold in most hobby and insect stores, so unless you are good with tools and wood, it's better to purchase such a formicarium ready-made.
Once the building is done, it's maintenance time. Your ants need food and water on a daily basis. Crumbs of bread dipped in sugary water or honey or waffle syrup should be sprinkled on the top of the soil. You can put small chopped bits of fruit as well, once in a while. Do not clutter up the soil surface with a lot of food. The food can turn moldy in the jar if it piles up. Water should be given every 2-3 days. Drop a cottonball dipped in water in the soil, the ants will sip from it. Observe your ants feeding capacity and feed accordingly. Clean up the farm if there is too much food left on the surface.
Once your ant farm is settled, do not move it from one place to another, unless needed. Moving the farm can destroy tunnels and kill the ants. Keep your ant farm in a nice, dark environment to keep them happy. Having an ant farm is a great way to have an interesting, low-maintenance pet (or pets), plus you get to watch nature's best tunnel diggers at work!