6 Best Ant Farms | March 2017
- wide feet for added stability
- water dropper included
- well reviewed by owners
- based on a nasa study of ants in space
- ant catching tool included
- great low-cost gift idea
- large 15" viewing area
- comes with 32-page ant booklet
- ants sold separately
Nature Up Close And Personal: The Ant Farm
An ant farm is a type of vivarium, or an enclosed space in which to keep animals for the purpose of study and observation, quarantine, or for amusement and decoration. Formally known as a formicarium, ant farms have been around for well over one hundred years now.
The first recognized ant farms were created by a French scientist focused on the study of insects by the name of Charles Janet. He showed off his narrow, two dimensional ant habitats in the year 1900, though no commercially available ant farm would be created another three decades. (Janet had no interest in the market value of his formicarium, being an entomologist, not a salesman.)
Ant farms marketed for amusement as opposed to research tools first went on sale in 1930. A man named Frank Austin patented his design for whimsically decorated ant farms that created rich settings in which the ants lived. However, it would not be until the 1950s that ant farms truly became popular, commonly seen items. The company that would soon be called Uncle Milton Industries began selling ant farms (after patenting the very term) in the latter half of the 1950s, and would go on to sell more than 20 million ant farms (and counting) over the subsequent decades.
If you're interested in owning an ant farm or giving one as a gift, there are two basic types of formicarium from which to choose. The first is the time-honored design that uses sand sandwiched between two sheets of clear plastic (glass was used in earlier years, but lucite or acrylic is now much more common), allowing for a visually similar recreation of the tunnels ants create in their subterranean colonies.
This classic take on the ant farm will always be in style and is a great choice for the youngster and adult alike who has a genuine interest in entomology (or just in ants specifically). Note that this type of ant farm does require something of a hands-on approach, usually requiring use of a tunnel starter (sometimes called a canal starting tool) to commence a tunnel the ants will later continue, and requiring the occasional addition of water and food to keep the ants alive and healthy.
The other common type of ant farm combines their habitat and food into one material, an ant gel. This gel, perfected largely thanks to experiments sponsored by NASA and conducted in space, is commonly made with extracts from seaweed, amino acids, and sugars, and is a rich source of nutrition and hydration. It is also perfect for boring through, easily holding its shape and forming the tunnels ant colonies require.
Ant farms using ant gel have a decidedly less traditional appearance than sand ant farms, and for some people this will be a selling point. These formicariums make great decorations for a shelf or desk, often featuring built in LED lighting that can even see them acting as night lights. They also require little to no maintenance effort, which is another bonus in the eyes of many.
Ways To Help Your Ant Farm Thrive
If you have an ant farm filled with ant gel, there are few steps you will need to take to keep its "residents" alive and well. One thing you can do (if possible, given the unit's design) is to remove any ants who do perish, preventing their bodies from rotting and clearing space for the living ants. You may also need to periodically add more ant gel if you have a formicarium whose ants live for a good long time.
For sand filled ant farms, the care and maintenance is a bit more involved. You should plan to feed the ants every third day (adding more if the food disappears fast, less if it lingers) and clearing out older foods that have been neglected before they rot. While ants will eat almost any foodstuff, some of the best choices include bits of dried oats, bits of green vegetables, fruit shavings, and bread crumbs. Also plan to add drops of water every few days as well. The soil should never become saturated, but it should remain general moist. This helps with ant hydration and helps to maintain the sand as a viable tunneling and building medium.
Try to keep the ambient temperature around your ant farm between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit when possible. A lower temperature can make these cold blooded creatures sluggish, while warmer temperatures can shorten their lifespans. And never leave an ant farm where it will sit in direct sunlight. This can heat up the ant farm, quickly killing off ants who have no way to burrow under ground or seek shade to escape the punishing rays of sunshine.
A Bit Of Info On Harvester Ants
Ants may be small in stature but they are a major source of fascination for many people. And the more you learn about these diminutive denizens of our country, the more you will come to appreciate them. Many people consider the harvester ant to be the ideal insect for an ant farm. The red harvester ant in particular, known as the Pogonomyrmex barbatus in the scientific community as one of the more common ants kept in a formicarium.
These ants are native to sandy areas of the southwester United States, thus readily adjust to the sands of an ant farm. Measuring between five and seven millimeters in size, red harvester ants are relatively large in the larger realm of the ant world. These insects get their common name from their ruddy color and from their behavior which involves the gathering of seeds as the primary food source in nature. They will of course readily devour many other foods, easily processing most edible materials with their proportionally large and powerful mandibles.
In the wild, red harvester ants typically range up to fifty yards from their colonies in a given day, collecting food from various sources and managing to spread seeds and propagate various species of plant in the process. They are a highly cooperative species of insect, working in tandem for the greater good of the colony. As for lifespan, red harvester ant queens often live for only one year, but have been known to remain alive for as long as two decades or even longer.