What Goes Into Making an Ant Farm?

Very little maintenance goes into making and keeping an ant farm. One must keep the insects in a sealed container and remove rotting food as it decomposes.

Aug 24, 2023By Colt Dodd
what goes into keeping an ant farm

At one point or another, everyone’s looked at an ant hill and asked, “What’s going on in there?” The age-old question has prompted many bug lovers to keep ant farms, so they can watch how a colony of ants lives. But what goes into keeping an ant farm? Do these six-legged creatures need a lot of time and attention?

Here, one can learn about the nuances of creating and upkeeping an ant farm. There are many kits readily available online, and here’s a fun fact: these insects need very little maintenance.

The Materials Needed

an ant farm with blue gel
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

An ant farm is a great way to feel in tune with nature without going outside. It’s also a great opportunity to learn how ants work together to keep a colony thriving. While there are many starter ant farms online, if one’s looking for a DIY approach, one should start with:

  • A thin, see-through rectangular box. While one could use an empty jar, having a thin case is ideal for seeing the ants’ tunnel up close. Keeping a colony of ants in a pickle jar filled with dirt will not yield optimal view conditions.
  • Substrate. Many ant farmers use sand for their tanks. That’s because it’s easier for the ants to move around and makes them more visible. Some users also recommend using dirt or even a gel. Many beginners like the gel since it doubles as a source of food and water.
  • Food. Ever seen ants swarm a barbeque or picnic? Ants love sugar. They could thrive off syrup, sugar water, and honey.

Of course, to have an ant farm, one needs ants. While one could “borrow” some from a nearby ant hill, this likely won’t make for a thriving ecosystem. All ants need a queen to survive. She gives the instructions, and she lays the eggs––which keeps the colony surviving. For the best possible results, one should purchase ants and a queen online. There are many services that pride themselves on same-day shipping.

Making the Ant Farm

ants swarming a piece of fruit
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Once they have all the necessary materials, a bug-lover can start creating their ant farm. This is the easy part. They must:

  • Poke holes in the top of the container. The holes should allow oxygen into the enclosure, but they shouldn’t allow the ants to escape.
  • Pour the substrate into the container. The ideal substrate is grainy and dry. If the substrate is too wet or clumps together, the ants likely won’t survive very long.
  • Put the ants into the farm. A colony of about 100 is a good start. If the ant farm has a queen, she’ll lay 800 eggs every day. Soon, those eggs will hatch into dutiful ants.
  • Put food in the container. One should put syrup on top of the dirt, along with a small wet sponge. Ants don’t typically eat weird food that a human wouldn’t.

It may take a few days for the ants to settle into their new home. Be sure to keep the container in a safe place where it won’t get jostled around. Even moving an inch could cause the ants’ tunnels to collapse, preventing the colony from operating efficiently.

Maintaining the Ant Farm

an up close picture of an ant
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

For the most part, ant farms are self-sustaining ecosystems that require very little interference from humans. However, per the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • As a supplement to sugar-based foods, ants enjoy vegetables. Place the item on top of the substrate and watch as the ants chow down. To prevent mold growth, one should remove the item after 48 hours.
  • Ants do not survive in frigid temperatures. They thrive in temperatures between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If it gets too cold, the ants will become immobile and eventually die.
  • Some suppliers don’t send queen ants with the ant colonies they sell. They do this to prevent introducing ant species into non-native areas. Without a queen to lay eggs, the colony will last anywhere from two to four weeks.
  • One must periodically clean the ant farm if mold or waste accumulates. To remove the ants, they should use an aspirator. Here, one can suck up the insects without getting bitten, and the process itself is relatively stressless for the colony.

Like all living things, ants need water. So, every few days, the owner should use an eyedropper to supply a tiny bit of water. If they use a sponge to store water, they should, of course, make sure the sponge is damp at all times.

Exercise Care When Handling Ants

ants on a piece of candy
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ants can bite. What’s more, unlike bees, they can bite multiple times in a single period. In fact, according to the Cleveland Clinic, fire ants can bite someone seven to eight times in one setting. Even the seemingly harmless carpenter ant can inflict welts, blisters, and rashes.

So, when transporting or handling ants, one should put the ant farm in the refrigerator for five minutes. The cold will render the ants immobile and make them easier to transfer. The five-minute period is a hard deadline. Being in the refrigerator for more than five minutes could kill the entire colony.

They Offer Great Observational Enrichment

a museum grade ant farm
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Many people get pets because they want to interact with animals and form attachments. Ant farms are not ideal for those looking for a six-legged friend. As noted, ants can inflict serious bites. They also don’t have the same cognitive abilities that dogs and cats do. They don’t remember faces, and they can’t do tricks. An ant has one goal––and that’s to serve the queen.

Ant farms are great for classrooms, museums, and windowsills. They offer an invaluable learning experience while requiring very little upkeep.

Colt Dodd
By Colt Dodd

Colt Dodd is a sighthound enthusiast with three years of freelance writing experience. He has an Italian greyhound/Shetland sheepdog mix named Homer. In his spare time, he enjoys going to dog parks and writing fiction.