Ant Farms: How to build your own formicarium

How to build your own formicarium (cheap!)

You will need:

Terrarium/Container
Plaster
Saran wrap
Clay
Glue
Tape
Vaseline

Optional:
Substrate, landscaping, paint.

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I love keeping ants.  They’re low maintenance, fun to watch, and a fantastic teaching and outreach tool.  Kids and adults alike get excited to see the inner workings of a functioning ant colony, complete with queens, workers and brood.  And fortunately, there are more and more resources available to the amateur ant-keeper.  Unfortunately, some of these resources can cost you a bundle.  I have embarked on a quest to make my own custom formicarium as cheaply as possible.

In particular, I wanted to make a formicarium that was attractive, easy to manage, space-friendly, and easy to transport.  I love the flexibility of set ups with tons of tubes connecting various nests and outworlds but these are a tricky thing to juggle when heading to a school or outreach event.  Altogether I spent less than $40, and a good chunk of that was on reusable supplies.  (I can make MORE– BWHAHAHA!)

That said, this was my first attempt, and it has been a learning process.  I hope this will be of help to others.  This formicarium design is easy to modify to suit your own needs, so I highly recommend taking some time to browse Google and websites such as the AntFarm (forum), AntStore, and AntsCanada for tools and inspiration.  If you do make your own formicarium I’d love to hear your stories and see pictures!

You can also check out my collection of more formicaria designs and suggestions.

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Methods:

First, find a good size container for your ants.  I chose a large sized plastic terrarium from the pet store.  (This is cheap and light weight, not quite as bulky, and comes with a lid.)

Next you will need some supplies to cast the nest.  I bought 3lbs of cheap plaster at HobbyLobby.  You could also try something a little sturdier like HydroStone or Tuf-Stone.  You want the material to be capable of absorbing water (most ants need high humidity) but mold resistant.  (Plaster will mold.  Low levels are unattractive, but not particularly harmful in my experience.)   You will also need something to make a mold from–I bought a cheap tub of clay.  Play-Doh, putty, whatever would probably work.

Line the areas where the plaster will set with plastic wrap so that you’ll be able to remove the nest casting once it sets.  Try to get the plastic wrap as smooth as possible, as wrinkles will show up in the final version, and might even provide unwanted crawl spaces for ants.  Something like waxed paper might also work, as long as it fits tightly against the container surface.

Now you get to the fun part.  Using the clay, design your ant nest!  Make large chambers, small chambers, connecting tubes, etc. Run one to two nest entrances perpendicular to the container wall so that they will stick out of the plaster when it is poured.  Don’t forget to leave 2-3″ of space at the top for a vaseline band around the container to keep ants in! Using modeling clay, create a sealed lip along the top edge of where the nest will be to hold in the plaster.  (If you angle this lip so the top of the plaster nest slants toward the outer wall you’ll have a nice little catch dish for watering the nest later.)

Some notes:

Smooth the edges down as you work so your chambers won’t have curved in edges, hiding the ants from view.  It’s also a good idea to give chambers a slight slant so that the ants can use a bit of gravity to rest on the plaster (especially if your container, like mine, has walls that slant outwards).  Make chambers slightly thicker at the top side than the bottom side to account for this.  Be careful to leave enough space between chambers and tunnels that they will be structurally sound.

Once you’re happy with your nest arrangement, mix up some plaster and pour it.  Contrary to the chambers, you’re going to want the plaster of the nest to be thicker at the bottom of the container than the top, so prop up the top edge slightly while you do this. Make sure the nest is thick and sturdy.

If you want to add some texture to the back face of your plaster nest, now’s the time before it hardens to much.  You could sprinkle sand, small pebbles (let the plaster dry a bit more), or get creative with whatever comes to mind.  I found white, glow-in-the-dark sand for hermit crabs at PetCo and had a lot of fun with that.

Let the plaster set according to the directions.  Then slide that sucker out of there and carefully remove the clay and saran wrap. (This is easiest if the clay is still wet.)  A beautiful cast ant nest!  If you’re feeling especially creative, this is also your chance to paint some color onto the flat wall where it will sit against the container. (Don’t paint in the ant’s living space!)  Make sure the whole thing’s completely dry, then it’s time to stick that thing back into place.

In getting it into place, you want to make sure the nest is a tight fit, particularly against the front wall.  With a good cast, this should work out fine on it’s own, but you may want to think about some sealant.  I used some glue along the sides as I put it into place, and then ran a line along the edges and top where it met the wall to seal up the cracks.  Because I had some, I used “Amazing E-6000″ but epoxy or a hot glue gun would probably do the trick.  (You can even sprinkle some sand on the wet glue to hide it.)

If all you want is an ant container, you’re done, but now’s the time to work on their foraging area.  I wanted to cast a plaster bottom to help everything stay in place, and to secure some sand substrate.

You won’t need a mold for this part, but before pouring any plaster, make sure you use some clay or other material to plug the nest entrances so that they won’t get submerged.  Be careful, you need to be able to get the clay out again!  Then it’s as simple as pouring in a base of plaster, however thick you like.  (I chose thin, to keep the weight down.)  If you have any landscaping you want to secure, sink it in the plaster now.  Silk and plastic plants for fish tanks, rocks, branches, plastic flowers are all fun. Or abandon the naturalistic setting and give your ants legos and barbie dolls to forage around.  Follow your bliss.  Plan ahead for cleaning and feeding.  Crowded tanks can be a pain to work with.  Also make sure decorations don’t stick up too high and give the ants escape opportunities.  As always, remember a 2-3″ lip.

Now, quick, before it dries!  Add your sand/substrate/texture.  You can also include loose substrate, later, but remember, if it’s deep enough, the ants will move in there instead of the nest.  Ants love dirt.

Once again, let it dry.  When the plaster’s sturdy enough, remove the clay from the nest entrances, and use your glue again to seal any gaps and crevices (followed by a sprinkle of sand!).

You’re almost done!  Now let’s work on making the container as escape proof as possible.  For most ants, this means a band of vaseline.  The thicker the band, the less likely you’ll have strays.  You can use the lid to maximize out-of-sight vaseline (plus upside down vaseline is particularly hard to walk on).  If you’re using a vented plastic terrarium lid, you’ll need to create a smooth, solid surface to apply the vaseline to.  Use scotch tape or packing tape to carefully cover up the holes in a ring around the underside of the lid.  (You don’t have to cover all the holes, you just need to make a broad ring from the outside edge.  Some ventilation is still good (especially in a humid climate!).  I generally take the plastic door off, or leave it open.) If you’re feeling particularly motivated, you can even make this a permanent solution.  Once the tape is applied, go in with you hot glue gun or some putty on the top of the lid and fill in all the holes.

Done?  Apply a liberal coating of vaseline under the lid and around the top rim of the container (the ring on the container has the added advantage that you will be able to take the lid off if you need to, for example, fix up the vaseline without a massive ant escape.

And that’s it!  You’re done!

You will need to supply your ants with food (sugars and proteins) and water, as well as keep the nest damp* by squirting some water down onto it to absorb into the plaster.  (Variable moisture conditions in different parts of the nest will allow the colonies to naturally regulate the moisture levels of their brood.)  For protein try crickets or tuna fish, and consider using a dish to help keep the substrate clean.  For sugar try watered down honey, or sugar water in a tube capped with a cotton ball.  A water tube can be provided in the same way.  Ants like any number of foods so try things and see what’s popular.

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*Wait, back up!  If you’re having moisture problems, consider sticking a tube down into the top face of the plaster nest while it’s setting.  This tube can help you add more water to the nest rapidly, as it will hold the water for the few minutes it takes to absorb down into the plaster.  You could even coat the outside of the tube with vaseline and have it project up through the lid for easy watering.  For very dry climates, consider using something to “seal” the back face of the plaster nest as well.

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Carpenter ant queen settles into the formicarium with her brood and first minim worker.

Carpenter ant queen settles into the formicarium with her brood and first minim worker.

I hope this has been helpful to you!  If you do make your own formicarium I’d love to hear your stories and see pictures!

See also:  More formicaria designs!

Back to the techniques section.

57 Responses to “Ant Farms: How to build your own formicarium”

  1. Ed Boineau June 21, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    I don’t see how you are able to pour the plaster into the container to form the nest. Or did you do that outside of the container and then placed it inside and then sealed it with glue?

    • 6legs2many June 21, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

      I lined the container with plastic wrap and made the clay mold inside the container. (This was both the tunnels and a clay ‘lip’ to hold the plaster in at the top edge.) Then I poured the plaster into the container (on its side), let it set, and pulled it out with the plastic wrap to remove the clay.

  2. AgressiveIN June 27, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

    It should be noted that play-dough will cause the plaster to mold faster then modeling clay.

    • 6legs2many June 27, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

      Good point; I hadn’t thought about that!

  3. Roberta July 2, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    I will interested to hear if your ants will stay in. Mine always find a way out, even with Fluon

    • 6legs2many July 7, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

      Have you considered a moat with some soapy water? That’s what I’ve resorted to for my Crematogaster colony. They’re fiendish climbers.

  4. Barbara July 12, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    I have bought a 2.5 gallon glass tank from Petsmart. It comes with a single piece glass lid. This will work great if I can drill through it without breaking it ( air entrance and exit holes). I chose a glass tank instead of a plastic critter keeper because I keep breaking my plastic critter keepers and I think glass will be more durable.

    to keep mine from running away, I will plug one air exit hole with a aquarium airstone. The other hole I will run an air hose into and stick an air stone on the inside of the lid in it. One time, I didn’t plug the inlet air with a stone and they crawled up the tubing. Fortunately they were stopped by the backflow preventer I used.

    I assume by your description of glue, that I could pick just about any silicon sealer from Home Depot and be ok. By the way, hot glue on plastic peels off.

    I have ten, yes 10, queen carpenter ants, camponotus vicinus. 8 have larvae and or eggs. I have them in 2x2x3″ clear plastic boxes with hand carved brooding chambers (wood, recycled wood or celluclay). Time is fast approaching for me to be ready with formicariums and outworlds.

    A couple of the brooding chambers have become infested with mites. I would like to try and transfer them to another habitat leaving the mites behind.

    6legs2many, I would like to chat with you by email if possible. I would like tips on creating my 8 formicariums. I am on the Ant Farm and Myrmecology site as BugBarb.

    • 6legs2many July 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

      Hi Barbara,
      I’d be happy to chat with you. My email’s in the top right-hand corner.
      -I actually originally planned to use a glass aquarium, but switched to plastic because I could find something lighter and a bit smaller.
      -I generally use cotton balls for allowing air flow while blocking tubes. I’ll have to look into airstones.
      -Any silicon glue would probably work. I just grabbed what I had handy.
      -Having lived with my formicarium a while I think the only big change I would make would be to add a tube or some other system to funnel water into the plaster and maintain nest humidity more easily.
      Best,
      Alison

  5. Barbara July 26, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

    I have finished 6 grout nests. I chose grout because people say it doesn’t mold like plaster or other products do. On all the nests/slabs, I poured sand or gravel on top of the wet slab and patted in. It produced a unique, almost faux rock surface. I am experimenting using concentrated food coloring as paint to enhance the rock look.
    I cast all of my nests with a 2.5 gallon glass tank in mind as their ultimate home. Since then, I have discovered that a ten gallon tank costs less than the 2.5 gallon tank and a five gallon tank cost the same as a ten gallon tank. If I have the energy today, I will go to petsmart and decide whether or not to get more 2.5 gallon tanks. It might be prudent to get my old 10 gallon tank out and see if that would be an option. I could glue several nests to the inside of the tank, creating a space for a potentially large colony. Up until now, space hasn’t been an issue because the queens each have been occupying a 2″x2″x’3″ clear plastic bos. Four 2.5 gallon tanks and 4 other containers (larger than the tiny boxes) are going to take up substantially more space.
    You can view pictures of the nests and my ants on this site, just do a search for bugbarb and it will come up with all my photos.

    http://krungkuene.org/imgant/

    Nest 1
    I tried the modeling clay method for tunnels and chambers. I’m really good at making funny critters out of clay, but I suck at making tunnels and chambers. It took me three days of carving with my dremel tool, adding grout to fix problem areas and waiting for it to set, before I considered it acceptable. Even now, I am considering keeping it as a spare and casting a seventh nest using the knowledge I have accrued from the first 6.

    Nest 2 was unsanded grout mixed with coarse dirty sand. I let it set overnight, then took my dremel tool and carved tunnels and chambers. I will not use coarse sand again because the dremel bit catches on the larger pieces of sand, they chip off and go flying.

    Nest 3 & 4 were cast using sanded saltillo grout. I chose saltillo grout because it was the cheapest. $9 a bag compared to $14 a bag…I didn’t realize until I went to pick it up that it was a 50 pound bag, not a 25 pound bag like the more expensive grouts were. It produced a slate gray slab that I carved with a tile cutting bit.

    Nests 5 & 6 I used unsanded grout mixed with perlite. My intention was to produce a slab that weighed less and had improved moisture holding capabilities. The slabs turned out to be incredibly light, so that was a success. However, while carving I realized that putting too much perlite caused the slab to chip off while I was carving with my dremel tool. Next time, I will add a lesser amount of perlite.

    Possible nest 7….I am considering casting a seventh slab and trashing nest 1 because I know I can do so much better. If I do, I will use a unsanded grout, saltillo grout (for the grey color), perlite mix.

    Four of my queens have cocoons that are almost ready to hatch….I’m so excited!

    • 6legs2many August 4, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

      Excellent. I’ll be interested to hear how the different casts work out.
      Is the grout absorbent enough or do your ant species not need high nest humidity? I was having trouble watering the plaster the way I have it set up, but I switched to misting with a spray bottle and that seems to work out much better.

  6. Meg July 28, 2011 at 6:43 am #

    We just made this with homemade playdough – it coloured the tunnels and looks awesome! the ants are currently moving their eggs in right now. Thanks so much for this great idea!!!! You can’t get any good ant habitats in Australia so this has been fantastic for us as our ants made a queen and started producing more eggs in this tiny little kids set up. Thanks again!

    • 6legs2many August 4, 2011 at 11:50 pm #

      Very neat with the colored tunnels. :)
      What type of ants?

  7. Barbara August 5, 2011 at 4:14 am #

    My latest experiment has been mixing perlite in with the saltillo grout. I theorize that it will make the moisture holding capacity of the grout better.
    The grout/perlit mixture is much easier to carve.

  8. lorenzo August 27, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    hey thanks for the idea i was thinking of doing something very similar as this but was not sure on how to do it exactly, i was hoping you could proved me with a little more information and help so here is my email rizzio94@hotmail.com, hope to hear from you soon

    • 6legs2many September 1, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

      Hey, you’re welcome to email me with any questions. My contact info’s at the top of the page.

  9. Barbara September 3, 2011 at 1:03 am #

    I read 6’s description of how to build formicariums, Then, I used my imagination and some suggestions from the Ant Farm and Myrmecology website.

    I have three formicariums,ant farms or as I like to say “ant castles because queens don’t live in farms.” They are perlite/saltillo grout mix. I mix approximately 50/50 grout to perlit, cast the slab in the containe on top of sticky plastic wrap and wait 24 hours until it is well set. Then I get my dremel tool out with the tile cutting bit, the grout removal bit and several abrasive stone bits. I carve an L shaped water trough first thing. The tunnel and chamber pattern is completely up to me…woo-hooo! Just be careful to leave enough of a wall between levels for strength. I have had to do some patching. It works, but isn’t the best looking.
    I have to get all my tiny families/colonies into new living spaces soon.
    I have used four 2.5 gallon glass aquariums and one purple 3 gallon straight walled plastic hermit crab habitat. Today, I bought a crystal clear cylindrical food storage container. It was half the price of the glasss aquarium, but won’t last as well. Oh well, we can’t afford another $50 worth of aquariums and decorations.

  10. Sam September 17, 2011 at 5:58 am #

    Hi
    I decided to make your design of ant nest. I just have got a queen and I think 7 workers (lasius niger) from ‘the ant store’. they have gone into the nest part and are all staying together in one chamber with the queen.
    I just have a few questions:
    When will she start laying?,
    I found another queen in the garden would two queens work?,
    If the top was left open would the workers go back to the nest?,
    I have seen that the workers are bringing some sand loam into the nest is this to bury and dig in?,
    How often should I feed them?,
    Thanks

    • 6legs2many September 17, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

      Hi.
      -She should start laying soon if conditions are good and she has the nutrients she needs. If you don’t start seeing brood consider adjusting the temperature and humidity.
      -Number of queens: Some ants are monogyne (one queen only) and some are polygyne. Monogyne ants will kill extra queens. Even some polygyne ants will react defensively to unknown queens if they did not found the nest together. You should research your ant before putting any queens together.
      -If the top is left open (and there is no barrier to keep the ants in the nest such as vaseline, fluon, or a moat) the workers ants will indeed eventually pass in and out of the nest. The only reason they would come back is if the ant colony is the best nest they can find or if they cannot get their queen out of the nest for some reason (like she is to big to fit or too heavy to climb or be dragged). Generally even the best ant habitats are not so perfect that the worker ants can’t find something they’d prefer (darker, more secluded, better building materials, better temperatures, etc.) Also, sometimes workers fall down places and get lost or stuck.
      -Many ants will adjust their nest with any loose material. They may change the shapes of passages or open and close tunnels or try to make an area darker, etc.
      -I give my ants a constant supply of sugar water, and regular feedings of crickets. They need sugar, protein, and lipids (fats) to thrive. Other good food: Honey (watered down), tuna, hot dogs, fruit (no insecticides!), etc. What they will eat depends on the species of ant. It’s fun to try things!
      Cheers!
      Alison

  11. Sam September 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    Thanks

  12. Barbara September 19, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    The following is a link to my photo album on picasa/google, documenting my efforts at creating ant farms/formicariums.

    https://picasaweb.google.com/115795497407614868846/HowToMakeAnANTFARMAkaFORMICARIUM#

    • 6legs2many September 21, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

      Love the pics! I really love your idea for a built in, L shaped water trough. I may have to borrow that!

  13. Sam September 20, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    Yesturday I made the part of the nest where the queen is quite damp and today I saw her first egg and i’m so excited!!! Should i keep it as damp as did yesturday. (In other words was that why she layed the egg?)
    Also the other queen still hasen’t settled how can I help her to nest propably?
    Also would you like to see some photo’s of the nest and queen?

  14. Sam September 21, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH
    Hi
    Mould has grown how do I get rid of it?
    What will happen if it spreads?

    • 6legs2many September 21, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

      In reply to both your comments:
      Yay that the humidity helped with the brood production! Unfortunate that it led to mold. This is the biggest problem with plaster. It will mold, particularly if ants bring in debris.
      You can’t really get rid of mold in this kind of set up. At low levels I’ve found it’s only a nuisance and an eyesore. If it gets bad it may drive the ants out of the nest or be bad for their health. Unfortunately, young queens do seem to be more vulnerable to this kind of issue. Mold likes moisture so you may be able to manage it a bit by letting the nest (or part of the nest) dry out more. But the only real long term solution to this problem is not to use plaster. (But it’s cheap! I love it!) From what I’ve heard, products like TufStone andHydrostone are much less prone to mold.

      In terms of overall moisture levels: Your best bet is to create moisture gradient in the nest (water one part/side more than others.) This lets the ants choose the best environment for their brood. Also, don’t water so much that condensation builds up inside the nest. (That will contribute to mold significantly.)

      I’d love to see pictures!

  15. Sam September 22, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    I will email some photos to you
    Also do you have any other desighns of ant nests.

    • 6legs2many September 22, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

      I have found the Ant Forum to be a great resource for this kind of thing.

      • Barbara September 24, 2011 at 1:11 am #

        I fed my 8 small colonies the first protein meal that they accepted!
        I fed them tiny termites.
        They crushed the heads and lapped up fat and protein rich termite juice/guts.
        Now, there are just a bunch of heads and gutless bodies.
        The termites were perfect.
        Some of the colonies don’t appear to be foraging.
        The little dynamos, the termites, just ran all over the foraging area and nest, looking for dark chambers.
        Invariably, they found the ants.
        Now, I’ve got a tiny termite-arium, a 2x2c3inch plastic box.
        I’ll have plenty of live food for future feedings.

        I went out last night to raid an ant colony for larvae, pupae and cocoons.
        It was gone. I guess my raiding it a few weeks ago made them leave.

  16. Sam September 24, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    Did you like the pictures I sent you by email

  17. Sam October 26, 2011 at 6:30 am #

    Hi
    I have now had my ant nest and queen ant for about 7 weeks, they have nested at the bottom left corner and she is alive and so are her seven workers. Near the beginning I think I saw two eggs but now I can’t see any I think they might have actually taken the eggs under the plaster. All the ants have been in the same place for about six weeks and haven’t come out to get food not that I can see anyway. Could they be resting or hibernating I don’t know if they are because they are in quite a warm room.

  18. myrmicinae January 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    You have some very good information there! Thanks for posting it.

  19. Yariel February 19, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

    this is awesome ! i m not tht good at following writen instroctions. it would be supper better to make a vid

  20. Vasile Bagazzoli February 28, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    Wow, great setup. This is definitely something that most ant keepers should look at. I’m looking to start a small online shop in selling novelty ant farms but unfortunately so far there hasn’t been a durable, moisture absorbent product that I’ve yet used. Hydrostone and ytong (AAC) is difficult to find in Canada.

    Thanks,

    Vasile B.
    President, Founder, Owner
    A.N.T. AntsNational™ Team & A Cultured Legacy™

    Links:
    YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/antsnational
    Website: http://www.antsnational.webs.com

    • 6legs2many March 8, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

      Well good luck to you. We need more affordable, well-designed ant farms out there! I’ve bought from AntsCanada before, and love their formicariums but they are sooo expensive.

  21. Ben Nguyen March 17, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

    Could you mix regular sand and glow sand? And can you drill a hole for tubes to connect it with anotherformica our outworld.

    • 6legs2many March 17, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

      I’m sure you could. Drilling is definitely possible but I’m not sure what the vest strategy to avoid cracking the plastic is. (if you find a good one, let me know!)

  22. Ben Nguyen March 17, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    Could put sand on top of the plaster for texturebl before it dries

    • 6legs2many March 17, 2012 at 10:37 pm #

      I have done that, and it’s a nice effect. It does slow down the absorption of water, though. You can get around that issue by building in a water reservoir though– there are some great pics earlier in the comments.

  23. Jacob R April 1, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    Hey 6Legs2many, I LOVE this idea for a formicarium, I attempted to make one in the past but never thought of using an actual container instead of just a slide on glass lid, anyways I wanted to know how is the best way to go about finding queen ants. In the past I’ve always just dug up a small colony from under a rock or log and then sorted the ants out into a seperate container to introduce them to their new home. Do you suggest doing this or is there an easier way to get a colony started?

    • 6legs2many April 5, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

      I’ve mostly started colonies with single queens. I did pick up a big-headed ant colony living in a rotted stick, and I got them to move out gradually on their own by slowly breaking up the log and letting it dry out while providing them a nice, dark, damp nest dish to move into. If you can get ants to move in on their own that’s generally best for the health of the colony.

      Finding queens depends on species, location, etc. For example, fire ants fly the afternoon after a rain and can often be found all over the ground if you look in areas where they can’t easily dig (like the edges of paved roads, gravel walks, etc). Many other queens I’ve found just by chance when they landed on my car window or picnic table or some such. It helps to have a good eye for queen ants–they can look a lot like small flies or wasps if you aren’t familiar with them. There are lots of resources for how to find queen ants if you poke around on the web.

  24. Jacob R April 2, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

    Also, is there a good way to prevent mold growth from the clay? the previous model I made ended up growing some mold on it because of the clay, this time I used sand to spread overtop the hardening plaster in hopes that it would help.

    • 6legs2many April 5, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

      This is a never-ending problem with plaster. I’ve heard other materials (see above in comments, post) work better.

  25. Denise May 14, 2012 at 7:14 am #

    Hi Alison, I tried to email you but it came back. My son is doing a science project and his topic is what sugar do ants prefer. Do you think this container is safe and the ants will not get out? We just need them in container for around 5 hours but need something that the ants will not get out.

    • 6legs2many May 14, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

      Hi Denise,

      A container with vaseline around the top should be fine for most ants. It does depend on the species. Do you have one in mind? Since this is a temporary use, another cheap method you can use that works very well is to line the inside of a smooth plastic container with baby powder. (You might use a tray like you can buy for storing things in or an orange bucket from home depot.) This can be easily accomplished just by putting some baby powder in the bottom of a bucket or tray and rolling it around. Obviously you must be careful not to brush or wash the powder off.

      Finally, if you are worried about ants breaking out you can make your containers extra secure by creating a moat (for example by placing the container in a larger container) with some soapy water. The soap breaks the surface tension so the ants cannot float across.

      For this kind of project your son could also consider placing different types of baits outside at different times of day and different locations to see what kinds of ants visit and how many. Some ants are active in the heat of the day, and many only in the mornings and evenings (and nights!). Some ants prefer proteins (like slices of hot dogs) and some will only eat sugar. Some ants prefer dry sugar and many prefer sugar water. He may also see that more ants come to the baits they like better–different types of sugar or stronger concentrations.

      Hope this helps!

  26. 6legs2many June 8, 2012 at 9:54 am #

    Thanks!
    I haven’t really encountered a good method for preventing mold, although a number of people have suggested using Tuff-stone or similar products instead of plaster.
    I made the entrances by making plugs of clay, which I removed after the plaster had set.

  27. mat July 26, 2012 at 5:44 am #

    Hey guys
    I am a teacher at a school in London and want to build an ant farm for my classroom to add that science feel to the lab (also going to try and make a worm one as well).
    I though it would be pretty easy. Build a container put soil in leave them to it (while feeding obviously).
    However i have now seen the pictures of the one above and also of a similar one where they have stacks of seeds they have collected all in one area which looks amazing.
    When people talk about the mold issue though it worries me. I don’t want to build it and then have all the ants die of the farm to become useless. IS there anyway to pretty much guarantee no mold with this type (built holes) farm? e.g. if i have a resiviour outside of the hole bit like in the pictures (but if they bring water/food in or when they respire it will still put water in there)

    Is there any issues with just using sand? and make it a thinner container so that you will be able to see the holes?

    Also i my wife bought me a mini ant farm a few months ago for my birthday (http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?q=gel+ant+farm&um=1&hl=en&sa=N&rlz=1C1CHII_enGB395GB395&biw=1280&bih=685&tbm=isch&tbnid=hIlWRDvE_FQUXM:&imgrefurl=http://www.gadgetplus.ca/science-nature/AntFarm.html&docid=x47fGrXKft_SgM&imgurl=http://www.gadgetplus.ca/images/products/Ant-Farm-Gel_LG.jpg&w=402&h=385&ei=9R4RUKm6GrSk0AXvgYHYCg&zoom=1)

    Collected some ants(20ish) from outside, put them in and even after 3 weeks they hadn’t dug down at all? What did we do wrong? They were kept out of the sunlight, left alone, the blue gel acts as food.

    Thanks for any help

    I need to build it by the time i get back after the summer so help as quick as possible will be really appreciated.

    • 6legs2many July 26, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

      Hi Mat,
      A lot of ants won’t build in the gel nests. (For example… not fire ants.) I think they are typically used with carpenter ants(?) which are a bigger species as well as better builders, as the name might suggest.

      For you formicarium questions… Just keeping water outside the nest would not neccessarily solve the problem as many ants actually require humid nest environments to keep their brood hydrated. (This is not universal though–you could do some research on various species.) I have heard that TuffStone or HydraStone work very very well at resisting mold but I haven’t used them myself.

      Your idea about using sand is doable. There is a fairly simple and common ant farm design where you enclose sand between two thin layers of glass to make the nest and let the ants burrow naturally. It’s best to also include some tubes or jar attachements or something to allow for feeding/outworld access. There’s also a design with a jar inside another jar.

      One resource that I highly recommend is to check out the community over at Ant Farm (http://antfarm.yuku.com/). There are a lot of knowledgable people over there as well as plenty of discussion threads on raising various ants.

  28. Nick August 1, 2012 at 10:06 pm #

    I there. I am thinking about making my own formicarium, but I am tryin to find out… What is the hydration / humidity hole thing, and what is is for, how do you use it, and how does I work? I have been racking my brain to figure that out, but I can never figure it out! Thanks in advance!- nick

    • 6legs2many September 10, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

      It’s generally just some sort of reservoir used to make it easier to dampen the plaster/substrate. Most ants like somewhat humid nests.

  29. Liam McGillivray August 8, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

    I have a suggestion; use translucent red glass or plastic wrap over the nest. Red light is invisible to ants, meaning you can see them but they think that they’re in darkness, as in a real underground nest.

  30. kriss May 13, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    I’m making mine with the clear nutritious gel http://www.antgel.com/combo.html

    • 6legs2many May 14, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

      Cool! Be aware that not all ants can live in the gel nests. (For example, havester ants can, but fire ants can’t.)

  31. Patronus August 28, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    Nice tutorial! I’ve discovered this interesting blog and I’ve just added it to my bookmarks.
    Also, please have a look at my own forum about ant keeping and myrmecology that I’ve just created, available by clicking on my username!

  32. ezekiel September 10, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    what ant i needed for this project?

  33. Angel Guzman December 29, 2013 at 2:25 am #

    Hi 6legs2many i have a problem i allready made my plaster formicarium but i dont know how to make a watering sistem i just make like a line tunel and i conected an other tunel to it what should i do please help me thanx.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Best ant related links! - July 29, 2012

    [...] 6legs2many – Alison’s great guide on how to make a formicarium yourself. [...]

  2. How to Ant Farm | TurboLobster.Com - January 23, 2013

    [...] via Ant Farms: How to build your own formicarium « 6legs2many. [...]

  3. Springboard Session 9: Photos, fireflies, and tiny drones | TEDActive Blog - March 20, 2014

    […] Be inspired by Deborah Gordon and learn how to make your own ant farm. […]

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