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Insects and other arthropods

Creating an ant farm

Cross-section of an ant farm
Photo: Oliver White
View of an ant hill

Preparing the materials

What you will need to catch the ants

  • A trowel to dig up the soil.
  • A container to hold the soil.
  • A spoon to catch the ants.
  • A container to carry the ants.

What you will need to build your ant farm

  • A jar that holds at least one litre, with a two-part screw-on metal lid – replace the flat part of the lid with a piece of nylon stocking.
  • A stick that fits easily into the jar.
  • A sheet of black cardboard large enough to surround the ant nest.
  • Adhesive tape.
  • Ant food (a piece of bread, for instance).
  • A small piece of sponge to hold water and give your ants something to drink.

Collecting ants

Species belonging to the Formica and Lasius genera are easy to collect. Those in genus Formica are 6 or 7 mm long, and black. They make anthills in rural sites. The small brown ants in genus Lasius are brown and live under large stones or build mounds of sand, in rural or urban sites.

To collect your ants, remove the top of the anthill or mound with the trowel or lift up the stone. Use the spoon to collect about fifty adults, larva and nymphs, and if possible the queen, from the same nest.

Dig up enough soil from near the colony to fill your container three-quarters full. Note carefully where you collected them, since you will have to return here to release your ants.

Creating your ant farm

Place the ants in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to calm them. Prepare your ant farm by adding the stick and the soil to the jar. Tape the black cardboard around the jar. The cardboard must completely cover the part of the jar holding the soil. Place the ants in the jar. Add the piece of wetted sponge and the food. Quickly close the jar.

Caring for and observing your ant farm

Add water and food regularly. Other examples of food are bits of banana or apple, thumb-size bits of cookies or cake, dandelion flowers, sugar cubes, etc.

To see what’s going on in your ant farm, just remove the black cardboard. Over the space of several days or weeks you’ll be able to watch the workers building tunnels, storing or exchanging food, caring for the larvae, and more. Replace the cardboard once you’re finished observing them. Make sure you return the ants to where you found them once your project is finished.

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