Empire of the Ants

In order to fulfil the science part of my blog’s tagline – “making sense of science, fiction, and science fiction” – I thought I could become an amateur myrmecologist. Why ants? Because H.G. Wells studied ants. And he was the man.

So last week I built an ant farm and collected some ants. With a bit of luck, my ant farm will turn into a thriving centre of industry, culture and commerce, and my ants will be the envy of myrmecologists worldwide.

Here’s what happened:

The Ant Jungle Colony box, purchased from the National Geographic shop. It’s for ages 6+, so too bad if you’re a budding 5 year-old myrmecologist.

The components of the farm. Note the can of Coke. All myrmecologists need Coke.

Collecting some dirt from the garden. I used two different types of soil to get a layered look.

Filling the farm with dirt. This was a painstakingly long task.

Along the way, I had to cover these holes with little squares of paper. Apparently the ants will remove them later. I hope I have smart ants.

The layering of the dirt is now complete! Time to capture some ants…

The instruction book suggested using mustard seeds to lure my ants into this handy “ant catcher.” But my ants are clearly too fussy to fall for that, so I was forced to use bacon instead. They liked the bacon. So did I. I ate way more than they did.

This is where it gets weird. I put the ants in the fridge. Apparently ants go to sleep within minutes of getting in the fridge. And it was true! It made it much easier to get them from the “ant catcher” into the colony. By the way, I’ve learnt that “ant catcher” is a fancy term for a plastic jar.

The ants and the bacon are safely transferred into their new home. Rejoice!

With the Ant Farm now complete, I give a thumbs-up of approval. Long live the Empire of the Ants!


  1. I decided to check this out because for some unknown reason I had a vision of ants last night when I was tucking my son in. I live in Vermont. There is still snow on the ground.

  2. My sister has an ant farm. It is the kind with a gel inside instead of sand or dirt. I like to watch them build their tunnels. The one you made here is a lot cooler than the one she has. I like the tunnels that come out of the sides.

  3. What a fun post! We just returned to the US from living a year in Vietnam and another year in Haiti. In both places we had “issues” with ants, which I actually loved to watch dutifully doing whatever it is ants do with such determination and diligence.

    Thanks for sharing and congrats on being freshly pressed! You and your colony of little ones better hang on for the ride!


  4. oh man, eurgh! good for you, but ants are the WORST! i wish you had explored someone else’s side interests, although i agree that wells is pretty cool.

  5. If you are going ant, then you will want to read Anthill, a Novel, by E.O. Wilson.

    If you want to look at fiction through the lenz of engineering then you will want to read Vector Theory and the Plot Structures of Literature and Drama by yours truly. Hugo winner Ben Bova highly recommends it.

  6. Well that’s good to know that they are just SLEEPING when I put them in the fridge. Must figure out how to kill them without ruining their MY honey jar. I always forget to store the honey properly as it turns to summer here (though ant season isn’t for another month yet me thinks) and then I get five or six little ants only in my honey.

  7. My son took his ant farm into his infant school. He and his friends found some ants to put in it; at lunchtime they found some more. Unfortunately, the morning ants and the afternoon ants were different types and proceeded to fight all afternoon. The class teacher was horrified by the gang warfare and resulting massacre. The 5 yr olds loved it!

  8. Wow–I had never thought of ants as anything but hideous and annoying, but they look kinda cute in an ant farm!

  9. What a fun project! I really liked the layering of the dirt effect. ;^) Very artistic. I’m just hoping that your ants are not fire ants. I think that you would have figured that out very quickly. They are not very nice little creatures…rather vicious…AND I have them all over my yard. (The “fire-ant preventive” treatment that I bought last year and spread over the entire acre obviously did not work.) Back to the drawing board for me. ;^-
    Have fun! I will look forward to watching the progression of your ant farm.

  10. Nice:)
    why don’t you figure some pictures that ants already make a tunnel in the sands layer? I would be great moment to capture that movement.

  11. Cool stuff. I like A Bugs Life movie and your blog reminded me of them. They ARE ants, right? I mean in the A Bug’s Life! I will double check. hehe.

  12. Apparently it’s true. The refrigerator light does go off when you close the door…because how else could those little ants go night night so quickly if the light was still on! Thanks for answering a life long question of mine.



  13. You really need to check out E.O. Wilson’s seminal work on Ant society, The Ants. It’s an astonishing survey of these tiny creatures; hard not to find them imbued with patterns that resonate throughout human activity.

  14. I always wanted to have an ant farm as well, but I had no idea how to collect ants, but now I finally have an idea 😀

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