Ant farms are fun, interesting learning tools that can entertain children (and adults!) for hours on end over the course of weeks or longer. They are simple to make at home using decorative bottles, jars, and other small plastic containers. Bottles and jars tend to be the easiest enclosures to find, and anything will work, but with a little creativity they can be made even better, both for the ants and for the observers. In fact, even the making of the ant farm can be not only fun but educational in a variety of ways.
The first step is to identify a suitable ant colony to capture. Do this first so you don’t take all the other steps only to discover you can’t find any ants. The best time to do this is when you see a lot of ants flying around. This is their mating ritual, so it means in a few days any ants walking around on the ground with wings are probably queens getting ready to start their own new colony, ideal for an ant farm. They can also be dug up, but ant colonies can go very deep underground, and finding the queen is difficult sometimes.
Ants don’t live nearly as long without a queen, and the farm will have a far shorter lifespan without a queen to replenish the ranks. In some parts of the country it’s important to do some research about the best ants for ant farms, as fire ants are more dangerous and small blank ants are both difficult to capture and to contain.
Before actually catching the ants, collect supplies and plan the ant “farm” enclosure. One very large jar or decorative bottle is fine, but that’s not as fun. Another option is a huge bottle or jar with a slightly smaller one inside. By filling the small space between the two bottles and only releasing ants there, you can ensure they won’t dig to the center of the jar where you wouldn’t be able to see them. Another option is to get two pieces of plexiglass or clear plastic and build an ant farm similar to what you can buy commercially.
A final choice, and perhaps the most interesting, is to get several small decorative bottles or jars and connect them all with a series of short tubes. The easiest way to do this is by putting a hole in the lid to connect the tub using hot glue. Then they can be set on their side, pre-creating the various “rooms” ants use to store food, waste, and to house the queen and the nursery. Also, it’s a good idea in any of these versions to fashion some sort of sleeve or other way to give the ants some privacy and darkness so they will be comfortable once they make their way “underground.”
In any event, it’s important to remember to put air holes and find a good fill that the ants can effectively tunnel in. So loose sand it out. Also be sure there aren’t any holes besides the very small ones for air because the foraging ants will find anything larger and escape, which can be a nuisance. Once the enclosure is ready, it’s time to go capture the ants. There are several detailed guides about how to do this online.
After releasing the ants into their new home of decorative jars, give them food and water every other day or so in small amounts and other than that try not to disturb them too much so they can grow comfortable. Then watch as they demonstrate the power of the hive mind.
Suggested Bottles to Use for Your Ant Farm