Making an ant farm: the riveting tale of discovering I’m scared of ants

For my project I decided to create a DIY Ant Farm. I have never had an ant farm before and have no idea what ants do with their lives. I looked around on the web for DIY ant farms and how they were generally built; eventually I found a really cool article from what looked like an art exhibit where the artist repurposed old paintings and turned them into ant farms, however the article had no instructions on how to replicate the ant farm (Spooky, “FrameIcariums). I spent a little bit more time and found a tutorial explaining how to make your own ant farm out of plywood and plastic sheeting (Catwood, “Amazing Ant Farm”) from This helped me get a general idea of how much space the ants need to move around and dig tunnels. For the specifics I spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos of really complex ant farms and how the ants dug their tunnels. In particular this video of ants transferring to a new colony was helpful to get an idea of how long the ants take to get used to their new habitat (AntsCanada “Moving”).


Applying wood sealant

I began gathering materials by going to the antique stores on Hildebrand. I found a really cool framed needlepoint of a house which was perfect. Next, I went to Home Depot and bought some wood sealant to put on the frame because the ant sand needed to be damp and I didn’t want to rot the wood. I also bought two large sheets of plastic to make the back and front of the ant enclosure.  While I was at Home Depot a really nice employee cut two holes in the top of the frame for me so I could open and close the enclosure for food and water. Cutting the plastic sheeting was the hardest part of this project, I only had a manual scoring tool. To cut the plastic you had to score it then bend the sheet till it breaks on the line. I found a video showing how to ‘scribe’ and break the plexiglass, which made it look easier than it was (Paul, “Scribe”). The sheet he works with the video was much larger so he could get more leverage to break it, plus I didn’t have any clamps. On my first attempt I took a good chunk out of my thumb and earned myself a trip to Health Services. After a few more tries a got a relatively whole piece which I put in place with silicone sealant.

Cutting the plastic

Cutting the plastic

For the top plastic sheet I took it to the engineering lab in CSI and a kind employee helped me cut it with a table saw. Finally I was able to put the top sheet on the frame to make the complete enclosure and put some extra silicone sealant on for good measure.

I ordered ants in the mail and they surprisingly survived the whole Labor Day Weekend in two tiny vials.  There were about 20 Harvester ants, which if you’ve never seen Harvester ants are huge and scary, they also bite. Next was getting the ants into the enclosure. It was at this point that I realized I’m kind of really terrified of ants that bite. The first attempt of rolling up a paper funnel and dumping them in the hole at the top did not go well. The ants crawled up the paper tube and I ended up stepping on a lot of them so they didn’t crawl inside my room.

The finished enclosure

The enclosure

For the second vial I shoved a pen body into the top hole and taped a plastic bag with the ants inside to the top, then I let them crawl in at their leisure. It took till the next morning for all of them to crawl in and they had already started organizing and digging tunnels. I looked up an article about what ants eat and how long they live. It turns out that my ants will last anywhere from one to six months and don’t need that much food. I went to PetSmart and bought some small bird seed that could fit through the top holes drilled in the frame.

I started this project thinking how hard can an ant farm be, but the fact that almost everything I was doing was new to me made this project so much more of an adventure than I first thought. The learning quiz said that my style was strongest in visual/spatial and musical/rhythmic. While I was making the ant farm I definitely realized that I liked to organize my materials and plan ahead before I attempted to do anything, I also listened to music the whole time I was working on the project. I found that tutorials with videos or lots of pictures were the easiest for me to follow along with because I could get a good idea of how the project would look when I was doing it. Overall I’m very happy with how my ant farm turned out.

The finished product

The finished product

  1. Catwood. “Amazing Ant Farm.” N.p., 2008. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.
  2. Spooky. “FRAMEicariums – The Ant-Farm Art | Oddity Central – Collecting Oddities.” Oddity Central Collecting Oddities., 21 May 2010. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.
  3. AntsCanada. “Moving a Mature Ant Colony into an AntsCanada Habitat Nest.” YouTube. YouTube, 19 Oct. 2012. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.
  4. Pauls Workshop. “How to Scribe and Break Plexiglass.” YouTube., 1 May 2013. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.
  5. Main, Carlyn. “What You Need to Know About Ant Farms – TopTenREVIEWS.” Top Ten Reviews., 2 Jan. 2010. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.
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