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April 08, 2023 6 min read

There are more than 12,000 species of ant, which can be found on nearly every continent on earth. Do you have dreams of creating your own ant colony?

You might be wondering how to start an ant farm. After all, they're fascinating creatures you could spend hours watching. But what materials and equipment are required to get going?

Our helpful guide walks you through every single step of how to build an ant farm. We've also included everything you need to know about how to make sure the ants get the best care and nutrition for a healthy life.

Read on, and get ready for a truly educational experience as watching them build their colonies in real-time teaches us about cooperation, communication, and working together - things we could all use more of today. 

Why Start an Ant Farm?

Ant farms offer an exciting and educational opportunity for children to learn more about life and the natural world in a fun way. You might be a classroom teacher, parent, or enthusiast, it doesn't matter what your reason is for starting an ant farm. Here are some of the great benefits:

  • Makes you think about the environment and ecosystems
  • Allow for an appreciation for nature
  • Teaches productivity, structure, and hierarchy
  • Teaches children responsibly and how to care for pets
  • Fascinating to watch

What Is an Ant Farm?

Ant farms are also known as vivariums. They are enclosed structures for keeping and raising animals under direct observation.

Although ants may have a habit of taking over homes and trying to steal food, ant farms are actually great educational tools for children. Not only do they provide fun, but they also come with several educational benefits.

From memorizing scientific terms to understanding the importance of teamwork and order, ant farms can help kids learn in both the classroom and at home.

What Do Ants Eat?

Ants are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals. You'll often find them savaging scraps from human sources.

Common ant food sources include seeds, honeydew, fungi, and decaying fruit. Some ants even hunt small invertebrates like spiders and insects to feed themselves and their colony.

Additionally, some species of ants have been known to feed on nectar or sugary liquids as a source of energy.

How to Make an Ant Farm

It's relatively easy to start your own ant farm. You'll need a few ant farm supplies to get going and set up your vivarium. Then you'll need to buy ants to populate it. Here's how to do it.

Things You’ll Need

  • 1 large glass vivarium with a breathable lid
  • 1 smaller vivarium that fits inside the large one
  • An ant-collecting device
  • Dirt made up of equal parts of sand and soil
  • A bit of honey or breadcrumbs
  • A small bit of kitchen sponge

Preparing Your Ant Farm

  1. Ensure the lid of the vivarium is breathable; if not, poke some holes into it to allow the ants to breathe. Make sure the holes are smaller than the ants so that they can't escape.
  2. Place the vivarium upside down in the larger vivarium. This will create an 'inner wall' of your ant farm. This will help keep the ants near the sides of the tank so you can see them in action.
  3. Fill the space between the vivariums with your dirt mixture. Make sure you've taken the dirt from somewhere away from chemicals so it doesn't harm the ants. Leave about an inch of space at the top.
  4. If you're not opting to buy ants from a supplier, then it's time to find some. Go outdoors and check under rocks and tree branches to see if you can find an ant nest. You may have to follow a trail of ants to find one.
  5. Using your ant-collecting device, carefully collect as many ants as you can. One way of doing this with minimal effort is to put a jar with some food, such as honey or breadcrumbs in it. Leave it laying on the ground near a nest and wait for the ants to enter the jar. Whichever way you plan to collect the ants, aim for about 100.
  6. Put the ants you collected into your prepared vivarium. Tip them out gently.
  7. Your ants will need a source of food and water. Put in some food such as crumbled-up bread or biscuits. Add in a small water-soaked sponge so the ants can drink.
  8. Place the lid onto the vivarium. Make sure you keep it away from direct sunlight so it doesn't get too hot. You might also want to keep a cover over the ant farm because ants prefer to make their tunnels at night. Replicate what is natural for them by using a thick black cloth.
  9. Make sure you add more food and check the water in the sponge daily. If the soil starts to get too dry, use a plant mister to spray in some water. Avoid adding too much water at a time, so you don't drown the ants.

Collecting Ants

We mentioned a couple of techniques to gather ants above. Here are a few more methods you could use.

  • Use a spoon to scoop up ants from a colony
  • Find something that the ants are feeding on, such as an apple core, and put the whole object into your ant farm
  • Use a pitfall trap placed in the ground where ants are present for them to fall into

Useful Tips

  • Make sure to handle ants from the same colony to prevent them from attacking each other.
  • Thoroughly clean up after feeding ants, as any leftover food can lead to mold growth, which can be fatal for the ants.
  • Red ants tend to be more aggressive than black ants.

Do You Need a Queen Ant?

When starting up an ant farm, you should keep a few things in mind. The ants likely won't reproduce unless you add a queen to your ant farm. A queen ant will lay all of the eggs, but worker ants close to the surface of the anthill are most likely sterile.

If you want to watch ants go through the process of laying eggs, you'll need to get a queen. However, this can be tricky and may involve destroying the natural ant colony.

If you want to see the reproductive cycle in action, a good option is to purchase an ant farm kit that includes a queen ant. This will save you from having to dig deep into the ant's nest and take what you need.

Alternatively, you can try and catch a queen during its nuptial flight and use it to raise a colony all on its own. Note that without a queen, the ants in your ant farm may only live for 3 - 4 weeks before dying naturally.

Ant Hierarchy

Ants are highly social creatures that form a complex hierarchy. Here is an overview of the main roles within an ant colony:

  • Queen Ant: This is the most important member of the colony, as she is responsible for laying eggs and leading the rest of the ants
  • Worker Ants: These sterile female ants make up the bulk of the colony and are responsible for digging tunnels, gathering food, caring for larvae, and protecting the colony from danger
  • Soldier Ants: These large ants act as guards to protect the queen from predators and defend against other colonies
  • Male Drones: These do not contribute to day-to-day life in a colony, but rather mate with queens from other colonies to ensure genetic diversity across multiple groups of ants

How Long Do Ants Live?

The lifespan of ants varies depending on the species, but ants typically live for several months on average.

Worker ants usually only live for a few weeks, while queens can live for many years. Male drones typically die shortly after mating to ensure genetic diversity among colonies.

Can Ants See and Hear?

Yes, ants have primitive eyes and antennae that enable them to sense their environment. Ants can see shapes and movement when light is present. Their antennae can help them detect sound waves in the air.

Additionally, they have a strong sense of smell that helps them identify food sources.

Do Ants Have Hearts?

Yes, ants have a simple circulatory system with a heart-like structure called the dorsal aorta.

The dorsal aorta is an organ responsible for pumping hemolymph (ant blood) throughout the body. Even though they don't have the same type of heart as humans, it still functions similarly and keeps ants alive.

Ready to Start Your Ant Farm?

Starting your own ant farm can be a fun and educational experience. With the right supplies, knowledge of the ant hierarchy, and tips for safely collecting ants, you too can start an amazing colony in no time!

While it may take some practice to get all of the details just right, with patience and persistence, you’ll soon have a thriving mini-ecosystem full of fascinating creatures. If you're ready to get started, then check out our selection of ant products today and start building your very own home for these tiny insects!