How to Build an Ant Farm | Natural Formicarium

How to Build an Ant Farm | Natural Formicarium


Hi guys, my name’s Jordan, and in this video,
we’re going to be creating some naturalistic formicaria. Containing soil, plants, and other crucial
organisms. Basically, mini ecosystems, perfectly catered
for the keeping of ants. To start off, you’re going to need an enclosure
of some sort. To give you guys some options, I’m going
with 3 distinctive styles. The first, one our medium sized, ‘Ants Australia’
Outworlds, made of acrylic. The second, a tall glass jar. And thirdly, a 4-foot-long, glass fish tank. I prefer enclosures with flat sides, and avoid ones which have rounded sides, like this this cylindrical
jar. As viewing through, results in visual distortion,
making it hard to observe anything inside in great detail. Much like viewing ants within test tube setups. But I’m going to try it out, just for the
sake of variety. The size of enclosure you go for should depend
on the size of your ant colony, and how much growing room they’ll need over time. Typically, the larger the setup, the better. Although, just keep in mind, the larger you
go, the more you’ll need to invest into materials and general maintenance. Once you’ve picked an enclosure which best
suits your needs, we’re going to start layering in our substrate. What we’ll first need to do, is create a drainage layer. I’m creating mine by laying down some small
stones. Before filling up one of our outworlds, I’m
going to need to seal off the entrance port. To do this, I’m simply unscrewing the front
panel and replacing it with a solid one. Which comes included in the kit. All ready to go. Try to lay the stones down evenly, just a
few centimeters high is plenty. A great alternative to stones are clay balls. Clay is much lighter than rock, making it
much more suitable for larger setups. As it’ll make them a little easier to transport
later on, if need be. This drainage layer will help prevent your
soil, which we’ll be adding in later on, from becoming water-logged. Which can cause the substrate to rot, thus,
providing ideal conditions for harmful bacteria and fungi to thrive. So the idea is that any excess water in your
setup, will seep down through the substrate above, and settle within the small gaps between
all the rocks, or clay, below. Allowing the soil to sufficiently drain and
dry out. Next, what we need to do is cover over your
drainage layer. This is to prevent the soil above from entering,
and thus, inhibiting its effectiveness. For this large setup, I’m using some shade
cloth which has been cut to shape. Some fine window screen would work great for
this too. Or for a more natural approach, a carpet of
moss or some coconut husk acts as excellent alternative. Not only will it filter out the soil, but
it will absorb up any excess moisture too. For my smaller setups here, I’m going with
some coconut husk. Make sure you’ve covered the entire surface
area so there aren’t any gaps. Next step, we’re adding in a layer of charcoal. When water passes down through this layer,
and into the drainage layer below, the charcoal helps purify it. It acts like a sponge, absorbing in the water,
and neutralizing certain toxins within. Lessening the chance of harmful microbes building
up. Just make sure the charcoal you use doesn’t
have any added chemicals. Finally, it’s time to add in some soil. For these two, I’m adding in some potting
mix, specially design for terraria. And for the fish tank, just some soil from
the back yard. What sort of substrate you go for should depend
on what your ants like. Some species might prefer rather dense and
sandy soil, whereas others, might prefer more of a loose, bark-like substrate. So, do a bit of research. Go outside and have a look at what sort of
substrate the particular species you intend on housing are usually found in. You can also do some experimenting by filling
up one side of your setup with one type of substrate, and the other with something different. And simply observe which side the ants prefer. You’ll want to add in a decent layer of
substrate, to give the ants plenty of room for constructing their tunnels and chambers. And if you’re going to be adding in some
plants, just make sure you leave enough vertical space for them to grow in. You’ll notice I’m not layering the soil
flat, like I did in the previous stages. Instead, I’m sloping the surface downwards
towards the front, and creating subtle hills and valleys. This gives the ants an increased amount of
surface area to explore and gives the setup some added dimension too. Next, comes the fun part. The decorating. For this setup, I’m first adding in some
plants. You’ll need to carefully consider which
plants will best suit your particular setup, and the ants which will inhabit it. For example, it wouldn’t be a good idea
to pick water loving plants when you’re housing an ant species which prefers relatively
dry conditions. As it may be quite tricky trying to please
them both. And other things to consider would be the
soil conditions – does the soil you picked out for the ants, also suit the plants? And of course, lighting – how much, and
what sort of light, do the plants require? Will they get enough light naturally from
a nearby window? Or might they need artificial lighting? For my outworld setup, I haven’t got a whole
lot of vertical space to work with. So I’ve picked some low growing plants,
which will, in time, entirety carpet the surface. Tallest plants to the back is best. And then, I’m just adding in some small
rocks, sticks, and a gumnut. And finally, filling in any remaining gaps
with a bit of coconut husk. For my jar setup, I’m keeping things super
basic. All I’m doing is simply placing in some
seeds, which in about a week or two, will begin to germinate and spring to life. These seeds are from an easy to grow herb,
known as peppermint. So not only will this add some greenery to
the setup, but it will also give off a pleasant, minty aroma, and of course, tastes great too. And finally, for my large tank setup, I’ve
added in some driftwood, and plenty of rocks too. I’ve found ants often love nesting directly
beneath solid surfaces, such as these, utilizing them as a sturdy ceiling for their homes. So, hopefully this will make mine feel right
at home. If the ants you’re going to be housing are
a wood dwelling species, like ‘Carpenter Ants’, then some small branches would be
much appreciated for them. And to liven up the setup, I’ve
also added in some small tussocks of grass, and some beautifully vibrant mosses. And for the finishing touch, a thin layer
of red sand, found naturally throughout central Australia. I think it gives the setup some great contrast. Once you’re happy with your design, it’s
time to hydrate. Regular tap water is fine for this. Although, you’re probably best using rain
or distilled water. So as to avoid adding in any unwanted chemicals. How much, and how often you water should depend
on the size of your setup, it’s evaporation rates, and what sort of humidity levels your
inhabitants require. I highly recommend placing in a hygrometer,
so you can accurately gauge these levels. I’ve secured one on the inside of my jar
setup just using some blu tack, like so. You might want to also leave some dry patches
throughout the setup, giving the ants a moisture gradient to work with. If you’re using one of our outworlds, just
be aware that they aren’t water tight. So, if you flood one, the water will slowly
leak out from the bottom. I’m putting a little potting tray beneath
mine, so as to protect the surface of the table beneath. This leakage, while seemly impractical, is
actually quite a good thing. As it allows for improved drainage. Reducing the chances of harmful bacteria and
fungi from developing, and catering better for arid dwelling ant species, and plants like succulents, which
do best when their roots periodically dry out. Plus, if you fill your tray up with water,
it can act like a moat. Discouraging the ants from escaping, and foreign
ants from invading. However, the most effective way to escape
proof your setup, and prevent wild ants from invading, would be to apply a barrier of PTFE all around the upper inner edges of your enclosure. Before you apply this liquid, make sure you
clear the surface area of any dust and moisture. For my outworld setup, I’m simply coating
the inner edges, bordering the lid, using a cotton cue tip, like so. Once this liquid dries, the area becomes super
slippery, making it very difficult for ants to pass over it, without losing their grip,
and falling back down to the bottom. For the jar setup, normally, I would coat
this area here. However, the ants I’m going to be housing
are incapable of climbing up smooth surfaces, like plastic and glass. So, no fluon required. And lastly for the fish tank, a barrier around
this area would be sufficient for containing most ant species. Although, some ants, who are a little more
adept at climbing, will likely have no troubles scaling up the silicone sealant in the corners. Silicone isn’t as smooth a surface as the
glass, and so, even when it’s coated in fluon, it proves to create weak points in
the barrier. So for my setup, I’m not taking any chances,
instead, I’m utilizing one of our custom designed, laser cut, acrylic lids, which has
been secured on with some aquarium safe silicone. The lid has a large opening on either side,
the only way in, and out. Once the inner edges of which are coated with
fluon, the ants would need to walk upside down over the barrier,
definitely not an easy task. The lids are also lined with thousands of
tiny holes for ventilation. Much like the sliding lids featured on our
outworlds. If you wanted to make one of these yourself,
you could get a sheet of acrylic and cut it to shape using a specialized blade. For extra security, a tight-fitting lid is
definitely a great option. Just be aware that closing off your enclosure
will reduce evaporation rates and increase the humidity levels within. So, you won’t need to hydrate the setup
nearly as often. This high humidity may also result in condensation
build up, and thus, render your fluon barrier ineffective. So, it’s a good idea to use a lid which
offers plenty of ventilation, like these ones. Alright, almost done. Next, we’re adding in a cleanup crew. Some helpful bugs, in the form of springtails
and isopods. These bugs will actively consume any organic
matter, like dead leaves and fungi. And then, excrete them out as fertilizer,
cleansing and enriching the soil. You’ll just have to be a little bit careful
with the bugs you choose, however. In some cases, the ants might see them as
food, and relentlessly seek out and attack them. I’ve found most ant species don’t really
go after springtails. I think it’s because they’re far too small
and agile to be worth the effort in catching. So I’m adding in a bunch to mine. And another great thing about springtails
is they’re very easy to raise. Here’s a culture I started a few months
back, just from a couple of hundred individuals. Now, they must be well into the tens of thousands
strong. Now the cleanup crew’s in, we’re finally
ready to add in some ants! For my outworld setup, I’m going for a young
colony of Strobe Ants (Opisthopsis sp.) Who are housed in a tubs and tubes setup. I’m simply placing their tube straight in,
like so. For the jar setup, I’m introducing a small
colony of Green-headed Ants (Rhytidoponera sp.). Also, from a test tube setup, one which isn’t
looking so great. You can see it’s starting to get a little
moldy. So they’re more than ready to be moved out. Again, I’m just placing the tube directly
into the enclosure. And finally, for my fish tank, I’m introducing
a colony of Australia’s iconic, Giant Bull Ants (Myrmecia pyriformis), which I currently
have housed within a couple of ytong nests, hooked up to one of our large sized outworlds. This species of ant is one of the largest
in world. With workers measuring in at around 30mm in
length, and the queens even larger still. And as you can see, this colony’s quite
large too. They currently have around 40 workers present,
and there’s lots more on the way. Just look at all that brood. I love how they’ve neatly organized them
based upon what level of development they’re at. First you’ve got the eggs…the larvae…and
finally, the pupae. So to introduce these guys, using light, I’ve
managed to move them all into this single nest, and from here, I’m simply placing
them into the tank, and setting them free. To entice the ants to move out of their old
nests, there’s a few things you can do. Firstly, try poking some shallow holes into
the soil, to save the ants some digging. Ants are all about efficiency, so offering
them a head start acts as a great incentive for them to move in. Also, in this way, you can essentially dictate
the general area the ants will end up nesting in. For example, you might want them closer towards
the front, so you can potentially get a better view of their underground activity. Additionally, you can use some heat to entice
the ants further. Using a heating mat or cable. For my Big-headed ant setup, which has undergone
quite the re-scape since featured last, I’m currently using a heat mat which I’ve secured
onto the front. As you can see, the ants love nesting right
up against it, offering an excellent view of their activity. Alternatively, if you’re running lights
over your setup, or just other appliances nearby, you can utilize the heat radiating
from their power plugs. Here’s a setup we created a few months back,
home to a large colony of Golden-tailed Sugar ants. You can see they really appreciate the warmth
in which these power packs provide. Maneuvering the majority of their brood within
clear view, right up against the glass. I’ve done the same thing for the Bull Ants
too, so hopefully I get some similar results. You can also try feeding the ants. Only some small portions, just so the ants
get a taste of the food, encouraging them to seek out more, thus, inadvertently, getting
them to explore and become more comfortable in their new environment. Here, I’m offering the bull ants some honey,
served in an acorn cupule, which acts a neat-little, natural, feeding dish. And of course, exposing the ants to light
is always a good way to get them moving. Just make sure they’re not exposed to direct
sunlight or overly hot lights, as this may cause the ants to overheat, and or, result
in excessive condensation build up within their nest, which could potentially drown
the ants. In my case, it wasn’t long before the strobe
ants began exploring their new environment. Notice these ants move in a rather jittery
fashion? It’s almost like you’re watching them at 10
frames per second. Hence their common name of “strobe ant”. Their eyes are also quite large, and unusually,
positioned towards the back of their heads. Allowing them almost a 360-degree field of
view. Very unique ants for sure. The reason I picked strobe ants for this particular
setup, is because they’re from up north in Queensland, and so, are well suited to
the high humidity levels, in which this enclosure provides. Shout out to Eli over at Ant Invasion for
sending us these guys. I highly recommend checking out his YouTube
channel. I’ll leave the link the description below. After a couple of weeks, they’re still yet
move out from their test tube. Young ant colonies, with only a few workers
present, tend to be quite hesitant to abandon their familiar home for a new one. Especially since it’s been working so well
for them for so long. So, I may be waiting quite a while before
these guys build up the courage to move. So, when moving ants, a little patience may
be needed, as is often the case when it comes to ant keeping. As for the green-heads on the other hand,
as soon as I placed them in, the workers poured out, and immediately began burrowing into
the soil right by the entrance of their tube. Their hard work quickly drew the attention
of the other inhabitants, the isopods and springtails. They felt the ants’ newly dug chamber was
the perfect spot to seek shelter from the harsh filming lights above, and opportunistically
squeezed themselves in. And pretty soon, the queen came along to join
the party too. The ants weren’t too happy with the presence
of the isopods, eventually driving them off with a quick succession of bites. But they weren’t at all fussed with the
spring tails. The two tend to get along quite well. Which seems to be a common theme with Green-headed
ants. Whenever I uncover a wild nest, I almost always
see an abundance of springtails living happily amongst them. As you can imagine, these Green-headed Ants
get their name from their shimmering green colouration. But they’re incredibly iridescent. Ranging from green, to red, to purple, and
even gold. Very pretty looking ants. For the Bull Ants, same as the green-heads,
they started digging in almost immediately. Favoring the underside of this small rock,
right beside their nest. And eventually, after perhaps discovering
the warmth of the power plugs, started excavating a little higher up too. Beneath this piece of wood, and amongst the
rocks above. Fast forward about 12 hours later, and they’d
completely moved in. Leaving not so much as a single egg behind. Removing their old nest revealed just how
busy the ants had been. Just look at all that uplifted soil. Here, you can see the before and after. It’s amazing just how productive ants can
be. So what do you guys think of these naturalistic
setups? Aesthetically speaking, it’s pretty hard
to beat something like this, the greenery really livens up a room. And arguably, when they’re done right, I
think they’re one of the most effective ways to keep ants too. As they allow the ants to dig, expand, and
fine-tune their nest, however they see fit. Making them a perfect environment for raising
just a single queen, all the way up to a mature colony, thousands of workers strong. They really are designed to go the distance. Take my Big-headed ant colony for example. These guys have been living in this same natural
setup for over 2 years now. And it’s pretty safe to say, they’re doing
very well. It’s always a good sign you’ve got a thriving
colony when they begin producing winged reproductive ants. Especially, when they come out in the thousands
strong. Plus, you won’t be just observing the growth
of the ant colony, but the growth of plants too. Here’s my jar setup a few weeks on. You can see those peppermint seeds I sprinkled
in have finally begun to germinate. Aren’t they just adorable? There’s a lot less maintenance involved
with these setups too. In a more traditional setup, any garbage the
ants produce will eventually need to be cleaned out by the keeper. But with a naturalistic setup, organisms in
the soil slowly decompose such waste. So other than keeping the plants trimmed and
hydrated, there’s really very little extra work that needs to be done. Of course, there are some downsides. You likely won’t be able to get as clear
a view of all the ants’ nesting activities as you would within a more traditional setup. But for some, watching the ants come up to
forage, and maybe occasionally seeing some tunnels and chambers up against the sides,
is more than enough. If you want to stay updated on how these colonies
progress, make sure you subscribe this channel. We’ve got a lot of ants we’ve still yet
to show you guys, and it’ll take a long while before we get through them all. If you’re not the patient type, however,
I highly recommend following us on Instagram. Here we post daily stories on everything ants! Whether it be quick updates on our colonies,
or behind the scenes on future projects. Alright, now onto our regular contest where
we giveaway one of our specially built formicaria. In last video’s contest I asked, “How
has your interest in ants impacted you as a person?” For me, as you can imagine, ants have made
quite big impact. From a young age, I’ve always had a deep
interest in the natural world, especially in the small creatures, which often go unnoticed,
and so, was naturally drawn to ants. Later in life, I learned of the joys of keeping
and studying ants, and soon started sharing these findings with you guys, in the form
of videos like these. And eventually, I founded our website and
online store, for all things ant keeping, which in turn, allowed me to meet and learn
from some amazing people, and open myself up to new opportunities, of which I never
expected to have, like doing talks for schools, and even appearing on Australian television. All thanks to ants! But of course, none of these things would
have been possible without you guys and your incredible support throughout the years. You’ve really driven me to pursue my passion,
and for that I’m incredibly grateful. So thank you guys so much! So the winner of the contest is…Lemonhole
123 who responded, “Keeping ants has changed my life for the better as it has shown me
the beauty of nature and also the ugly side too. This has formed an ongoing love for the outdoors
and for animals of all varieties. I have started to find myself stopping all
my friends from stepping on the ants just for the beauty of all these creatures big
and small”. So, congratulations Lemonhole, with this entry,
you’ve just won yourself one of our size 1 ytong nests. Nowadays, it seems a lot of people simply
neglect the beautiful intricacies of nature. A state of mind, us humans, really must change,
now more than ever before. So, it’s really refreshing to hear that
you, and many other entrants for this contest, have now become more attuned to nature thanks to ants. For our next videos contest, to celebrate
the release of our new purpose build outworlds, we’re going to be giving one away. To enter, simply answer the following, “What
made you want to keep ants?” If you’re currently not keeping ants, “Why
not?” So, post your answer in the comment section
below. We’ll pick out a single comment and announce
them as the winner in our next video. As always thanks for watching this video,
and I hope you enjoyed.

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