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Formicariums: Ant Farms of the Century

Jun 13, 2008
Formicariums or ant farms are being used for studying ant colonies and their behavior. They help owners learn about the complete variety of cooperative behavioral patterns ants possess. Owning Ant farms is a fun and educational hobby, especially for kids.

Formicariums are primarily designed as vivariums that are used for studying ant colonies and their behavior. These "Ant Farms" are gaining popularity especially in school projects. Hence, the ones who study these ant colonies are regarded as "Myrmecologists".

An ant colony is also regarded as a formicarium because ants are situated inside a transparent type of plastic or glass box. It was noted that the original formicarium that was commercially-sold was only introduced in the year 1929. Then, it was patented in the year 1931 by a professor and an inventor named Frank Austin. He was an acclaimed professor of Dartmouth College's Thayer School of Engineering. He was even noted for including wooden scenes similar to farms, palaces as well as various other settings on top of the formicariums ground level in order to give out a whimsical appearance.

Aside from this, the most regarded formicariums are indicated to be from Uncle Milton's Ant Farm. He actually delivers purchased ants via mail service. This type of "educational toy" was made at California's West Lake Village by the above mentioned Uncle Milton Industries. To date, since the year 1956, they have sold more than 20 million Ant Farms, which they branded also as "Ant Farm". Although this formicarium type has been proven to be an effective measure to observe and study worker ants, serious propagation of ants still seemed very limited up to now.

Thus, these ant farms or formicariums were generally made thin so that the cavities and tunnels which the ants will make, eventually, can be visible and studied close enough. They can also be filled with sand, soil, vermiculite, as well as sawdust or other types of mineral fragments. As for the newer versions of formicariums, it is now being filled with a kind of semi-transparent gel that can be thicker. This gel actually provides moisture and nutrition. It can also be devised as an ant nest.

Other kinds of formicariums either have no medium like an ant nest or they are generally plaster made. To make a plaster nest simply place modeling clay over a glass panel, forming chambers and tunnels. Then, have the plaster poured on the mold. Once it is dry, the clay should be removed. Thus, the structure's remains can serve as a good medium for housing the ants. It is noted that although this kind of formicarium helps owners see their ants very easily, it is proven to be very uncomfortable for ants.
Other types of formicariums can be medium-less, such as containers that allow the ants to stay in test tubes that are moist. Although this type can give-out better visibility for studying ants, it is not that interesting because there is no digging to observe in the process.

Thus, whether these ants will or will not dig, a formicarium should be designed in order that it will be free-standing. It should also be unlike the lidded and enclosed ones such as vivariums. Having a design that is free-standing does not entail a lid or high walls, only barriers are needed in order to secure these ants inside their habitat. A good example of a barrier is a so-called "moat of vegetable oil".

Another thing you should consider applying on the sides of your formicarium would be petroleum jelly, vegetable oil or fluon. This is applied as a preventive escape measure for your ants. These substances actually repel ants. This is because they are usually too sticky or slippery to walk through. Although this is effective for a majority of ants, other ants are studied to be clever enough to build bridges made from dirt or debris in order to escape. There are also those who find no difficulty walking on these substances. This is why it is advisable to use not only one security measure but to implement two at least.

Hence, another suggested method is to have the whole formicarium placed inside a shallow type of container with water so as to create a kind of "moat". As for other ant farm owners, they shake their own formicariums once every three up to five days so that the tunnels would cave in. This practice helps owners reset their formicariums so that they can observe again the digging process of their ants. Although several formicarium owners do this method, it can still compromise the ants' safety.

Lastly, many regard ant farms as a splendid hobby because of the learning it can provide, especially for the kids. It is a fun educational toy that sticks on the children's minds because of the enjoyment it also guarantees. The biggest reason that attracts many people to owning ant farms, aside from having a dog, cat or a reptile, is the fact that ant farms are quiet and clean pets. Since ants are regarded as social insects, they actually display a complete variety of cooperative behavioral patterns one can learn from. Aside from this, gone are the days where in you need to improvise your materials, especially in building an ant farm.

Now, there are already "ant farm kits" that contain everything needed in order to set up your very own ant farm. There is also an instructional manual which will describe and explain the various sociological and ecological principles which can be seen and observed in your ant farm.
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