Ant farm: fun or creepy?
March 8, 2010 11:12 PM   Subscribe

Should I get an ant farm, or is it too much responsibility and/or just plain creepy?

I'm in the final year of my PhD, travel a lot, and don't have much time to give towards a pet. That being said, I think it'd be interesting to look at ants while I was working. I suppose it'd be kind of fun to see them working and building and doing whatever it is they do.

So, I did some research and found some interesting options. I found this starter kit. And thought about ordering these ants.

Sometimes I have to leave for up to a week or even ten days for different conferences or what-have-you and I know I cannot count on my girlfriend to really give me a hand with those little guys. Could they survive a week or more without attention if I left food and water?

Also, for those of you that have ant farms, are they fun/entertaining to watch?
posted by mateuslee to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Well, this "space-age" ant farm tilts closer to the "cool" side at least (farms and ants sold separately). Also, the gel the ants crawl around is edible for them, so that takes care of the food issue. Looks like they're out of stock though. And I don't know if it's actually as good as it looks.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:36 AM on March 9, 2010

I don't know about ants, but I did notice this ant-keeping forum.
posted by K.P. at 1:10 AM on March 9, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, K.P. That's a great forum! Those people seem to really know their stuff.
posted by mateuslee at 1:28 AM on March 9, 2010

I had one of the spacey blue gel kits, but the ants died after a fortnight. All of them, simultaneously.

They weren't very entertaining beyond about 10 minutes of looking through the microscope at them. Ants all look pretty much the same and when you've seen one tunnel built, you've seen them all.
posted by Solomon at 2:26 AM on March 9, 2010

I don't think it's creepy at all. I know very little about keeping ants but I'm not really a fan of the blue gel stuff. I'd much rather keep them in a more life-like situation. It would be awesome to have a setup like they have with the leafcutter ants at London Zoo. These are really fascinating to watch going about their business.
posted by jonesor at 2:54 AM on March 9, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the link, Jonesor... that's the sort of thing I can show to my gfriend to warm her up to the idea.
posted by mateuslee at 2:59 AM on March 9, 2010

Best answer: They have a similar setup at London's Natural History Museum. Its one of my favorite things and my wife and I always feel like we could stay there for hours. Its very relaxing to watch.
posted by vacapinta at 3:34 AM on March 9, 2010

We had one of those gel ones, and it was really pretty fascinating. When we ordered our ants, they told us that they'd live about three months and they did - almost to the day. You basically just put them in the ant farm and leave them there, the gel provides everything they need.
posted by lemniskate at 5:19 AM on March 9, 2010

The thing that sucks about the commercial ant farms is that they don't include a queen, so the colony is never self sustaining, no matter how careful you are.
posted by electroboy at 5:50 AM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

FWIW, those space-age blue-gel ant farms are did not get rave reviews on Amazon.
posted by K.P. at 6:17 AM on March 9, 2010

I had one of the Uncle Milton farms. Basically, it was just a month-long die-off. It was really kinda depressing.
posted by Gilbert at 7:44 AM on March 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't know about how much responsibility they require, but the only two people I can think of who owned ant farms are Dwight Schrute and Lane Pryce.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:05 AM on March 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I got my husband one of the blue gel farms. It was fun!... until they all died a few months later, and all we had was blue gel swimming with corpses.
posted by changeling at 8:34 AM on March 9, 2010

A cautionary tale: I got one as a gift in college -- the old-fashioned Uncle Milton kind. I didn't read the instructions closely enough and had some trouble getting the ants from their tube into the case. This led to a swarm of ants scurrying across the kitchen counter.

In doing my best to recapture them, I learned something: Those fuckers will bite the shit out of you.

This happened in fire ant country. I'd take the fire ants over those mail order sumbitches any day.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:48 AM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

This review from Amazon is amazing:

For those that do not know - your ant farm ants will die within 2-3 weeks as they have no queen and, therefore, no reproduction for the 'colony'. After a couple of weeks they will start to die and spend their remaining days on earth carting the bodies to a pile in the corner of the farm until no ants remain. Do not buy this product. It teaches your child that it's ok to take innocent, healthy animals and do whatever you like with them... if they die, you can just buy more. Instead of buying this product I suggest you take your children out into the beautiful world around you and show them how to respectfully observe any creatures you like IN THEIR NATURAL HABITAT!!!
posted by ORthey at 8:53 AM on March 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

The directions on Uncle Milton's Ant Farm pointed out that you needed to go out and harvest your own ant queen, or the hive would soon die.

After the first coupla tries, I did just that, and got an ant queen. The colony still died after a while, much like some of my gerbils, hamsters, and even the South American tree frog that hitchhiked into the local florist shop - although I kept him alive for 18 mos, until he escaped through a hole in his plastic flower-display-cum-cage.

As an adult, I've often mused about making a giant, tube-connected ant farm in my room. Ideally, it would have an open feeding area, moated off so they couldn't escape... but ants have a capacity to form living ant-bridges, so I've never gone there.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:18 AM on March 9, 2010

Best answer: I realize that this isn't directly on point, but your comments thus far have led me to ask a question: are you currently in the process of trying to convince your reluctant girlfriend that the two of you should have an ant farm in your home? Because if you are, I'm going to say that the answer to your question, "Should I get an ant farm?" is no. If your girlfriend, who lives in your home (and lives there without you while you "travel a lot") thinks that ant farms are "creepy," then no, you should not get one, no matter how much you think you might enjoy looking at it sometimes. And if your girlfriend doesn't live with you, but you'd like her to be comfortable spending time in your home, I'd also suggest not getting a pet she finds "creepy." Find a pet that both of you want, or don't get a pet at all.

If I'm totally off base with this, I apologize for the derail.
posted by decathecting at 10:06 AM on March 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We bought one. It was interesting to watch the ants cart the bodies away to the morgue/dead pile. And by that I mean horribly depressing.
posted by RedEmma at 10:42 AM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid, I had an ant farm, which was largely taken over by my mom. She went out and dug in the yard and found a queen. She became utterly fascinated by the grisly nature of the farm ... I don't remember the details, but as the farm progressed there was a big pile of dead ants that were meticulously piled up by the living ants. I believe there was actually some dismemberment of ants going on. It became something of a twisted spectacle.
posted by jayder at 10:43 AM on March 9, 2010

My brother and I were pretty traumatized as kids when all of the ants in his farm died. I doubt I'd feel any differently about it today. As other have indicated, you might want to avoid purchasing one if you'd feel sad about their deaths.
posted by coffeeflavored at 11:35 AM on March 9, 2010

Best answer: well, I just listened to this episode of Radiolab last night about emergent intelligence and feel affection for/super-intrigued by ants for the first time. I know you're further along and considering the practicality of one, but maybe a listen will help convince the socialhesitance part of you that the conceptualintrigue part knows best and this is a sweet idea.
posted by elephantsvanish at 12:33 PM on March 9, 2010

I want to build an ant farm in a coffee table. I don't think someone having an ant farm at their desk would be creepy at all.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:05 PM on March 9, 2010

We bought one. It was interesting to watch the ants cart the bodies away to the morgue/dead pile.

RedEmma story reminded me of recent research. The scientist isolated the "dead scent" chemical that signals other ants that This Is A Dead Ant, and not one merely sleeping (insert "I feel better!" joke here).

He daubed it on a very much alive ant, and watched as the ant was repeatedly picked up and carried to the rubbish pile, again and again.

Scientists make the weirdest sadists.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:23 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

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