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Antfarm Journal

December 22nd, 2008

 
There are few things in life as satisfying as owning a pet. I already have a cat that pretends she doesn’t know I exist, so I needed another pet that barely needs to be cared for. Well, it turns out that ants are about the easiest pets in the world.


In 2003, NASA needed to find a way to create ant colonies in space. I don’t know why, I guess they were bored. However, dirt wouldn’t work correctly in near-zero gravity and they didn’t want the astronauts to have to bother with feeding the little guys, so they invented this gel that holds all the nutrients the ants need to live. The gel is translucent so that they could allow the ants to make 3 dimensional colonies like they would in nature while still being able to observe them. Thus was born the AntWorks Gel Ant Colony system.

So I decided I was up to the enormous task of caring for ants and I bought such a system. They’re on Amazon for like 30 bucks including the lighted base. They don’t include ants, but they give you an order form with which to order them in the mail. This sounded absolutely insane to me that they would mail you ants in the mail, but it’s December right now and there’s no other way for me to get ants. I have received the ants today in the mail and decided to keep a journal of their lives here. It will be interesting to anyone interested in ants or biology in general and might make some of you get ants or something similar yourselves. So, let’s get this show on the road.

 

12/22/08 – 11:30 PM

The ants arrived today in a regular shipping envelope. They were encased in a small vial and they looked pissed.

Ants in shipping tube

Ants in shipping tube

There were 24 ants and they appeared to all be alive. The label on the vial reads, “Caution: Ants can sting! Adult supervision required.” I took this warning as more of a challenge, but I have to admit that these ants looked scary as hell. They’re Harvester ants and they’re large and fast. Honestly, I was afraid to open the vial. It also contained what was either ant poo or severed ant limbs. The vial came with instructions that recommended I refrigerate the ants for 10 minutes before trying to get them into my ant farm. This would slow them down enough to be manageable. So, I threw them in my mini fridge and rounded that time up to 12 minutes just to be sure these maniacs couldn’t attack me.

After 12 minutes, the ants all looked dead and one of them actually was dead, so it was time to put them in the ant farm. They were all lumped together and fell into the gel in a clump. I quickly shut the lid, fearing for my life. After about 10 seconds, they were back to full speed and they wanted the hell out of there. They were climbing all over each other and up the walls trying to escape, but there was nowhere for the little bastards to run.

Ants in shipping tube

Ants in the gel

There appears to be a gap between the glass and the gel, creating an abyss into which the ants are falling.

Ant in the abyss

Ant in the abyss

At first only one ant was in there and he seems to be perfectly content just hanging out there. I figured he would be ok, since one of three things would happen. He could stay there forever, eating the gel all around him, or he could dig his way out, or he could find a way back up to the surface. But, after about 30 minutes, the problem became worse.

Many ants in the abyss

Many ants in the abyss

I had 12 ants in the abyss, 11 ants on the surface, and 1 dead ant. So, I turned the thing upside down and started shaking it to get the ants back to the top. This proved to be completely hilarious because the ants acted like they were under attack and started running all over the place. If I weren’t such a dedicated scientist, I would have continued shaking them as long as it was still funny, but I knew that I was doing this for the betterment of mankind, not for mere entertainment.

After about 2 hours, I began getting frustrated that none of the ants were actually digging. Several of them were still trying to escape to the lid, some appeared to be sleeping, some were trapped in the abyss, and some looked like they were tasting the gel but clearly weren’t digging into it. So, I used an included stick to poke some holes into the gel to make starter holes and learned an interesting fact. The ants know when the lid is open and they want OUT. They all dropped what they were doing and made a run for the surface, trying to climb on top of each other, forming a tower. I quickly shut the lid and swore never to be so foolish again. I’m pretty sure I almost died.

Another strange thing is that the dead ant moves every so often. He doesn’t walk around or anything, but his front legs move a little sometimes. I guess dead ants still move for awhile or something, I have no idea. The other ants mostly leave him alone, except for one ant that has been licking him for like half an hour. I don’t know what he’s actually doing, but the dead ant isn’t getting any better.

Well, it’s now been about 3 hours since I put the ants in the farm and they’ve calmed down a lot. Only a couple of them are still running around, the rest are either not moving, appear to be cleaning themselves, or are strangely interested in poking the dead ant. I’ll update this page when they do anything interesting. Thanks for reading.

 

12/23/08 – 10:41 PM

The ants were all clumped together in a group when I got home tonight. They have apparently decided that tunneling is for losers and have opted to instead all live in that abyss between the glass and the gel. They have excavated out a large space and are all living in there now.

Excavated abyss

Excavated abyss


Excavated abyss

Another view

You can see in the pictures the piles of goo at the surface. That’s all stuff they tore out and carried up within 1 day. It is clearly hundreds of ant-hand fulls of junk. There’s now a second dead ant in the colony, who has died of unknown causes. When I got home, his corpse was shoved in the abyss, which you can see in the picture as the ant that is shaped like a ball. After about an hour, though, one of his comrades carried him to the surface near the first dead ant and I guess they’re starting a collection of rotting ant carcasses up there. Little do they realize that they will all eventually be dead in a pile at the top. Such is the life of an ant.

Over the last hour, they’ve all become much more active and they’re now spread out across the farm, mostly just walking around mindlessly or cleaning themselves. I guess they were asleep when I got home or something. I have no idea how long ants sleep or what the hell they’re doing in there, but it’s interesting to watch none the less. I’ll keep you guys posted on any developments.

 

12/26/08 – 3:22 PM

Nothing has happened in the last couple days until this morning. The ants finally dug a tunnel.

The ants finally build a tunnel

The ants finally build a tunnel


A view from the side

A view from the side

As you can see, it’s a half-assed tunnel because it doesn’t even start until near the bottom because the stupid idiots have been digging out all along the glass for some retarded reason. I swear, it figures that I’d get mentally handicapped ants. See that glob of ants in the first picture? That’s like their hangout all day long. I don’t know why, but there is always a pile of ants in the one spot. I don’t know if they’re eating or sleeping there or what, but those lazy assholes need to dig more.

 

12/28/08 – 10:00 PM

Finally, they’re building real tunnels. In fact, they’re apparently all taking speed because they’ve dug a load of tunnels.

Many ant tunnels

Many ant tunnels

That’s a view from the back, where it’s a little easier to see the tunnels. It’s a little unclear there, but the tunnels all hook together at the bottom, where there’s a long horizontal tunnel. There’s one area at the bottom where the ants apparently sleep or something. They always seem to have some location as their hangout and now it’s at the very bottom in a specific tunnel location.

The top of the ant farm is littered with dug up gel junk. In fact, they buried the two dead ants in their excavated gel. I still have 22 living ants and they all appear to be doing fine. My girlfriend noticed that when you turn the lights off, the ants actually have a significant red color that I had kinda noticed before. They really appear to be MORE red now, though. I think that is more reason to never ever let these bastards out of there. One of my favorite things to do is to shake the whole thing and watch them all go crazy. They’ll all rush out of the tunnels and swarm along the top of the colony. I assume that if I were to put my finger in there, they’d try to rip it right off.

While I’ve been writing this, they’ve been digging another tunnel. Here’s a shot of them working on it.

Ants digging a new tunnel

Ants digging a new tunnel

I really want to put something interesting in the ant farm and see how the ants react. For example, it would be really interesting to put a spider in there. I’m thinking they’d have an epic battle. If you have any ideas for crazy nonsense I should do to these ants, send me a message on the comment form.

 

1/5/09 – 2:34 PM

A fellow named Rush suggested that I should put some type of neon food coloring into the farm and see if they glow under a black light. I looked on amazon and didn’t see anything like that, but if you guys know where one might find such a thing, let me know.

Anyway, a few interesting things have happened since last I wrote, but for the most part the ants seem to be getting lazier by the day. One interesting occurrence was when I accidentally dropped the whole damn thing from 3 feet in the air and it (thankfully) landed upside down. The loose excavated gel all got scattered around, but the tunnels are just fine. However, the ants were definitely more pissed than I’ve ever seen them get. Every single one of them swarmed to the top. One of them was buried in gel, but he was able to eat his way out apparently. Amazingly, there are still only 2 dead ants and they’ve been buried by the living ants in excavated gel.

View of the tunnels from the front

View of the tunnels from the front


View of the tunnels from the back

View of the tunnels from the back

You might notice that every ant is huddled into a cluster at the bottom. This is still their favorite hang out. I still have no idea what they’re doing down there, but apparently it’s comfortable.

Ants clustered at the bottom in their living room

Ants clustered at the bottom in their living room

That is a picture of all 22 living ants. It’s really interesting looking at the old ant farm pics compared to the new ones. They’ve made much progress in just a few weeks. But, like I said, they appear to be getting lazier. They probably don’t see a need for any more tunnels and are happy with what they’ve got. But, I won’t tolerate any slackers in my ant farm, so now I’m going to keep an eye out for spiders and I’ll try to trap one and throw it in there.

Before I end this post, I thought I’d show you a video I made shortly after I dropped the ant farm. I thought it was funny, so I threw it on youtube. Enjoy.

 

3/16/09 – 12:00 AM

I was told when I started this whole ant farm experiment that ants have a life span of between zero and 90 days. Well, this is now day 84. Frankly, it’s a depressing mess in there. Check it out.

Tape = anti-cat technology

Tape = anti-cat technology

More old ants

More old ants

It’s hard to tell in those pictures, but basically all of the ants are either dead or seriously sick looking. I’m not sure how many ants exactly are alive right now, but I tried shaking the thing like the good old days and only 5 ants gave a damn. They lazily wandered around at the top, but clearly lacked their youthful energy. Apparently, they also gave up on carrying the dead to the surface at some point.

Dead ants

Dead ants

The tunnels contain exactly 6 dead ant corpses and zero live ants. The ants that are still alive are all at the top and there are less than ten of them left. There appears to be 7, which means that there should be 11 ant corpses, but I can’t find that many. However, there are two balls of gel in there that appear to have dead ants inside. It’s hard to explain, but it really seems like some of the dead ants got rolled up into balls of gel. It’s both gross looking and kind of cool.

I’m not evil enough to throw a spider into a farm of geriatric ants, so that experiment will have to wait until Ant Farm Version 2. Yes, I already have plans for round 2 and this time, it’s personal. Or something. Basically, I’m building the next ant farm out of wood, glass, glue, and LOVE. It’s half built already, I just have to stop being lazy about it.

I find myself fondly reading through this ant farm journal. It was a fun experiment and I learned a lot. But, these ants are old and not really doing a whole lot, so this is likely to be the last entry for this journal. If anything else happens, I will of course update this page. Now I’m going to let these ants live the rest of their lives in peace. They’ve earned it.

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