Observing ants in your home used to mean obtaining the typical ant farm which used sand as the medium for the ants to live in. A modern development and improvement on the old sand ant farms are the AntWorks ant habitats. This habitat uses a special gel instead of sand. The gel setup was originally developed for an NASA experiment, in which ants were sent into space on board the space shuttle to study insect life in near weightlessness. Traditional soil-based ant farm tunnels would collapse from the intense vibrations during a take off. To solve the problem, NASA scientists created the special gel that would serve as home, food and water source for the ants.adapted the gel setup for the product AntWorks.
The AntWorks – Space Age Ant Habitat set that we obtained from ThinkGeek includes the habitat with gel ready to go. Accessories included are a LED light assembly that inserts into the base of the habitat, an AC adapter for the light assembly, magnifying glass, extreme zoom lens, and an ant catching/tunnel starting tool. The instruction manual also includes interesting facts about ants.
The AntWorks is made from what appears to be heavy acrylic plastic. It measures 6.5″x 5.5″x 1.25″. The lid contains two air holes, one on each end. The seal of the lid is white foam tape, this foam tape also holds the lid in place with friction and is very secure.
The setup of the AntWorks involves poking some starter holes in the gel using the ant catching/tunnel starting tool.
Above and below: Four starter holes in the gel and fresh batch of ants.
The tool is a plastic rod; it is funny how scientists give catchy complex names to tools, isn’t it? One can go about catching ants or buy a batch from a supplier online.
Now I am going to detail my upsetting experience in obtaining ants. Last January, I tried to start my review of the AntWorks habitat. Things did not work out as planned. Obtaining ants during the freezing part of the season seemed to be a difficult problem. I did some searching for an ant supplier, and one stood out from the others. They offered a heat pack and expedited shipping. This supplier, antworkstoys.com, advertised how the ants could freeze to death without the heat pack. The other suppliers did not offer a heat pack, nor mention anything about shipping in freezing temperatures, so I thought to myself, these people at antworkstoys.com seem to care about the well being of the ants during transit. I placed an order with them, and I paid extra for the heat pack and expedited shipping, totaling $35. Two weeks later, the batch of ants arrived via US mail, and the ants were all dead. Antworkstoys.com stated on their website that they would replace the ants if they arrived DOA and that another heat pack would cost extra at $6.99. Being a bit upset and sad over the dead ants, I tried again with them and requested a replacement batch with another heat pack. Another two weeks passed, and to my disappointment the replacement ants arrived dead, too. I contacted antworkstoys.com to complain about the ants arriving dead, but I never got a response from them on the matter. At this point I gave up on obtaining ants, deciding to wait for warmer weather.
To all Gear Diary readers, I do not recommend getting your ants from antworkstoys.com. It is my belief that the heat pack did more harm than help as the reseller implies on their website. As of my writing this, antworkstoys.com is still selling AntWorks habitats and ants. They are now offering heat and cold packs. This is terrible. Ants, as I learned through all this, are sensitive to extreme cold and heat. Being subjected to the heat and cold packs offered is a sure way to kill the ants. I also do not recommend ordering ants during the extreme cold or hot seasons of the year. Definitely DO NOT order ants in winter. Many people have posted comments on the web about their ants arriving DOA during winter, possibly from freezing.
After much procrastinating, two weeks ago I placed an order for a batch of live ants from Life Studies; their ants are guaranteed to arrive alive. The batch of ants numbers approximately twenty to twenty-five. Seven days after placing the order, the ants arrived via US mail and alive; only one did not survive the trip. By the way, the typical life of an ant is only about ninety days. According to Life Studies, Harvester ants live longer with a life expectancy of up to six months.
This batch of ants cost $4.95 and arrived in a yellow envelope. On the outside of the envelope is printed, OPEN IMMEDIATELY, CAUTION: LIVE HARVESTER ANTS, KEEP FROM EXTREME HEAT OR COLD. Inside of the envelope are two pieces of plastic packing foam with a cut out for the plastic vial of ants. The vial also had a small air hole drilled into it (the vials used by antworkstoys.com did not have airholes).
To place the ants into the AntWorks more easily, I put the package containing the vial into the fridge for five minutes, as this slows the ants down and makes them sleepy. Within a few minutes of being transferred into the AntWorks, the ants become active and began roaming all over the top of the gel. At first they seemed very freaked out. But I guess they were getting their bearings before settling in and eating gel from the top edges.
About an hour later, the ants started exploring the starter holes and began a digging project in one of the corners. One of the ants exploring a starter hole got stuck; this scared me, as there was no way I could help.
Several minutes later, two of her sisters (all worker ants are girls) noticed the problem and begin to widen the hole. This was amazing to witness. Soon, another two ants got in on the rescue. A team of four ants worked to clear enough gel so that the stuck ant could get out. Simply incredible!
At this point the corner project was in full swing and lots of gel was being moved from the corner. Right before I went to bed, I noticed that about half of the ants had beated me to it, they were huddled in a group, sleeping on the surface of the gel on the other side of the habitat, away from the digging project.
And here is a quick video I made to of the ants on the first night:
Above: The corner digging continues.
Below: Also on day two, the ants created this U-shaped tunnel.
And here is a video of the activity on the surface of the gel on day 3:
Below: Day five of the tunneling. At this point the ants have dug out eleven vertical tunnels and three horizontal tunnels linking certain vertical tunnels.
In the five days since the arrival of the ants, I have seen the ants display many human-like behavior traits. They work together in digging the tunnels. There are some who do the digging, some who carry the gel chunks halfway down the tunnel, then a few others who carry the chunks the rest of the way to the surface. Also, when they are resting and sleeping, there seem to be a few that like to do it in pairs, or in groups of three or four. At one point there were three teams working on three different tunnel projects. I wish there was a way to mark the ants, as I think there are a few who like working and resting together.
Above and below: friends resting.
Update 9/28/2007: Video of the Antworks, one week later.
The Antworks is simply amazing. Being able to watch ants go about their lives is very fascinating and is better than watching Discovery Channel or Animal Planet. I have learned a lot from my research about ants and from watching them inside the Antworks. Even though they are tiny little creatures, I am sure that they each have individual personalities. I have learned that ants are indeed very social; I have not seen any signs of conflict among them. As a science toy, Antworks excels in delivering a rewarding educational experience. It is very easy to setup and maintain. I highly recommend it for every one.
10 Responses to “AntWorks – Space Age Ant Habitat”
- 1 Judie Lipsett Sep 24th, 2007 at 5:14 pmI love watching the videos, the ants are so industrious!
- 2 Allen Hong Sep 24th, 2007 at 5:34 pmYeah, Judie. They really are industrious, I just got home and found that they have been busy today digging a few more tunnels. They are starting on a new one right now. I am going to setup my tripod and cam to shoot some new footage.
- 3 JohnKes Sep 25th, 2007 at 1:01 pmFantastic results!I did not get good results with an AntWorks that my daughter got for her birthday. The first set of ants, captured from our backyard, escaped through the air holes in the lid. Knowing that the holes were needed, I surrounded the holes with a ring of vaseline to discourage escape. The second set of ants I captured were mostly intent only on escaping. A bunch crowded into the little gap in the foam seal between the lid and the tank. They eventually starved to death. The rest loitered around the food bait that I used in capturing them. Eventually they died. None ever dug into the gel. Maybe the ants in my yard don’t like to tunnel?
- 4 Allen Hong Sep 25th, 2007 at 1:33 pmHi John, sorry to hear that your Antworks experience was not a good one. Sadly, with all wild creatures, taking them from their natural habitat and trapping them in a enclosure will have them trying for the escape.The ants that you captured may not have been the ideal species for observation in the Antworks. One of the things I learn in my ant research is that harvester ants like the ones I bought from Life Studies have large strong mandibles ideal for digging and tunneling.I suspect that the harvester ants I bought are bred in captivity. The last two days, a group of about five ants in my Antworks seem very interested in the air holes. Climbing and examining the holes, they can not escape as they are too big. The rest seem content in going about their lives in the tunnels.Maybe you can try again with the same type of ants I ordered. They only cost $4.95 at http://www.antsalive.com/antssupplies.htm
- 5 Judie Lipsett Sep 25th, 2007 at 1:34 pmAllen, I think you have just about convinced me to order my own set.
- 6 Allen Hong Sep 28th, 2007 at 8:13 am That would be fun if you had a Antworks too, Judie. We can compare notes.
- 7 Allen Hong Sep 28th, 2007 at 8:27 amI just added a new video of the Antworks a week after the ants were put in.