Ant Farm 101

PetMD Editorial
Updated: August 24, 2016
Published: October 30, 2008
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Do you know a child who is fascinated with bugs or insects? Perhaps you are looking for a pet that requires little upkeep. Then ant farms are the perfect gift for you or a friend. They are easy to maintain and cheap all around, which is always a good thing, right? Also, it is mesmerizing to watch their little ecosystem at work.


You can find many books and how-to guides on the subject of ant farms at your local pet shop or library. But before you start, you must decide, “Am I the do-it-yourself type of person or would I just rather buy a pre-made ant farm”. These pre-made farms can be found at pet stores, often sold with live ants to start with; occasionally, they are sold at toy stores.


The best farms are, of course, the ones with clear sides that allow you can watch the ants work. If you decide to build it yourself you can use a glass bowl, a small terrarium, or sheets of plastic and small wood boards. To create the tunnels, provide the ants with a base of dampened sand or peat moss. Then add some leaves, sticks and stones, and they will do the rest. Try to not move the farm once the ants have started building the tunnels, however, as the tunnels may collapse.


Whether you buy your ant farm or build one yourself, you can eliminate any fears of having your home overrun by ants by following a few of our tips. These tricks range from covering the tank with very fine netting or screens to rubbing petroleum jelly along the edges so they can’t escape. Whatever you do, just make sure there are air holes so the ants can breathe. The key is to not make them big enough to tempt any potential escapees.


Apart from air, the most important requirement for an ant farm is water. While ants can survive for awhile without food, they will not last very long without water. A damp cotton ball or a water-filled tube will both work. Just make sure if you use a tube, that the sides are plugged up cotton balls to allow for a slow distribution of water and to prevent accidental ant drownings.


To feed the ants, provide them with food crumbs, honey, or maple syrup -- ants love sugar. Add some protein in their diet once or twice a week in the form of dead insects and they're good to go.


Your ants now have all they need to provide you with hours of fun, creating some of the most intricate tunnels you will ever see. There are many ant species to choose from and they will work tirelessly for their colony as long as there is an ant queen in your farm. We recommend, however, not colonizing your ant farm with fire ants. They can be quite a nuisance if they escape. Other than that, enjoy your new ants as they go marching, one by one, hurrah, hurrah.