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The Antquarium

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Uncommon pets (2008-06-08)

A long time ago I bought an antquarium from Thinkgeek because I though it would be funny to watch ants build tunnels through a blue gel lit by LEDs. But I never actually got any ants, because I never had an appropiate container with me when I saw some.


Now finally I got a small colony of ants as a birthday present (Thank you, Frank!) . They were ordered at the Antstore, which not only sells ants, but also professional advice on how to handle them. They came inside a small glass tube: 6 worker ants plus a queen and some eggs. They refused to leave the tube and move to the antquarium at first, an several times single ants escaped from the construction by eating through the plastic wrap I used to cover the antquarium while the tube was sticking out. I found most of them again, but in the morning one was gone and didn't reappear (yet).

The hint from Antstore helped: shade the target area and light the glass tube, ant the ants will move because they feel uncomfortable in the light. Finally the queen with all the eggs had left the tube and they were lodging on the surface of the blue gel. But whenever I lifted the aluminum foil, which I put around the antquarium for shade, they were extremely quick to return to the tube.

It took several tries and some patience waiting for the final ant to leave the tube (while watching for the others not to escape from the open antquarium) until I got all of them settled in the antquarium and was able to firmly close the lid.

I left the aluminum foil over half of the antquarium because the animals seem to feel uncomfortable if they don't have a dark place to retreat to. The queen remains in the dark part and the workers run around, eating tunnels exploring their new habitat.

Live Ant Webcam currently not availbale

By the way: Thinkgeek's antquarium is not appropriate for keeping ants, say the experts. And the LEDs don't work because they need 110V and we've got 220V in Germany.

Active day and night (2008-06-12)

screenshot of camera control panel and new ant tunnel

The ants are active day and night, you can watch them with the camera's infrared light. The picture shows how to switch on the infrared light. Open the control panel and turn on the infrared light and turn off the infrared filter (the filter is used in daylight when IR vision is not required). When you finish viewing, please switch off the IR light and switch on the filter again, since otherwise one cannot see anything in normal daylight.

In spite of what the experts at the antstore forum said, the ants seem to be quite happy living in the gel. The queen stays in the dark part behind the aluminum foil all the day, but the workers run around a lot and they built a large horizontal tunnel at the bottom of the antquarium (see bottom left of the picture). Behind the aluminum foil they build a kind of emergency retreat for the queen, a vertical hole into which the queen took refuge when I lifted the foil to refill the water supply.

Technical details (2008-06-16)

This ant species is called Camponotus ligniperda Latr.. "Latr." means it was first described and officially named by Latreille. This was in 1802. The English name is "carpenter ant", and in Germany it's calles "Roßameise". It is the largest European ant species. In the wild it feeds on honeydew from aphids, but will also drink the juice from trees (source: Insektenbox).

In addition to the gel in the antquarium I tried to provide the ants with fresh water since the antstore said that they need to drink, but they soon filled the two little water containers that I offered them with gel particles - they don't seem to like open water.

During the last days they were busy extending their underground tunnel and they're making a larger cave at the lower right of the antquarium. The queen is still on the gel surface behind the aluminum foil.

Watch the new lair (2008-06-22)

The worker ants started to move some of the eggs from the surface to the newly created cave at the bottom right of the antquarium. I expect the queen to move down there some tine in the future. They also made a large extension to a tunnel near the surface (top left), but I have no idea what that's for.

ant eggs inside a cave

The networking equipment which I used to connect the webcam was tempoarily provided by my colleague Markus (Thanks!), and after he wanted it back I found a sponsor who immediately sent a new set of "powerlink" network connectors (Thanks, Rolf!). Therefore I was able to set up the webcam again. Happy Ant Watching!

The vote I set up regarding the aquisition of proper ant "housing" ended with 80% of the people voting for new housing - did you know I can find out who voted by looking at the log files? Are you ready to pay your share of the price? It'll cost about 100 Euros in total and one of you'll have to look after them whenever I'm on holidays... perhaps I should've mentioned the conditions before I set up the vote.

Mildew and Offspring (2008-08-15)

The ants had not looked very happy for some time, and three of them had died. I decided to do them something good and I offered them water with some honey in it, and pieces of dried bread. They seemed to like it and even the queen moved near the food.

Then I left for a long weekend, and when I came back, I saw that everything was covered with mildew and the ants were right in the middle of it. Even some of the eggs were affected. I was horrified and angry because I should have realized this could happen (that's why I studied biology, right?).

Well, this emergency made me realize I had an old plastic greenhouse available and the whole antquarium would fit into it. I put some sand at the bottom and added a little paper box as a new housing for the ants. Then I put the antquarium in (without the lid, of course), I laid it on its side so the ants could leave it comfortably. (Sorry, no photos at the moment). The side effect of this move is that you can't watch the ants with the webcam any more, sorry about that.

Because the greenhouse is much larger than the antquarium, I guess the climate inside is better (though it still smells awful). Unfortunately the ants didn't want to leave the antquarium and they still sit right in front of the mildew. I don't want to move them by force because of the eggs (they prefer to carry them themselves).

One evening I suddenly saw that a young ant had hatched from one of the eggs! It was a little bit smaller and not so dark, more like a glass ant. Soon it started moving around like its sisters, and now it's working like all the others (the two others, besides the queen).

This is very good news and I hope it is a sign they're better now. Thankfully Joachim offered to look after them while I'm on holidays, so the honey-water will not molder again.

And they lived happily ever after (Summer 2009)

One of the older ants died because it drowned in the drinking water, even though I put a piece of wood in it to allow the ants to crawl out again. The water was not very deep anyway. It lookel more like a suicide.

The other two were not very active and they and the queen seemed to survive without feeding at all. Anyway I bought some professional ant yelly, in different flavours: protein and vitamin. They didn't seem very fond of either of these.

I finally took them outside in a film container and set them free in the woods behind my house (thanks again, Frank!) and I'm very happy I don't have to watch these poor creatures any longer. It's really NOT a good idea to keep them inside and they're definitely not toys. I'm ashamed I couldn't resist the temptation.