I love to see modern variations of age-old ideas, so I was pretty excited to dive into my AntWorks "space-age habitat for ants" by Fascinations. But the whole experience left me digging for more (pun intended).
AntWorks takes the ant farm idea to a whole new level of technology, using a nutrient gel instead of dirt to create a self-sustaining environment for a handful of ants. The kit arrives with a convex "ant-arium", about 6 inches square and an inch deep. It's two-thirds full with a cool blue transparent nutrient gel. It also comes with a small plastic rod to start the ant tunnels and a small magnifying glass. (NOTE: the picture shows an illumination option, which does NOT come with the basic kit)
Note I didn't say that it came with ants. Not that I expected it would, but herein lay my first experience with the futility of this kit. You can either send away for a shipment of ants, or collect your own. Not patient enough to wait for the former, I went outside to see what I could come up with. Here is where I learned Rule #1 about ants...even though they are everywhere, and show up where you least want them, they are extremely difficult to catch. The trick is not only catching them, but getting them into the habitat in any sort of meaningful quantity. Ants move fast, and don't like being caught. The habitat has a well-sealed lid, but you have to take the whole thing off to get the ants inside. So you need to find a way to get the ants in there without letting the ones inside get out. The kit suggests you get 15-20 ants, but I was fed up after about an hour and only 5 ants to show for it. Who knows what the neighbors were thinking.
So I had my small nuclear family of ants, and couldn't wait to see the beautiful criss-crossing maze of tunnels, just like they show on the box. Well...it's been almost 3 weeks, and so far I've got three tunnels dug straight down, two of which are in the corners of the habitat. I have to admit, it is pretty neat that the ants can survive purely on this nutrient gel, and it is pretty neat to see them dig out a piece of gel with their jaws and bring it to the surface. But after 3 weeks, I've learned Rule #2 about ants...they spend a lot of time sitting around doing nothing. Seriously. I'm looking at the habitat right now, and only one of the ants is actually moving. And yes, they're all still alive...just apparently horribly disinterested. It's like going to the zoo and all the cool animals are asleep in their pens and you're stuck watching the deer.
The experience reminds me of Jurassic Park. The whole concept is beautifully engineered and executed, but ultimately you're dependent on the activity and temperament of your living subjects. Apparently Illinois ants are really dull. And since they're just ants and not, say, fish, I really have no inclination to add more or troubleshoot the problem. Sadly, I'm tempted to try things like adding another species of bug to the mix, or to drop in a cake crumb, just to spice things up.
This is a product that sold me on the design and that I really wanted to work, but quickly lost my interest.
You can buy it cheapest at Amazon.