How to set up an ant farm

Hello, fellow myrmecologists! Are you ready to study ants?

Ants are fascinating to observe, but there’s only so much of an ant’s life you can see on the ground. To take you to the underground life of an ant, try an ant farm.

We tried out the Giant Ant Farm. It’s so large, making it perfect for more than one child to observe ants, whether at home or in a classroom.

This is what came in the box:

The farm, an ant order form, ant food for a year, a water dropper, a straw, and sand.

Step 1: Fill the farm

There are cotton puffs blocking the holes so the sand won’t fall into the top area.

Pouring in sand

Next, add water to the farm:

pouring in water

The farm is nearly ready! The harvester ants, feeling air coming through the sponge, are futilely trying to escape.

Finally, push down the cotton puffs to allow access to the sand and to give the ants some tunnel starters.

Step 2: Bring the ants home

Before opening your package of ants, put them in the fridge for 15 minutes. (NOT the freezer!) This slows them down so you don’t have a stampede.

To put the ants in the farm, nudge one gently with the straw. It will grab onto the straw.

grabbing an ant

And put it into the farm. You may need to encourage it to grab onto the plastic shapes in the farm.

When the ants are in, close up the lid and let loose your mini myrmecologists.

Other ant farms and formicariums to try:

Classic Ant Farm

Illuminated Gel Ant Farm

Ant Hill

Ant series

For more on ants, see the rest of our articles in this series or follow us on Twitter and Pinterest.

Ants: the basics

ant on flower

Ants are wholly fascinating creatures. But before we dive into the details, let’s look at a few important facts about ants: ant genders and roles, species, and social behaviors.

Ant genders and roles

There are 3 types of ants: males, fertile females, and sterile females.

Fertile females are queens and have wings. Their job is to lay eggs. Queen ants are not dictators. They lay eggs but do not manage or direct the work of the colony. In fact, there is no one ant or one type of ant centrally controlling the colony. Individual ants make decisions on what to do.

Sterile females are workers or soldiers. Most of the ants you see out and about are sterile females.

Males mate with queens, then die.


There are over 12,000 species of ants that have been classified. Ants show an incredible diversity in species, from tiny ordinary ants out on your sidewalk to army ants marching across Africa.

Social Behaviors

All ants live in colonies, which range from a few dozen ants to millions.

Watching ants work together is fascinating for children and adults. People who study ants are called myrmecologists.

More on Ants

This is the introductory post in a series on ants. If you’re itching to get started with some hands-on learning about ants, try an ant farm!

Ant series

Did you know that ants are the only creatures, besides humans, to herd other creatures? Ants are fascinating! Join us as we explore more of their miniature world:

Explore more on ants with us on Twitter and Pinterest.

Ants and sugar

Ant Life Cycle

As an insect that undergoes complete metamorphosis, the ant has 4 stages in its life cycle:

  1. Eggs
  2. Larvae
  3. Pupa
  4. Adult

Ant Eggs

Ant with jelly beansAnt eggs are tiny, about the size of the period at this end of this sentence.

The eggs can be laid year round, but most are laid during summer months.

Unfertilized eggs produce male ants (drones) and fertilized eggs produce female ants (workers or queens).

Some eggs are eaten by ants and provide extra nourishment.

Ant Larvae

The worm-shaped larvae have no eyes or legs. All they do is eat and rely on adult ants to bring them food. They grow rapidly, molting between sizes.

Ant Pupa

Once a larvae grows large enough, it transitions to the next stage in its life cycle: pupa. Some species attach to the wall and form a cocoon. Other species just lie in the tunnel.

The ant is at rest during this pupa stage. Its body is undergoing a lot of physical changes.

Ant Adult

When the ant emerges from the cocoon, its exoskeleton hardens and it can no longer grow: this is when the ant is now considered an adult. Ant

Generally, ants only live for about 90 days.

Male ants don’t do any work in the colony. They only live a few weeks to a couple months and die after they reproduce.

The workers’ first job is to tend to the queen and eggs. After a while their job changes and they work in the tunnels. Their final job in life is to forage for food and defend the colony.

Workers are known to live up to 7 years and queens up to 15 years.

Where you can get supplies

Ant life cycle model

25 pack of live harvester ants

Ant hill habitat

Classic ant farm

Ant-related websites

1 page summary of the ant life cycle.

Detailed information about the various parts in an ant life cycle.

Very simple summary of the ant life cycle.

Studying Ant Colony Behavior

Ant History

Ants are insects that developed from wasp-like creatures over 100 million years ago. Today there are over 12,000 species of ants that have been classified.

Ants form colonies that range in population from a few dozen living in small natural cavities to millions that live in larger structures they build in the ground. The colonies consist of three types of ants. Sterile, wingless females, fertile males, and fertile females referred to as queens. The sterile female ants serve as soldiers or workers in the colony.

Ants work together in colonies to build their habitat and recreate. The process can be fascinating to watch for children and adults alike. Due to the fact that most ant colony behavior takes place beneath the ground, humans must use ant habitats or ant farms to observe ant colony behavior.

Ant Farming

The ant farm is designed to study ant and ant colony behavior by offering a great observation tool for the classroom or just for fun. Myrmecologists study ant behavior, and with an ant farm you can take a look into the world of myrmecology (the study of ants).

Close up of an AntTunneling Ants

Ant Farm Types

The Ant FarmAnt Farm by Uncle Milton is a classic ant farm that has a green farm scene with a clear viewing pane surrounded by a green frame. The farm is usually filled with sand, dirt, or other media. These ant farms have a low price point making them accessible to classrooms and families of all budgets. In order to properly care for your ants, you will need to open the ant farm and make sure the ants have food and water. The down side is that this increases the chances of the ants getting out of the farm and into places you do not want them.

In recent years the Ant Farm has been modernized with improvements to visibility. A modern alternative ant farm is the AntWorks Illuminated Habitat

AntWorks Illuminated Habitat

Illuminated Ant FarmThe AntWorks ant farm is completely see through thanks to a gel that NASA developed when studying ants tunneling at zero gravity. The gel holds nutrition and water so that you do not have to provide the ants with nourishment. The AntWorks Illuminated Habitat is available with either red, green, or blue gel. The setup also includes LED lighting in the base so that you can view the ants at night. All of this is housed in a tightly sealed 6.5L x 6.0W x 1.25D clear acrylic habitat to minimize ants escaping into your house, lab, or classroom.

Set Up

Set up of the green AntWorks Illuminated ant farm was easy using the provided instruction manual. After assembling it and testing the LED lights the next step was to go out and find some ants. There are two options for getting your ants, you can either send in the coupon provided with the kit or find your own ants. After finding the ants, they were put into the ant farm which was covered with a towel for 3 days to allow the ants to get used to their new home. After adjusting to life on the ant farm the ants have created a spectacular tunnel system that looks even better in the dark with the LED lights on. They are fascinating creatures to watch and learn from.

For more information, Wikipedia has in depth information about insects including ants . You can always call Heath Scientific as well.