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Introduction to the apartment setup
A glass box, an aquarium, a terrarium or some other similar object will make a great ant habitat! And it’s easy to make. With the help of two glass pieces you’ll also get full access to the nest. We call this an apartment formicarium.
You need: 1 tank of suitable size, 1 lid, 2 pieces of glass, dirt/sand
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Start by making sure you have everything you need. We’ll assume you’ve found a tank of your liking that will suit this project. It can either be an old (or new!) aquarium, a terrarium or a glass/plastic box – many of these are often found at home. Yay! Keep in mind that the material of the tank needs to be able to resist moisture – ants need it. Hence, a shoe carton won’t make the best tank for your ants. It will fall apart, eventually.
When you’ve found your tank, make sure to clean it thoroughly. Use something mild, such as dish wash, and scrub away bacteria and chemicals that might be hiding. Ants like it clean. If you use strong detergents, make sure to let the tank dry and air out completely before filling it.
Also, make sure you find a suitable lid. We don’t want the ants to escape our apartment complex!
With two pieces of glass we’ll make sure we get full insight into the colony’s activity and nest area. One will be placed as the ground floor, the surface, and the other will make sure the nest area is thin enough.
Use something free of toxins, such as silicone for aquariums, to glue it all together.
2. Fixate the glass
The two glass pieces needs to fit in your tank. The first one, the ”surface”, where your ants will hunt and collect food, needs to be about the same size as the insides of the tank. The only thing different is one of the sides, which we make shorter for our ants to have somewhere to dig down into the ground. The measurements of this is up to you. Depending on your ant species, you may choose a wide or a thin ”gap”. If you’re planning to care for Camponotus, maybe 2-3 centimetres (0,8-1,2 inches) is good, while Lasius ants might need only 1-1,5 centimetres (0,4-0,6 inches). If the gap is too wide for your species, they will hide away from the glass, while a well thought out space will push them up against it. This gives you a full view of their nest.
The other piece of glass decides the height of the nest area, and also how far up your surface area will be in relation to the tank’s height. The higher, the more space for your ants to dig. The shorter, the lower risk of your ants constantly foraging near the lid (which might lead to tricky situations). We’re weighing practicality and aesthetics against each other here.
If you find it difficult to keep the big piece of glass in place while it dries up, try putting something beneath it for support. Or use something like tape, which is then later removed.
3. Let it dry
It’s starting to look really good! We’re almost done. If you have been using glue or silicone, you’ll find the time it takes for it to dry on the packaging. A good idea is to put in a few extra hours/days, to make sure your ants survives the fumes.
4. Fill it up with dirt/sand
When your new formicarium is dried up, we’ll start filling it with dirt or sand (or a mixture of both). A good tip is to moisturise a part of it and then put it in the tank. This way we’ll get good levels of moist in all of the nest material. Ants need moist to survive, and to keep their tunnels and chambers from collapsing. They won’t like a bone-dry nest.
If you’re not a fan of sand, still try mixing just a little of it in the dirt. It will make it lighter and you’ll be able to see your ants more clearly.
The mixture needs to be a bit dense, so try compacting it with your hands or with some sort of utensils. This will help the ants keep their constructions up. Just don’t overdo it.