July 3rd, 2009

Antworks Illuminated Ant Farm

What could be more fascinating for a six-year-old, science-minded boy than watching insects scurry around a habitat—building homes, doing jobs, giving themselves over to social hierarchy? Short of an exploding papier maché volcano or a remote control rocket, not much.

That’s why, when my parents asked what my son, Milo, would like for his birthday last month, I barely hesitated before I said, “An ant farm!”

I imagined Milo, happily ensconced in his room for hours, staring at the ants as they excavated tunnels through sand.

Turns out, sand ant farms aren’t where it’s at anymore. The best thing going is gel. Preferably illuminated by a space-agey LED light so your child can pretend they’re watching ants on Neptune. Or something.

Anyway, Milo did receive Fascinations AntWorks Illuminated Ant Farm. And he dug it.

The only immediate problem was that we had to order the ants separately.

Eventually we were shipped 25 harvester ants for five bucks from AntsAlive. I’m happy to report that all ants did, indeed, arrive alive in Seattle, about a week and a half after we put in our order. Several of them, however, did not maintain their living state for long.

They began tunneling right away, ignoring the little starter divots Milo made for them and burrowing their own (completely illogical) paths. They seemed engaged and happy.

The ants eat the gel as they go and, though I never think of gel as nutrient-rich, it apparently gives them what they need.

The AntWorks ant farm, oddly, does not come drilled with holes to supply oxygen to the little guys. AntWorks’ solution is to instruct the user to pry off the lid every few days and let in a whoosh of air.

But here’s the thing: when you open the lid, the ants rush the top of the farm as if they’re front row at a Coldplay concert and are charging the stage. They often escape. Because harvester ants can bite, you have no choice but to smoosh them dead when they get out.

It has been a month, and out of the 25 ants we started with, I think 6 or 7 are still kicking.

The initial fascination with the farm has waned quite a bit. The magnifying glasses are…somewhere. And, I think, if we want to keep this going, we need to order more ants. Though, now that the tunnels are dug, I’m not sure how newbies will keep themselves busy.

Bottom line: An interesting, most likely short-lived amusement that, if you want to prolong, will take regular five-dollar investments of new harvester ants.

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This Weeks Tip

Spills happen. Dirt happens. Dogs happen. Let’s face it… carpet cleaner is a Mom’s best friend. When you have it in the house, that is. But when you don’t, never fear! Reach for some of hubby’s favorite shaving cream. Spray it on. Let it sit. Rub it with a circular motion then blot it with a warm, damp cloth. It works so well you can even take Carpet Cleaner off the grocery list. (But you might need to add more shaving cream for hubby.)