An ant farm is an educational toy that is based on a formicarium, which is a special type of insectarium that is used to study ant behavior in ant colonies.
Ant farms were first introduced to the public in 1929. Frank Eugene Austin, professor at Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering, patented the ant farm in 1931. Austin’s ant farms were whimsical in nature and often included replicas of palace or farm scenes in order to increase their appeal among young science students.
Today, “Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm” is perhaps the most widely known ant farm designed for children. Since these educational toys were first distributed in 1956, more than 20 million ant farms of various shapes and sizes have been sold. Uncle Milton Industries, a California-based company, is also the owner of the “ant farm” registered trademark. You can buy “Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm” toys online or at larger toy stores throughout the United States. The purchaser must submit a special coupon in order to receive the ants by mail.
While many parents choose to purchase ant farms for their children to use in school science projects, it also possible to create your own formicarium for ant observation. An ant farm is typically very tall and thin, since this allows tunnels and cavities to be more easily observed. Homemade ant farms are often stocked with sand, soil, sawdust, or a semi-clear gel that allows the owner to closely observe the ants. Among serious observers of ant behavior, plaster nests made from modeling clay are also quite popular. To collect ants for your homemade ant farm, simply place a large jar filled with a small amount of sugar water outside your home.
One of the most common problems associated with making your own ant farm is containing the ants within the structure. Since ants are small and agile, they can escape through cracks that are not easily visible. Coating the sides of the ant farms with vegetable oil or petroleum jelly helps to repel the ants. Another common tactic is to put the ant farm in a shallow container of water to create a moat that will safely contain the ants.
In a tribute to the timeless appeal of the ant farm, Maxis released a SimAnt computer game in 1991. Designed by Will Wright, the creator of The Sims and Sim City, this unique game provides a high-tech look at what goes on inside an ant farm. Players learned about concepts such as the ant’s caste system and their food gathering behavior.