What is a Formicarium?
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Ants 4 Pets

"Formicarium" is essentially a glorified alternative to "Ant Farm". It is an enclosed space where an ant enthusiast, or scientist, can develop an ant colony and spectate its growth and progress.

Origins

The word "formicarium" comes from the Latin word "formica", which means "ant". The suffix "arium" denotes a location from the noun in the word associated with the word which includes the suffix. For example, an aquarium is where fish are, a planetarium is where planets are (kind of), and a formicarium is where ants are!

What do you need in a formicarium?

A formicarium’s defining factor is something which hosts ants! Therefore, formicariums come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, however the vast majority of formicariums have several common components:

labeled formicarium
  1. A Queen: If a formicarium hopes to last very long, it must contain a queen, which, in the wild, can spawn millions upon millions on workers in its lifetime. For your home formicarium you probably don’t want millions of eggs! As the queen is the central and most vital part of the ant colony, you can usually spot her in the earlier stages of development from a dense clump of ants in the nest component.
  2. Enclosed Space: Most formicariums are fully enclose spaces (they have a lid), however some formicariums have open tops, allowing ever more spectating possibilities! How a formicarium can have an open top will be discussed in the next point. Most formicariums will also have at least 1 glass panel to allow the owner to see exactly what is happening in their ant colony and many formicariums are glass on all sides.
  3. Ant Deterrent: Unless you want your ants mass escaping every time you open the lid of your formicarium, I suggest some sort of ant deterrent to prevent any fugitives. This is particularly necessary if you plan on having an open top formicarium, as they will simply invade the rest of the building, and perhaps even mass migrate their nest to finer feeding grounds! There are several common household compounds in the ant deterrent arsenal:
    • Vaseline/Petroleum Gel – this can be found in any convenience store. Applying this to the lip of your formicarium in a consistent, all-encompassing line will cause any ants to think twice about trying to get a taste of freedom. Ants will test this substance with their antennae and, despite their tiny brains, will know crossing the Vaseline will not end well for them.
    • Baby powder and rubbing Alcohol – this seems to be a favourite among the ant community and is applied similarly to the Vaseline described previously. Ants will also have one inspection with their antennae and decide that the dry, fine talc particles clogging up their respiratory system is not what they had planned to do today.
    • PTFE - this is by far the most expensive (but arguably the best) method of ensuring your formicarium does not allow any escapees. This substance works much like Teflon on your non-stick pans in the kitchen – ants simply cannot grip the surface where PTFE is applied. PTFE also holds the benefit of not being harmful to ants!
  4. Feeding Platform: Although not entirely necessary, a feeding platform for an ant keeper to place the food for their ants is prevalent in many formicariums. This allows an easy and manageable location to place and remove food for your beloved ants. These normally look like little petri dishes.
  5. Nest Component: This is a loosely defined area which will house the queen and her larva. All ants will start their lifecycle here in one of the many compartments inside this nest component. The nest component is usually a series of tunnels will small opening which allows many eggs to be stored in a small area. If your formicarium is not an artificial landscape (it is made up from dirt and driftwood etc), then the ants themselves will dig this tunnel network via clumping dirt with their saliva to form a large network of compartments and tunnels.

As mentioned, a formicarium is literally anything which houses ants, and so there is no firm description. If you were to order ants, then they would come in a small test tube, complete with a queen and a few loyal workers. This in itself can be considered a formicarium!

ants test tube