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Backyard Fun: How to Build an Ant Habitat

Updated on June 23, 2014

Learn how to make an ant habitat with this backyard outdoor activity

Why would anyone build an ant habitat or have an ant farm? Aren't ants nasty pests? The kind you'd rather not have around? The easy answer is that making an ant farm is a quick science fair project. It's also a fun educational outdoor activity for kids.

Making an ant farm is a great science and nature Earth Day project

Earth Day comes with Spring and with spring comes an interest once again in the outdoors. A great way to celebrate Earth Day is to gain a deeper understanding of the workings of one nature's creatures and who better than the ant? They have so much to teach us. An ant habitat provides a unique and fun way to observe and learn.

What type of ant farm is best?

There are many types of ant habitats and ant farms. Some you buy, some you build. We are focusing on an easy-to-make ant habitat that uses common household items. Having an ant habitat is a great way to study ants and learn about the ecosystem. This is an inexpensive way to watch ants do their thing.

But ants?

  • Image credit: Maine.gov - Ants

Why Ants?

Ants are busy creatures and have a lot to teach us

Ants talk. They also work, eat insects, create tunnels and, in some instances, break down dead wood. Most are honest, hard-working insects but, like humans, there are some ants who have a bad habit of stealing. This type of ant steals the eggs and larvae from other ant species and is aptly called the "thief" ant. Then there are the ants that make those funny donut-hole shaped mounds that are on the grass. They are the Turfgrass ants. Did you know there are about 11,000 species of ants in the world? Now that's a whole lot of ants.

Ants are very social creatures and can provide hours of fun. Ants are also teachers. Ever hear the story of The Ant and the Grasshopper?

You know, the one where the grasshopper hangs around all summer lounging on a leaf, singing, playing the fiddle and making fun of the ant? And the ant, who is busy gathering food for the winter, keeps his head down and works, works, works.You know the rest. Winter comes. The food is gone. The ant happily munches on his stockpiled food while the lazy, unprepared grasshopper must now beg the ant for food. Don't you know that ant had the last laugh?

The Ant and The Grasshopper retold by Graham Percy - Part of a Series on Aesop's classic Greek fables

The Ant and the Grasshopper (Aesop’s Fables)
The Ant and the Grasshopper (Aesop’s Fables)

Looking for a sturdy book? This is a library-bound edition that will stand up to hard wear. The text is for grades 1-3 and easy to read. This version is great for homeschooling, too, as there's a special section on the fable, the moral lessons being taught, and the author and the illustrator. This book received a terrific recommendation from Midwest Book Reviews.

 

A Walt Disney Silly Symphony - The Grasshopper and the Ants - Fun video about ants and what they teach us

What Do You Need to Make an Ant Habitat?

Supplies needed for this inexpensive backyard science project

The most basic of ant habitats can be made with the following household items:

ANTS BITE. WEAR GLOVES & WATCH OUT FOR FIRE ANTS.

  • a large glass jar
  • a soft drink can
  • black construction paper
  • tape
  • sand
  • dirt
  • ants from an ant hill
  • piece of sponge
  • food scraps and water
  • gloves, a necessity

Of course, there are other items that can be helpful. It's very important that the ants get water. Some people like to use a pipette. Others find a bug vacuum that will not harm the ants comes in handy when it's time to move the ants from their mound.

Insect Lore Bug Viewer And Case - Creature Peeper With 3x Magnified Views From Above And Below
Insect Lore Bug Viewer And Case - Creature Peeper With 3x Magnified Views From Above And Below

For ages 3 and up, this kid-friendly magnifying glass will make bug watching all the more fun. Great way to get up front and personal with the bugs.

 
Coghlan's Bug Jar for Kids
Coghlan's Bug Jar for Kids

What junior scientist wouldn't want one of these? Gotta have this in the field bag.

 
ants, weaver ants
ants, weaver ants

How Do You Make a Simple Ant Farm?

Easy-to-find household items transformed into an ant farm

Ants are pretty much low maintenance. The simplest of habitats will keep them busy. After you gather the items, do the following steps to create an ant habitat.*.

  • Fill the soft drink can with sand.
  • Seal the opening with tape or use an unopened can of soda.
  • Put the can into the glass jar
  • Next, fill the rest of the glass jar with dirt and ants. Do not pack the dirt too tightly, but fill the entire jar. The ants won't be able to enter the can, so they'll build tunnels around it near the outside of the jar where you can see them.
  • Place a wet piece of sponge on top of the soft drink can, and be sure to keep it moist.
  • *Important: Cover the jar with a piece of cloth secured with a rubber band so the ants cannot crawl out.

The black paper taped around the outside of the jar will force the ants to tunnel against the dark sides of the jar.

*The above steps are taken from Exploring Houston with Children by Elaine L. Galit and Vikk Simmons

What Happens After the Ant Habitat is Made?

Ants provide hours of entertainment

The ants are in the jar, the habitat is finished. Now what?

Observation is the key to understanding the ants. Grab a camera and a notebook and start watching the ants. Even though it may be a week or so before the ants have their tunnel complex, there's a lot of opportunities to watch and interact with them. Ants need food and water. It's okay to remove the paper for short periods to observe the ants' behavior, too. Tale photos, make notes, and always date everything so you have an accurate record.

Go ahead and place food scraps on top of the dirt. What happens? Pretty soon you'll know which foods attract the ants. Try offering sugar water, dry pet food, even pieces of fruit. Always be sure you give the ants water, too.

Remember: Wear gloves. If you need to pick up an ant or move the little critter, there is always the potential for a bite.

Easy Backyard Science Experiments for Kids - Watch as kids make an ant farm from household items.

Are Ants Tunneling Through NASA Gel? - New Ant Farms Use NASA Gel

The Ants and the Grasshopper - Easty-to-read illustrated story of Aesop's favorite fable

Ants and the Grasshopper (Short Tales: Fables)
Ants and the Grasshopper (Short Tales: Fables)

Here's a new version of this perennial favorite. The text is easy and the pictures sharp, bound to lure the boy as well as the girl reader.

 
black ant, ants, ant habitat, ant farm
black ant, ants, ant habitat, ant farm

Ready to Buy a Commercial Ant Farm?

Things to remember before you buy your ant farm

If you're ready to get super-serious about this whole ant business, then maybe it's time to purchase an ant farm. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you go forward.

  • If you use the enclosed certificates that come with commercial ant farms, it can take several weeks to receive your ants. You also do not get a queen ant which means you will not have baby ants and will have to reorder ants.
  • Often if you order your ants directly instead of using the certificate--you will pay--the ants arrive much faster.
  • If you decide to collect your own ants, do not collect fire ants. They are not kid-friendly. Know the difference before you start.
  • Wear gloves when working with the ants. They do bite.
  • Ants thrive in normal temperature: no freezing, no heating them up. You can, however, cool them down to get them a little sluggish but do NOT leave them in the refrigerator and do not forget about them. 15 minutes is long enough.
  • FOLLOW DIRECTIONS when setting up the ant farms.

Where Do I Find Live Ants? - Sources for live ants other than your backyard

Buy live ants to start or refill your ant farm. Or maybe you need some live ants for a science project. Here's a few sources.

Are You Caught up in Ant Farm Mania? - Check out these popular commercial ant farms.

Uncle Milton Ant Farm Live Ant Habitat, Giant
Uncle Milton Ant Farm Live Ant Habitat, Giant

Everything you'll need. Adults will remember this ant farm with fondness. If you use the enclosed certificates for ants, they will take a few weeks to arrive.

 
Fascinations AntWorks Illuminated Blue
Fascinations AntWorks Illuminated Blue

NASA scientists devised this type of ant farm for use in space. If you use the enclosed certificate for the ants, it can take a week or two to receive them. Or just find your own ants. :)

 
Wild Science Ant-O-Sphere 8-Pods
Wild Science Ant-O-Sphere 8-Pods

Wired Magazine's holiday gift guide of "100 Best Gifts for Geeks."

 
Ant Habitat - Rainbow Ant Farm with Colored Sands and Live Ant Coupon Included
Ant Habitat - Rainbow Ant Farm with Colored Sands and Live Ant Coupon Included

Great way to study the tunneling system with the various colors.

 

Does Your Child Like to Read About Bugs? - These books about ants answer the questions

Do You Know a Fashionista Bug Girl? - Even a bug girl's gotta have her style on

If you're going to go bug hunting or flower planting, good backyard tools are a necessity.

Hello Kitty Gardening Gloves
Hello Kitty Gardening Gloves

Hello Kitty has a huge fan base and why not? Who wouldn't want to slip on these bright and happy gardening gloves? Terrific backyard safari gear for the great ant hunter.

 
G & F 10012 JustForKids Kids Garden Tools Set with Tote hand rake shovel trowel
G & F 10012 JustForKids Kids Garden Tools Set with Tote hand rake shovel trowel

Now a tote is one of those how-did-I-ever-get-by-without-one items every gardener and bug fan should have. You have to have a place put all those tools if you're going to go exploring.

 

Who Likes Ants? Share Your Bug Story. - What do you think about ants?

Okay, are there really stories of ants invading picnics? Tell the truth.

Do you like ants or are they nasty pests?

Want More Ants, Ants, and More Ants? - Ant plush, ant puzzle, ants are everywhere

Who knew ants were so popular. Now they are found in many more places than the common backyard or kitchen window sill.

Puzzled Ant Wooden 3D Puzzle Construction Kit
Puzzled Ant Wooden 3D Puzzle Construction Kit

Great for 5-years and up. The puzzle has 21 pieces.

 
The Incredible Ant
The Incredible Ant

In The Incredible Ant DVD, you'll watch Harvester ants in their natural habitat. See how they learn, how the communicate, how they work together. This is a great resource.

 
Ant Plush Glove Hand Puppet
Ant Plush Glove Hand Puppet

Now you know you want one of these. I love puppets and an ant puppet is way cool.

 

Don't Leave Yet.

There's still a little more to read.

Do you have a history with ants? Tell us! - Love getting comments about ants, ant farms, comments and you

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    • paulahite profile image

      Paula Hite 3 years ago from Virginia

      Cool lens! It was featured today on our G+ page!

      https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/10593843672309975630...

    • Carpenter76 profile image

      Carpenter76 4 years ago

      We've got a lot of antfarms in our containers on the roof terrace. We let them be, it's fun when they swarm (don't know if my neighbours agree haha).

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Wow, making an ant farm that is so exciting.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Very interesting page on alot of different ant facts and informations that all of us can easily understand. Ant farms also are great for kids of all ages doing science experiements for school.Get ants for your ant farm at www.insectkits.com

    • VarietyWriter2 profile image

      VarietyWriter2 6 years ago

      Blessed by a SquidAngel :)

    • Vikk Simmons profile image
      Author

      'Vikk Simmons 6 years ago from Houston

      @Virginia Allain: Thank you so much. I appreciate you taking the time to seek this page out. I, too, share you hope that kids will have fun watching the ants and learning.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      I'm the designated "insect angel" on Squidoo for now. Even though this is not in the insect sub-topic, I want to bless it.

      I hope many children tune into science and nature from finding your lens.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 6 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      We studied ants a few times in our homeschool. They are very fascinating little creatures! =D

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 6 years ago from So Cal

      Feeding the ants will not be a problem. I already know everything they eat. I know what they don't like too. My kitchen is their favorite spot and they have made it abundantly clear that they like anything that is not spicy. Feeding them in an ant farm will be easy, in fact, setting up the ant farm will be easy too. I'll just leave it open and the ants will enter the jar willingly. Angel blessed, great science experiment with great directions.

    • dwnovacek profile image

      dwnovacek 6 years ago

      I loved my Uncle Milton's ant farms as a child. I really liked learning your easy and inexpensive method for making an ant farm at home. Angel Blessings!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

      My son loved his ant farms! This brings back wonderful memories, not only of him putting his ant farms together, but also of watching him watch them for hours at a time.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 6 years ago from California

      Wonderful lens! My niece loves bugs of all types. I wonder if she'd like to make her own ant farm.

    • I-sparkle profile image

      I-sparkle 6 years ago

      I always thought that ants were cool! They are neat, appear to be very economically minded and as you mentioned, almost always busy. I wouldn't mind coming back in another life as one!

      Excellent lens, by the way.

    • Richard-H profile image

      Richard 6 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      I'm not a big fan of ants due to the invasion mentioned above, but I can see that this would be a fun project for kids :)

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 6 years ago

      I really like the way you teach how to make an ant farm from scratch. It is fun watching ants; they are just so industrious. Featuring this great lens on Amazing Ants.

    • Guyverguyjr profile image

      Guyverguyjr 6 years ago

      I remember when doing this when i was younger. Me and my brother would get ants for are own ant farms and we would place in food for them and let them go for awhile when we had them.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 6 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      My only 'ant' story was the day my 6 year old sat in a 'fire ant' pile on the school playground and had an allergic reaction. School called, we went to the pediatrician, and she received a shot to reduce swelling. Not fun, so I'm not a fan of ants. Well, you asked --- LOL!

      Good lens about ant farms for those who ARE interested, though. :-)

    • TheresaMarkham profile image

      TheresaMarkham 6 years ago

      We had an non-homemade ant farm for my now-25-y/o-stepdaughter when she was in grade school in NYC - it was fascinating & fun for the whole family!

    • profile image

      GiftsBonanza 6 years ago

      I love the homemade ant farm!

    • JanieceTobey profile image

      JanieceTobey 6 years ago

      Making your own ant farm in a jar! What a great idea!

    • rlivermore profile image

      rlivermore 6 years ago

      I got my son an ant farm when he was probably around five and we really enjoyed watching the ants.