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Ever wanted an ant farm?  Ant farms are entertaining, yet educational – it’s fascinating to observe the little ants as they go about their busy lives.  But store-bought ant farms are often expensive, and usually limited in size.  If you’d like an inexpensive, easy-to-make ant farm alternative that gives ants tons of space to lead a more natural life, then this soda bottle ant farm project is for you!

Step 1: Materials You'll Need

One of the great things about this project is that it mostly requires materials and tools that are inexpensive, common household items.  You’ll need the items pictured above, as well as a few other things -- here's everything you'll need to gather:

• Two 2-liter plastic bottles
• One smaller plastic bottle, between 591 mL to 700 mL in size. Get one that has five bumps on the bottom (like the 2-liter bottles, as shown in the close-up picture above).
• One “Tornado Tube.” These are used to hook two plastic bottles together and are often found in toy stores. They can also be purchased online, such as from Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000GYSZOI/
• Optional: Hair dryer and Goo Gone to clean the bottles up.
• Utility knife
• Scissors
• Epoxy that works with plastics. I used quick-set, multi-purpose Loctite epoxy and it worked great.
• Soil
• Funnel or construction paper
• Optional: Grass/grass seeds, small leaves, rocks, twigs, etc., to make a natural foraging area for the ants.
• Shipping tape
• Cotton ball
• Ants!

Step 2: Clean Up the Bottles

Empty the three plastic bottles, rinse them out with plain water, and remove the labels.

Tip: To more cleanly remove the labels, use a hair dryer for a few seconds on the parts that are attached to the bottles with glue – this will melt the glue. If there is a little glue residue left, use a product like Goo Gone to remove it.

Step 3: Cut Up the 2-Liter Bottles

Carefully use a utility knife and scissors to cut the bottoms off of the two 2-liter plastic bottles. Cut along the small ridge that’s about 6 centimeters (cm) up from the bottom of the bottles. 

You can use the utility knife to make an initial cut, and then use scissors to do the rest of the cutting.

Tip: On one of the bottles, you may want to make a small, triangular notch so it’s easier to figure out how to put the bottle back together later.

Step 4: Secure the Small Bottle Inside of a 2-Liter Bottle

Use the epoxy to attach the small bottle to the cut-off bottom of one of the 2-liter bottles. 

Since the small bottle has five bumps on its bottom, it should nicely fit in place inside the bumps of the large, 2-liter bottle bottom.

Step 5: Seal the 2-Liter Bottle Around the Small Bottle

Place the top of the 2-Liter bottle around the small bottle. The 2-Liter top should rest on its cut-off bottom.

Tip: If you made a triangular notch on the 2-Liter bottle, line up the notches.

Use the epoxy to seal the 2-Liter bottle back together. You do not want any big holes that the ants could escape through, so it may take about four or five rounds of applying epoxy and letting it set before you’ve sealed all the cracks. Try not to add too much epoxy in one area at once or you’ll end up with solidified globs.

Tip: Gently blow through the top of the bottle to see if there are any cracks left that need to be sealed up. Listen for air escaping, and use your hand to feel where the air flow is coming from.


Step 6: Add the Soil

Add soil to the top of the 2-L bottle that has the small bottle inside of it. (If you want, you can include some small twigs, bark, leaves, grass, rocks, etc. in the soil.) You’ll want to use a funnel to do this (or make a funnel out of construction paper). As you add the soil, gently tap and shake the bottle so that the soil becomes more compacted.

Tip: Make sure there is soil all the way up to the top of the bottle so that the ants don’t encounter a “drop off” when they dig their way down there.

Step 7: Make a Foraging Area on Top

Screw the “Tornado Tube” on top of the soil-filled 2-Liter bottle, and then attach the other 2-Liter bottle on the top of that (upside down). 

Fill the top 2-Liter bottle with some soil (just up to where the bottle widens to its largest diameter). Then, if you want, you can add some grass/grass seeds, small leaves, rocks, twigs, etc., to make a natural foraging area for the ants. You should also add a little water since ants prefer semi-moist soil.

Step 8: Finishing Touches

Put the bottom of the 2-Liter bottle on the top. Flip it so its bottom is facing downward, and push it into the 2-Liter bottle so it fits snugly in place.

This should seal the top of the ant farm pretty well, but if you’re concerned about ants escaping, do the following: Use the utility knife to make small hole in the top (such as in one of the five bumps), push a cotton ball into the hole (so the ants get filtered, fresh air), and then seal the bottom onto the bottle using shipping tape.

Step 9: Add the Ants!

Go find (or purchase) some ants and add them to your new ant farm! When they dig into the lower bottle, you should be able to see their tunnels (since there’s a narrow, soil-filled space between the small and big bottle).

Step 10: Possible Additions/Variations

Make a Mega-Ant Farm!
Make multiple ant farms like this one and connect them together using small, clear plastic tubing. It’d probably be best to connect them in the upper bottle, right at the top of the soil level.

Make it Glow!
You could try drilling a hole in the bottom of the ant farm, through both the smaller and larger bottles, and inserting an LED into the inside, smaller bottle.  By doing this you could make the ant farm glow from the inside!  (You’ll want to be sure to seal area around the hole with epoxy so that soil/ants don’t escape there.)
I like this! A much more natural enviroment than most ant farms. Good job.
Thanks, HrdWodFlor! I always enjoy finding ways to repurpose/up-cycle items.
<p>Not sure if this question was asked before but why don't you put small bottles inside both of the larger one's?</p>
<p>Great job! Definitely going to try it! Thanks!</p>
<p>I've been told it needs to be dark for the ants to tunnel naturally and not be stressed, are you sure about lighting up the habitat with LED's?</p>
I want to make my ant farm bigger. Is there a product like the tornado tube but connects three bottles?
Great job! Our kids want to do this with our indigenous fire ants... Sounds like fun!
<p>Thanks so much, Ellexis! Be careful with those fire ants!</p>
Can I raise a queen ant in this environment? I want to catch one next spring but I want a relatively large habitat for her
<p>If you're using really small ants, then I think it should be OK. But if you're using larger ants, I'd want to give them more space (maybe by carefully connecting a few of these together, making sure they're sealed together well!). </p>
<p>I really like this project and since the queen ants and termites are swarming i thought maybe i can make this.. but do you have a pic of the ant queen? I don't want to accidentally take care of termites instead of ants... </p>
Wait until after the nuptial flights then you can find the queens crawling on sidewalks or you can try digging up a newly developed hill.
<p>Teisha, I just wanted to say that you are incredible! I love how you personally answered all questions and comments! Love the dedication!!! This idea is wonderful and on a rainy day like today it will be a good distractor for my adventurous kids! Thanks!!</p>
<p>Thanks for the kind and thoughtful words, Dellarach! I really appreciate it. And welcome to Instructables! (It's probably the best/most positive online community I've ever come across, so enjoy!) I hope your adventurous kids enjoy the soda bottle ant farm - I definitely would have loved it as a kid (well, even as an adult I still love bugs and these types of things!). Feel free to check out my other projects (if your kids like Minecraft, there are some other fun projects for them in there!).</p>
Can u use tape or glue
<p>You could probably use hot glue instead of epoxy, although I didn't do this. I wouldn't recommend tape because ants could probably get around that if they were really persistent. You want to make sure to make a good seal so the ants don't escape.</p>
What is the point of the smaller bottle and could I use a hot glue gun instead of epoxy?
<p>The smaller bottle creates a small space between the larger and smaller bottle. This means a relatively thin layer of sand can form between the two bottles, so you can be guaranteed to see the ants when they are crawling down there. Hot glue would probably work too - you just want to make sure it's completely sealed so no ants escape!</p>
This is amazing!! I no longer have to buy a fake environment for the ants!!
<p>Thanks, MakersUnite123! Ants definitely deserve as real an environment as we can give them when they're in an ant farm. Thanks for checking out the 'ible!</p>
The tornado tube linked to in Step 1 is still available from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000GYSZOI/ <br>(Accidentaly said &quot;Step 2&quot; first time I replied.)
i can't find any tornado tubes. any replacements?
Hi! as a kid I used to make ant-farms out of 2 pis. plastic nailed to a wooden frame. Something like 40 cm by 50cm and about 5cm apart. Least to say my farms never lived that long. THIS IS SO GREAT!. It&acute;s winter over here in Germany, but come springtime I WILL make myself one of theas. Thank you so much for the idea.
That's really neat! I've made various bug containers over the years, but this is the first one I tried to make specifically as an ant farm. (I don't have a lot of wood-working tools, so that limited my options.) Even though you can't get ants easily in the wild right now, you might be able to order them online somewhere? That's actually what I did here in the U.S., but I don't know what the options are like in Germany. Thanks for checking out my project! Auf Wiedersehen!
Great idea!! I will be doing this over the weekend with my 4 year old! Question, though.... How do you feed the ants?
Thanks for checking out the ant farm! I hope you and your 4-year-old enjoy trying it out - I think it should be a lot of fun as a weekend project. <br> <br>You can add food to this ant farm by simply taking off the top (if you did not tape it shut) or by removing the cotton ball and adding food through the hole (if you went that route). I've been adding food through the cotton ball hole and it works well. (Just don't add too much at once or they might get moldy.) <br> <br>What you feed the ants depends on the species of ant. Different ant species eat different things, but most eat small, dead insects, fruits, seeds, although it varies. Here's a webpage that talks about what they eat more: http://www.live-ants.com/what-ants-eat.html The ant in the picture in step 9 is a black garden ant (Lasius niger), and they're omnivorous -- they'll eat dead insects, fruits, and other foods.
Very helpful!! Thanks so much - it's on our project list for the weekend. :)
Enjoy! :)
Clear silicone caulk could be used as an alternative to epoxy to seal the bottom of the lower bottle and to attach the smaller bottle. Silicone is much easier to work with, less toxic, and more forgiving of mistakes. Especially important if building this project with children. If using silicone, be sure to allow enough time for the caulk to cure completely.
Thanks for the suggestion, therishel. It's always important to be careful when you're making a project like this with children.
I would love to see someone trying a termite farm. I found termites at work in a piece of wood and kept some of them for about a year in a 1 pound margarine tub. (I fed them wood shavings, sawdust, etc. but eventually forgot about them for too long and the poor things dried up. In my view they are just as neat as ants. A cool thing about termites is that you probably do not need the queen to have a viable colony. Another cool thing is that there are soldiers and workers.
That is a neat idea, gaiatechnician. You could probably guess that I like raising/watching insects. Your termite idea reminded me of a neat article I found on raising mealworms: http://www.hollowtop.com/finl_html/mealworms.htm
One of the things you can do if you want, is to take a couple of small bottles and attach them to the larger bottle using lengths of clear tubing. Then make these satellite bottles the feeding/watering stations. once they learn where the food/ water is you can watch them crawl along the tubes. Also if you have one that has just a small amount of dirt in the bottom they will pile up the colony waste and dead ants in it like a garbage dump.
Thanks for the good idea, HrdWodFlor. I was hoping to try something like this in the future. You could even do experiments where you put different foods in different bottles and see which ones the ants like to visit the most.
What a great idea !! Thanks
Thanks, cb cowboy!
What would you feed the ants?
It depends on the species of ant. Different ant species eat different things. Most ants eat small, dead insects, fruits, seeds, but it varies. Here's a webpage that talks about what they eat more: http://www.live-ants.com/what-ants-eat.html<br> <br> Ants commonly used in ant farms are a type of harvester ants, and they largely eat seeds: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvester_ant<br> <br> The ant in the picture in step 9 is a black garden ant (Lasius niger), and they're omnivorous -- they'll eat dead insects, fruits, and other foods.
educational
Thanks, sabu.dawdy!
If you boil some water and dip the cut edge into it the heat will shrink the plastic just slightly. Enough for it to create an overlapping edge for a better seal. Refer to some of the H2O rocket instructables for a better explaination.
That's a great idea - sounds like it would help seal the cut-off bottom of the 2-Liter bottle onto the top part. Thanks for the tip.
Very cool, well made instructable.
Thanks, M3G!
Hey, very cool design, will most likely be trying it out sometime soon, but I was wondering the purpose of the smaller bottle.
Thanks, BigWeezy - I hope you enjoy trying it out! The purpose of the smaller bottle is to make a narrow, soil-filled space for the ants to make their tunnels in. Because the space is narrow (like in store-bought ant farm), you should be able to see their tunnels when looking at the outside bottle. (If there were no smaller bottle inside, the ants could just dig tunnels throughout the larger bottle and you would be less likely to see them along the surface of the larger bottle.)
Interresting concept, thanks for sharing. <br> <br>My first idea was that ants would not last indefinitly inside such a farm, would they? The amount of resources are limited, after all... How long do they last in your experience? <br> <br>The second idea was that you should be able to make your own Tornadu tube (which I had not heard off before) by drilling the two bottlecaps open and either glue them together or get some matching tube and epoxy them inside.
Thanks for checking out my instructable, Satrek. The amount of resources are not limited in this design -- you can add more resources to this ant farm by simply taking off the top (if you did not tape it shut) or by removing the cotton ball and adding resources through the hole (if you went that route). I've been adding resources through the cotton ball hole and it works well. That said, any ant farm typically lasts as long as the ants do -- if you do not have a queen ant to make more ants, then it lasts as long as the lifespan of the worker ants, which is usually a few months. If you have a queen, the ant farm could last several years (since she'll make more workers). <br> <br>The reason I picked the Tornado Tube is because it is very sturdy. You could probably use some epoxy, but since a lot of weight depends on that connection, I wanted to make sure it wouldn't break (this is especially important if you want to move the ant farm after filling it with soil).

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Bio: I am a scientist, professional science writer, and science educator. I'm also author of the Biology Bytes books: http://www.biology-bytes.com/book/.
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