Introduction: 3 Foot Tall Ant Nest With Foraging Area- Authentic Natural Simulation

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Did you enjoy catching ants a a child? Still a child? Want the ultimate setup with a complete natural simulation of a real environment? Tired of Uncle Sam's Ant farm's with limited possiblities? Want a colony in the 10's of thousands, not a couple of hundred?

Join the craze that is flooding Europe! Construct the ultimate Ant formicarium at home in just a weekend.

This instructable will guide you through the process of creating an Ant nest from Ytong and an attached foraging area.
Unlike many formicarium setups this unit is almost identical to what may be found in the wild.
The foraging area is located at the top of the ant nest, simulating a real world environment as closley as possible.

Your ants will not only move in quickly, they will also thrive due to the enclosures natural characteristics.

This formicarium comes complete with an automated irrigation system for the Ytong nest, it also has active humidity/temperature read outs via a wireless connection to a LCD screen on the reciever unit.

Step 1: Materials


Ytong- Autoclaved aerated concrete Purchase a pre-cast slab or alternativly create one from powdered product, such as plaster or gypsum. In other countries ytong may be branded Hebel blocks. You will find these at your local hardware / home DiY style store.
Product info

Carving implement- Dremel, tungstun carbide tipped 'score and snap' knife, screw driver.

Sandpaper of various grades

Set square

Flat head screw driver

Water based paint- A low VOC paint or one made with limited chemicals is preferred.
Product info

Paint brushes / foam

Plastic tubing- 3mm, 10mm approx 1m of each.
Solid plastic tubing- 3mm approx 30cm.
Assortment of connectors- To suit 3mm tubing.
Valves- To suit 3mm tubing.
Small container- For water reservoir.
Smaller container- For water trough.
Cable clips

Humidity / Temperature sensor- Wireless preferably.

Glass / Perspex- To suit front chamber face size.

Glass and masonry silicon

Cardboard- Larger than the surface of the ytong.

Foraging Area

Container with clear lid- Approx 40cm x 20cm

Sand for ground covering


Plants- Dwarf species with low water requirements are best suited

Most of these items should be available at your local hardware store.

Step 2: Marking Out Nest

Before we begin excavating the chambers we will need to mark out a guide to connect them.
You may choose to use a straight edge and map out a systematic set of parallel chambers with equal proportions, yet this version uses a free hand model to best derive natural characteristics.

A chamber system of rowed chambers will give you more area and a higher yield of ants, though a free hand system will appeal more to your ants and may produce a larger colony in the long run.

Take your screw driver and mark your route across the face of the material. Ascertain what will be the top and bottom of the piece.

Once you have a guide move onto creating the chambers.

Step 3: Creating Chambers and Connecting Them

A large ant colony will need a large amount of space to achieve maximum potential, however a new colony will not function well if giving too much space. For this reason I have chosen to supply a medium size chamber setup with large and small mixed throughout. This will allow the ants / queen to locate suitable sized chambers for various activities e.g Food, larvae, dead, waste matter and hydration.

These requirements must be taken into account whilst choosing locations for chambers.

Once you have a general idea of what is going where, start by removing small chips / quantities from those locations.
Take into account where the chambers entrance will be.

Once you have created some base chambers begin to connect them. This is best done with a carbide tipped implement. A 'Score and snap" knife is a tool used to cut fibre cement boards. You should be able to locate one at a hardware store. A flat head screw driver will also do a fine job.

Consider creating some 'hidden' passage ways into and out of the chambers. This will add to the authenticity of your nest. I added so many 'hidden' passage ways that I no longer know where they go to. It will be interesting to discover where the mystery passages go to when the ants move in.

Step 4: Sanding the Surface and Checking for Square

At this point you need to make a decision in regards to the final finish of the surface.
You may choose to leave the finish rough and as is. This will ensure that the glass will be flush with the surface of the nest, thus ensuring little cross chamber contamination.

You may however decide as I did that you would prefer a smooth finish to your ytong. If you desire this also you will need to pay special attention to maintaining the surfaces flat nature, if you do not then you run the risk of alot of cross chamber travel under the glass. This is not necesarily a bad thing but makes life easier for the ants if things stay where they put them.
You can create a 'dished' chamber to 'cup' the content within.

After you have sanded the surface check it with a set square to guide yourself.

Step 5: Creating Holes for Irrigation Inlets

Your nest needs to be a high humidty zone. Unfortunatley this makes it a prime target for mould.
Irrigating your nest from the middle is the best way to increase humidity without depositing amounts of water within the chambers.

To do this we will construct an irrigation system. Begin by drilling some inlet points on the rear side of your ytong block. The holes will need to be atleast half the depth of the block. This will ensure even distribution but not compromising the look of the front face.

These holes may be made with your screwdriver.

Step 6: Creating and Installing Irrigation System

Our irrigation system will be gravity feed. It should therefore be setup as such. You may not need 4 inlets, yet this 600mm x 200mm block called for it.
I used solid 3mm tubing to reach the center of the block then continued with our flexible tubing.
The solid lengths are siliconed in place.

I have chosen to install the valves to allow individual control of the top and or bottom of the nest.

Once you have plumbed your irrigation system, fix it in place with your cable clips.

The water inlet will be silicond to the small container. This is located on the rear of the foraging area. You can position it where ever it will allow flow.

Step 7: Inserting Humidity / Temperature Sensor

We need to insert the transmitter into the nest.
This will be located on the rear side of the nest.
Take your screw driver and mark out around the unit.

Remove the material to the depth of the unit.

The unit needs to be deep enough to get a reasonable reading yet not deep enough as to hit the water table located at half the blocks thickness. I chose to locate the unit about 1/3 of the way from the bottom of the nest.

Step 8: Selecting High Humidity Areas AKA "HOTSPOTS"

Prior to painting you need to select chambers which will still have a section of ytong exposed.
This will allow the water to travel to the viewing suface of the nest. At these points you will very likely find moisture build up on the glass, thus reducing viewing levels.

In this step I show the nest painted as the picture would not explain itself without the paint.

Step 9: Painting the Chamber

During the painting process we will be using acrylic water based paints. Although they will adventually break down under the moist conditions, the down sides of alternate products overwhelm that.

Start be applying a base coat to fill in the white ytong. Once you have your base color, apply some other tones to the chambers and surface to replicate a natural occuring rock substrate. I have tried to simulate a sandstone effect similar to those found in Australian bushland.

Apply the effect in thin layers and allow to dry in between. Do not apply the paint in thick layers, as if it 'skins' then it will be at risk of being 'pushed' off later by moisture.

Step 10: Attaching the Front Panel

First we need to make sure our glass / perspex is clean and free from contaminates. Any specs on the under side will show up and you will not be able to access them. Make sure the glass is clean.

Lay the nest down with the face upwards.

Take your silicon and run a thin bead around the parimeter of the nest. Follow as close the the edge as possible.

Once you have applied the silicon, gently place your glass onto the nest / silicon. Get it right the first time, any re-positioning will drag the silicon with it.
Allow the silicon to dry before standing the nest upright.

Step 11: Making the Light Block Panel

In order for the nest to simulate a natural environment, we need to exclude any light from it for the majority of the day.

Take your cardboard and cut out a piece the same size as the front glass/perspex panel.

This is the most simple solution the the light issue.
You can however invest in some red transperant film with UV blocking properties or some fabric to make a curtain.

I find it easiest to just have the card.

Step 12: Creating Nest Entrance and Water Source

In order for our foraging area to appear realistic and also be functional, we need to incorporate several aspects.

Nest entrance- The entrance will be located in the central vicinity of the area. It will drop directly into the nest via a short length of our larger tubing. Create a hole to suit our larger tubing in the central area. Block the hole temporarily with something so no sand falls through.

At this point spread out a portion of your sand, to guide your level for the next hole/trough.

Water / sugar- This will be introduced via a trough feed system. The water / sucrose will be dispersed along the trough and into the adjacent pebbles. This will allow the ants to have a variety of substrates to select from. Drill a hole in the side of the foraging area. Insert a small lenght of tubing. Place your smaller container which will act as the trough under the hole/tubing.

Food- Solid matter will need to be delivered to the ants yet needs to be removed once discarded, prior to it moulding. I have included a flat piece of slate to drop insects onto. This allows me to find them easily for removal. My enclosure has two slide openings at the top allowing access.

Step 13: Authenticating Foraging Area

Now that we have the nutrient systems worked out we need to start on the asthetical side of the environment.

Take your selected pebbles and distribute them sporatically across the enclosure.
Be sure to cover the trough so ants don't dround.

Introduce your larger rocks.

Finish with the live plants.

Step 14: Attaching Foraging Area

The two sections shall be joined via our flex tubing.
Insert into the bottom of the foraging area and silicon in place.

Apply a bead of silicon to the top of the nest entrance and bring the foraging area into place.
Bring the two sections together.
Make sure they are positioned correctly then allow to dry.

You may wiish to add some metal brackets to ensure the sections don't separate.

Step 15: Your Finished, Time to Find Some Ants!!

Once you have completed the project it is time to find your new inhabitants.
A small guide follows.

Locating Queens- Yearly ants of almost all species have nuptual flights. This is when the queens take flight in order to mate and start a new colony. If these nuptual flights are occuring simply take several queens mid air or on the ground and place them inside a test tube / small container with a moist cotton ball.

Collecting a colony- This is easy when you can find a colony under a movable rock. If this is the case simply collect the ants and the queen.
If the nest is located under the ground, take a shovel and cut the nest out. Take a cube 30cm x 30cm x 30cm of soil out around the nest. Transfer that into a bucket and put the lid on it. Take it home and go through the dirt to locate the queen and workers.

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