Introduction: Arduino Uno Ant Farm 64 W/ Voltage Booster, Buck Toot Driven LED Lighting, Temp Sensor*

About: I like to modify.


We have....
Arduino Uno microcontroller
                          voltage boosted...
                             buck toot driven ....
                                                  LED lit..
                                                                 64 inch Ant Farm Habitat.  That would have had temperature controlled lighting if it were not for that firmware "issue".  More on that later.

Yes, this ant farm is fairly large but it makes for cool nature entertainment as well as a constantly moving piece of art. With a total depth of ½” it sits flush against a wall allowing the paint to fill in the tunnels as the ants dig. The LED's stick to the glass, allowing neat color patterns. 

Respect the Ant.

All the disclaimers that need apply are in effect. Just a forewarning about the ants, these suckers bite and bite hard enough to launch my poor friend from a squatting position to a full blown back flipping, somersaulting, front hand spring reaction.

To further illustrate this point, yet keeping it "clean" for the whole family" I was in the men's room, sitting down, having a meeting with myself, when low and behold a formidable creature emerges from the gap between the floor and the door.  This ant decided to take a stroll I surmised and apparently needed to use the restroom too. When it became aware of my presence, I believe it did not appreciate me being there. This is due to the fact that this sucker went into battle mode or something.  I could clearly see it had spread it's jaws and wanted a piece of me.  With my dignity of no concern, I requested the help from my girlfriend.  Upon entering the bathroom she looked in horror as I was trapped on the toilet as this insect prevented me from going to the restroom. She stepped on it and it appeared to flatten for a moment. Suddenly, it like did some terminator thing and got back up.  Point is BE CAREFUL. They BITE. They STING. They DO BOTH AT THE SAME TIME.

Note: These rogue ants didn't happen as a design flaw but rather as a learning curve as to how best get the ants into the farm.

You will need to acquire the following items:

Ant Farm Related Items:
Double paned window (64”x20”)
Bags of various kinds of sand
RTV Silicone

Microprocessor Related Items:
Arduino Uno
Specific electronic component information is referenced in step.
Temperature sensor
Buck toot
Inductor (16 turns or greater)
Capacitor ( approx 10uf)
22guage wire

Additional Ant Farm Related Items:
A solid support ledge for the bottom***

It is my best recollection that after all was said and done... Only $30 max was spent.

Particulars about some items:

Double Paned window

Obviously it can be of any size but I think the thickness was important. It allows the walls to highlight the tunnels allowing a design to emerge. The lighting from the LED stuck to the glass and appeared to penetrate the sand creating a cool glow effect.

At first I was going to just put in one color of sand. Then I began thinking that it would be interesting to see how much the ants displaced. This led me to the only logical conclusion. Yes, you guessed it, layering it with different colors and grit. It provided a interesting look into how far some of these suckers actually move stuff and it looked neat.

Black RTV Silicone
I tried a few different types of sealant but this seemed the best, cheapest and was easy to work with. There maybe a better product but this worked perfect.

Micro controller
I used an Arduino I purchased from adafruit. Having no experience in anything I was able to get it working with the tutorials and practice. The Uno has a firmware problem that totally messed up my plans to have temperature controlled lighting.  Complete let down and at the worst time. I was running through samples, examples, modifications for days and didn't have one problem. Soon as I finish a code for the temp sensor it goes into a looping situation with the serial aspect and it really is a bummer.

The ants can be ordered online at Uncle Milton Company of the Milton Bradley fame. A couple vials can be ordered for a mere $13 and last a couple months. The warning that they post on the site should be taken rather serious. As mentioned before, these suckers bite. Although they aren't poisonous they sure as heck make you think twice about handling them. As with any insects, when you have them contained, simply put them in the refrigerator for a minute or two and they pretty much hibernate. This allows you to transfer them from container to habitat with ease. You can use this method when you capture insects and want to put them in your ant farm for “educational purposes.” Obtaining any insect, including but not limited to: spiders, earwigs, centipedes (insane), catepillars, aphids (soon to be hostages) far surpass any nature show you may have seen in your lifetime. It's art, nature, science, technology, instructable, diy and educational all rolled up into one.

Step 1: Step 1 Prep Habitat

Clean Window

Finding the most suitable foundation for the habitat came for me as stroke of luck. It turned out to be perfect. I happened to come across a nice sized double paned window that a friend was throwing out. The window was sealed with a black rubber over an aluminum support. This seal extended around each side of the window which made a good seal at some point. However, there was a tear along one of the long edges which permitted environmental factors to get wreak havoc on the inside. To my surprise it was incredibly hard to clean the inside of a double pained window. Many of you may have known this already but apparently, I missed that Instructable. The hard water spots were killing me. What is up with the deposit residue? If hard water was a bodybuilder then Arnold was present and inside my soon to be ant habitat. I did what I could and moved on.

Repair Window

Clamping the window between 4x4's I was able to set up a good workspace. The rubber was damaged along all sides of the window along with the aforementioned breach in the aluminum seal on one side. With a razor blade I removed the remaining rubber that covered all four sides exposing the aluminum seal. Next, the side of the window that had the breach was a starting point for designating a “top”. I used needle nose pliers and some snips to peel the aluminum back and cut it approximately 4” from each of the ends. This will eventually be used for the lighting and habitat access. I left the 4” on each side to help with renegade ants that may break the laws of gravity and escape containment.*

I applied the RTV sealant where the old had been creating a nice black frame like effect around the window while adding a protective barrier for the glass. I wanted to make sure there were no holes in the habitat. The only way I could think of to do this was fill it with water. “...and the people rejoiced” because there were no holes!

It should be mentioned that the RTV sealant has a very strong odor. Anyone that is reading this obviously is aware that proper ventilation is necessary when using this product. I thought it was suited the job just fine. It protected the glass, stuck well, sealed well, touch, durable, etc...

* This would be bad. Real bad.

    Step 2: Step 2 Habitat Landscaping


    Having our individual likes and dislikes I couldn't make up my mind on the sand. I was not aware of how many different types of sand is available. The giant home improvement center's alone had around 5 distinctive types. For a base I decided to go with something that had some moisture and was fine grained. The “play sand”, as it was labeled, sold for $4 and came in only one size. Since art was part of my objective, I made a trip to a Michael's arts and crafts store and purchased (2) $3 bags of colored sand. Available in much smaller sizes which was perfect for my needs. They had a bunch of different colors but I didn't have the resolve to walk around in Michaels' to figure out what color I wanted. (it's more of a personal problem with me and making up my mind). In addition, I came across a glass tile square at Home Depot. I picked it up solely based on the fact that the colors caught my eye.

    A quick funnel was devised out of a manila envelope. The whole funnel concept was necessary but needed some flexibility. Using a soda can, I distributed the play sand until it was roughly 3/8ths full. With some crafty distribution techniques I created some terrain. Some valleys and hills and a simple plateau were in the makings.

    Took the glass tile sheet and popped off the individual rectangles from the netting they were glued onto. I happened to have a square steel hollow piece that would act as my containing piece and piled the little glass rectangles inside. Dropping a sledge hammer head down the shaft, broke up the glass at a descent rate. I kept doing this until I had a desired size. Chunky purple glass and purple glass dust were the end results. This was sifted for by products and then layered on top of the play sand highlighting low and high spots through the farm. Next, I layered the black and white sand with the same general technique. Ants displace a good amount of earth from what I guessed. The hope is that when the ants start tunneling they will drag the white and black sand through out the nest and maybe distribute the purple dust giving it reflective highlights.

    I wanted to add some sort of obstacle to force them to work harder. Since they are a fantastic social insect and from what learned from the research, they are basically the quinticensial definition of teamwork. Thus, I decided to give them a God. In a “what did you do Ray? ...Stay Puft Marshmellow “ fashion, I kept thinking about the monolith from the 2001 Space Odyssey. I had premonitions of ants making the monolith their God. Can't tell you why it kept popping in my head but it did, so I did something about it. I placed a “monolith” on the center hill and buried it with white sand. Put some of the chunky glass tile that I had broken up and dropped it around the top.

    Step 3: Step 3 Habitat Mounting


    Now this was a problem. I could not, for the life of me, find a bracket that was right. I settled on a $14 wall mount support from Home Depot. Aside from the steep price which I was not happy about and due to the fact I was running out of time, I ran with it.

    Pictured, I used the 3M Industrial Strength epoxy that was specifically made for glass and aluminum. This 1 part white and 1 part black epoxy was quickly tested on some of the 1/2” U shaped aluminum. From this I determined to give it a shot and this set the wheels into motion. Using levels and clamps and my dressers (garage is in “re-mod” phase) I was able to get a good “bite” with the clamps to allow the epoxy to do its thing. I took action photos of the deed in progress. Found the middle, used the clamps the levels and keep it straight as possible.

    Installed the support ledge *** and top bracket to hold securely in place.

    *** Footnote: I have to share the experience I had with this particular step. The 2nd sentence in paragraph 2 refers to a quick “test”. The following morning, while drinking coffee I decided to haphazardly apply some pressure on the test pieces and they immediately broke apart. This triggered an almost instantaneous flight response to my ant farm. I hurried (by hurried I mean sprinted) up the stairs and over the catwalk where I came to the door jam. Grabbing onto the door jam, preparing to use my arm as a pivoting point to swing into the room, it caused me to jolt the wall with some force which in turn caused the mount to break. Before my very eyes I saw the impending doom and literally dove against the wall in an effort to save my instructable. At this point my cat like reflexes and total disregard for my own safety but my overwhelming desire to win this contest empowered me to successfully prevent this from happening. Although destroying a little project table, any organization I happened to maintain on it and a LCD screen, I did manage to catch that sucker as it slid straight down the wall. Upon successfully achieving, admittedly self anointed, “Instructable Immortality” and the noise that comes with this type “extra curricular activity”, it attracted the attention of the One's closest to me.  Who in turn were more worried about the ants then me.  Have to love them.  I would like to make it clear, since obviously, some people do stupid things that doesn't mean you should. So whatever, it was funny, dangerous, potentially hazardous and I got real lucky. This is the reason for the “Support Ledge” caveat.

    Step 4: Step 4 Ant Population and Insertion

    Ordering the ants online causes them to be delivered on your door step a few days later.  The suspense mounts and the excitement builds.  The ants are aggressive and alert. They get upset easily and will not waver or pander to your demands. Respect the ant and you just might be spared. 

    A funnel out of an envelope and cardboard strips folded in half was created. I the cardboard strips were used to keep the bottom from closing up, creating a clog effect. Remember this suspended animation stuff is rough stuff. Once second you have everything under control and nobody is moving anywhere, when low and behold you turn your head and sneeze. Allowing the soldiers to reanimate and breakout from whatever you thought you could control them in. They will over run you if you are not careful.

    Step 5: Step 5 Arduino Uno - Microprocessor Integration

    This step has been deleted twice now.  I almost hate to type it again.  The Uno has firmware issue that really prevented me from achieving complete fun with this Ant Farm.  The temperature sensor, Dallas 1-Wire, was to control some ambient lighting around the ant farm and then the user controlled habitat lighting.  Whatever this is all about it wasn't working for me. I couldn't get it into DFU mode for whatever reason. 

    But did I quit? No.
    Did I let it discourage me? No.
    What was I prepared to do about it? i had no clue but I was sure as heck going to figure it out immediately.

    I kept the concept simplified and just eliminated the temp sensor idea. The arduino uno wired to a voltage booster circuit that fed my buck toot with power.  The buck toot then in turn supplied a more than a bakers dozen in lighting in the end. The voltage circuit can be referenced here.
    The LED's were wired in a parallel

    I took some 1/2" inch plastic hollow tubes as picture below and cut off the sides to allow it to go in between the glass and give it a sealed like appearance.  The lighting worked out better than expected as it stuck to the glass and give it a very defined lines of luminosity.

    Step 6: Step 6 Administer Sugar Water & Watch Them Dig.

    With a neat little syringe with a neat hose attachment I delivered water into the habitat. For one reason or another I wanted to get it around the "Monolith".  Whatever area i saturated with sugar water became a hang out spot. They moved as fast as i had seen them move to these sugar pools. The pictures below will show the imagery I am getting as a result of this ant farm.  I came across a old telescope lens and it enhances the users involvement expotentially.

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