Living Art - Ant Farm




This ant farm is both interactive and educational! We created this to tie in elements from our environmental science class, as well as community outreach. The farm is part of our daycare center, where the children can interact, learn, and take care of its inhabitants. All of the materials are available at your local hardware store. It's simple and fun to do.

Step 1:

Step 2: Prepare the Acrylic

The over all size of your living art piece is entirely up to you. We started with two sheets of .22"-thick acrylic measuring 30" by 36". After determining that the optimal inside with of the enclosure was going to be about .5" we used the table saw and cut one strip from the bottom and side of each sheet. This gave us the new sheet dimension of 29.5" by 35.5". These strips will be used to help seal the inside of the enclose during assembly.

Step 3: Building the Frame

We decide to keep the build as clean looking as possible and strong, we decided encase the outside of the enclosure in a wooden frame. We first prototyped the framing material out of MDF. The material we would be making the final assembly out of measured 1.5" by 0.75". We wanted the sheets of acrylic to be separated, yet held firmly in place, and to have a place for our acrylic strips to get fastened in. After coming up with a design we liked, we replicated the design out of 8' lengths of pine.

Step 4: Laying Out the Parts

After the pine was cut, we laid out the parts to ensure that everything would go together as planned. After double checking our work, we were able to mark out the frame pieces to begin assembly.

Step 5: Assembling the Frame

The frame assembly is actually fairly simple. We decided the simples way to assemble the parts were with the use of rabbit joints. The increased surface area resulted in a tight corner that created the "pocket" we needed to hold the acrylic. To mark the parts, we inserted the acrylic sheets into the framing material and marked directly off the sheet. We worked our way around the frame and marked each piece off of the previous the to determine length of the next. Actually no measuring involved.

Step 6: Enclosure Opening

We wanted to keep the opening in the top secure and simple. To make the opening, we clamped the top to the table saw with the dado blade installed. We aligned everything and slowly raised the blade to cut the opening. Once cut, we used a scroll saw to square out the opening. A piece of pine was marked and rabbited to fit the opening.

Step 7: Installing the Acrylic

Installing the acrylic is fairly simple. We assembled the sides and bottom of the frame together using 18-gauge brad nails and a moisture resistant glue. As a last minute thought, there was concern of the weight of the sand pushing the sheets of acrylic apart inside the frame. To reduce this pressure, we decided to install a couple of standoff in the middle of the acrylic to hold them together. We marked and drilled holes in the sheets to correspond with one another. To hold the acrylic in the frame, we used aquarium safe silicone. We spread silicone into the channels we had cut and inserted the sheets. To keep the sheets clean and scratch free, we removed the protective film from only the edges of the sheet on the outside and the entire film on the inside. We used the same silicone to adhere our acrylic strips to the inside. There was a little amount of trimming of the strips required to make them fit properly. Then we installed the second piece of acrylic. Once everything was in place and silicone, we installed the standoffs to hold it all together.

Step 8: Closing the Frame

We attached the top with glue and brad nails and silicone around the outside edges to get a better seal. In order to attach the trim and hangers in the later steps we needed to install blocks around the perimeter to attach the parts to. This was done with brad nails and moisture resistant glue.

Step 9: Trimming It Out

To dress the frame up and make it look more like a picture frame, we decided to use white door / window trim. We measured the material to length and mitered the corners to fit properly. As an added support on the lower back, we decided to make bracing out of some 0.125" hardboard. We glued and nailed the supports in place.

Step 10: Hanging the Art

We did some research and found out the approximate weight for a cubic foot of damp sand. We then determined the volume of our enclosure (to the level we intended to fill it) and calculated that weight of the sand would be approximately 18-pounds. That added with the frame weight would yield a overall weight around 40-pounds. Just to be safe while hanging it, we opted for using picture hanging wire for 100-pounds. We placed hangers on the sides and bottom. This way, while it hangs, the bottom of the frame will be supported.

Step 11: Finalizing the Project

With the assembly complete, we decided to add some artwork to the back to make the enclosure more interesting. The overall assembly came together very nicely and will allow us to monitor our colony in an attractive way.

Step 12: The Ants Are Home!

After anxiously waiting for our ants to arrive, they are finally here! We hung the enclosure on the wall using several heavy duty hangers. The sand in the enclosure needed to be slightly moistened so we poured some water in and waited for it to adsorb. Finally, we introduced the ants to their new home with several pieces of leftover produce. Overnight, the ants began tunneling through the sand!

The children in the daycare are really enjoying watching the new residents at work!

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    13 Discussions

    Metro STEAM

    4 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks everyone for viewing and following our project. We introduced the ants to the enclosure yesterday and by this morning, we had tunnels appearing throughout the entire enclosure!


    We are really excited about the result and are looking forward to watching our new family in their new home.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Great work!

    What kind of table saw blade did you use to cut the acrylic plastic sheets? (I keep cracking the plastic when I try to saw it!)

    Thanks for posting this!

    1 reply

    We use a 100-tooth narrow kerf plywood blade. We found the best way to keep the material from chipping along the cut is to keep the blade height just above the material height. To give you an example of how we set it, we set the blade to the thickness of the material plus the thickness of a business card. Also, going slow with a constant feed speed helps. Thanks for the question / comment!


    4 years ago

    Make sure there are no openings and that the lid has a good seal.. When these tip over it's not a fun day. Nor a fun week.

    1 reply
    Metro STEAMTheDevil13

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    That was actually one of our biggest fears... We took the time to put extra sealant around the acrylic to help seal things up. For the lid, we took more of a FTF (Force-To-Fit) approach to ensure that nothing would sneak out. Kind of like a large rectangular cork. Thanks for the concern!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Neat idea! So, I've always been curious; how does one start an ant farm? Do you order ants from a company or just collect from outside?

    1 reply

    We ordered our ants from an ant farm supply company. They determined the number of ants we needed based on volume of the enclosure