God's Clean Up Crew




using basic carpentry skills i'm going to show you how to make a giant ant farm out of scrap i had just laying around .this is a great way to view how ants live, dig, eat, and just interact with one another .it's also a great way to teach kids about the importance of ants and their role in the world

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Step 1: Tools and Materials


-3/4" ply wood (design dimensions will be dictate how much you require)
-plate glass (the other factor that will dictate how much wood you require)
-wood glue and or silicon or latex caulk
-1 screws
-door and window foam weather striping
-sand (this one required 50 lbs)


-eye and ear protection
-skill or table saw
-router and 1/4 straight bit
-cordless drill
-ratchet bar claps
-drill bit
-counter sink bit
-phillips screw driver bit
-large dry wall square
-tape measure

Step 2: Design

after i gathered my materials i could then decide on a final size of the ant farm .the scrap piece of 3/4 plywood i got was 4' x 14 3/4 and my 2 pieces of glass were 27 x 13 1/8 and 1/4 thick

i knew i wanted the area between the glass to be 3 wide .which meant my final size of the side pieces measure 27 x 6 1/2 .the base measures 14 3/4 x 8 1/8 .and the top measures 8 x 11 3/8 .and you will also need two support strips that hold the top together the measure 2 x 11 3/8

Step 3: Construction

now that you have your final measurements and materials its time to get building .take the measurements that you've decided on and transfer them to your plywood .once you have done that there are several different ways to go about cutting the wood .skill saw, table saw, jigsaw or even a router (they aren’t just for making stuff perdy)


i decided on using my skill saw .measure from the blade to the edge of the guide and clamp the drywall square to the ply to insure a perfectly straight cut .once you have all your pieces cut to correct dimensions its time to dice


or grooving if you prefer either way there are several different ways to do this .one way is using a table saw and either a dado blade set up or a single blade and making several passes .or you do what i did which was use the router .again measure from the edge of the bit to the side of the base plate .clap the drywall square to the plywood and ensure you maintain a constant steady pressure of the routers base plate against the square .the router will want to wonder into the softer wood which doesn't follow the line you have draw (yes this is past experience talking) .the glass pieces are 1/4 thick so i of coarse used a 1/4 straight bit for the routing

Step 4: Assembly

now that all of your pieces are cut and grooved it's time to assemble .start by holding the base and one side piece tight together .it does make it easier if you have help .predrill and countersink the screw holes .the screw the side to the base .after you have done that place the glass in grooves and clamp the other side piece in place to make sure you have them side as tight to the glass as possible .once you have the fit perfect (or as perfect as you can get it) carefully place the whole thing on its side to allow you to predrill, counter sink, and screw the side on .the bottom clamps can be removed but you should leave on the top one until you put on the top support braces (after the step below) place the foam door and window stripping around the top .and go ahead and caulk all of the the seems to make sure the ants can't escape

rather then putting another step on filling the sand i'll just tell you about it here .dump in the sand .pick up the entire thing and let it tap on the ground several times to pack the sand nice and tight

Step 5: Getting the Ants

if you wanted to buy ants online with a queen i say go for it .but i just went down to the park at the end of the street where there were plenty of ant hills so i got my shovel and a bucket with a lid that closed tightly (very important) .i would recommend spraying off or some other type of insect spray on your hands to keep any ants from biting

unfortunately the majority of ants we have around here are fire ants .they not only bit but they have a stinger since they evolved from the wasp .another unfortunate trait of the fire ant is that they are extremely temperamental and defensive .so if their nest is disturbed they swarm .so its important to act fast and precise to limit the contact with the ants .once again its a good idea to spray with off to discourage the ants from biting

get your bucket ready and close to the mound .if the mound has grass growing up threw it you will need to pierce the mound multiple times to cut the grass and allow you to scoop the dirt into the bucket .get as many shovels full as possible into your bucket and quickly place the lid back on .depending on how many ants you want you many need to go to more then one nest .but try not to as ants from different mounds act like the jets and sharks .minus the singing and dancing

the easiest way to separate the ants from the dirt of their mound is to get a large bucket or tub .fill it with some water and pour in the entire contents of the bucket dirt grass ants and all .wait and you will start seeing the ants float to the top and then start to gather together into "ant rafts" .with a spoon or something like it push the small rafts together to make a larger and larger ant raft .once you're satisfied with the amount of ants floating on top .scoop them up and place them in the ant farm they will take awhile to get moving around after having been wet but once they dry out some they will start to dig .fast and deep .it only took the ants i collected a day and a half to dig 18 down and reach the bottom of the farm

Step 6: Conclusion

this was a fun project to build .i learned a lot about fire ants tunneling habits, eating habits, and origin through out the building of this project .i was also able to teach my nephews what i had learned about the ants, as well as basic carpentry skills

being able to feed the ants left over food that was past its prime, rather then discarding it is a plus since i hate wasting food .i was also able to use up pieces of material that had no other uses not to mention learning and gaining more appreciation ants .which i like to refer to as god's clean up crew as i'm sure you read how i titled it

.as in my other instructables constructive criticism is always welcomed and i hope you enjoyed reading and are inspired to build an ant farm of your own

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    15 Discussions


    5 years ago

    Not "God's" clean up crew.......nature's cleanup crew. But I like your imagination


    5 years ago on Step 3

    I am not experienced in carpentry so please excuse my ignorance. I notice you mention a possible problem with the router wandering into the softer wood. If you used MDF instead of plywood wouldn't you eliminate that problem. Also wouldn't the MDF also be less prone to flexing? Seems flexing might not be good with glass. Although the thickness of plywood may not allow that much flex.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Step 3

    i have never worked with mdf but i would assume that since it is more consistent i don't think you would have a problem with the router wondering .as for flexing .i really couldn't say
    hope that helps
    good luck with your project

    I teach high school science and have been looking for a giant ant farm for my classroom. I can't make one myself - no skills at all that way. Would you be willing to make one and ship it if I paid you? I really love your idea. We have two museums up here - the Virginia Living Museum and the Virginia Aquarium. I work with people at both and if they saw one in my class they might also be interested. Sorry to hear you GF is so allergic to ants. Hopefully you can store it somewhere and perserve your ants over the winter.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Bravo! Great idea for science project or museum exhibit.

    What kind of sand did you use?
    I have some play sand but it's really fine and I was wondering if their tunnels would hold up in it.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    im not sure i got a queen  .if youre interested in collecting your own ants i would recommend doing some research on the types of ants in your area .trying to find out where in the mound the queen lives .i found threw my own research that the fire ants dig as far down as 25 feet  .but i dont recall finding out how deep the queen usually resides


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    and they can't speculate on the science channel? don't believe everything they say on tv, i'm not saying it's not true, it could be, but the truth is that scientists don't know for sure


    10 years ago on Step 5

    Another instructable says that ants can be captured by putting a bucket over their nest and lining the top inside rim with oil. Apparently the ants will try to climb into the bucket but slip on the oil, and be unable to get out.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Nice work!! Good to see another ant lover. The unit looks rather functional and also lends itself to being finished. If you were to edge that ply on the front face and stain the unit it could be placed in a lounge room as a center piece.

    How do you give your ants sugar?
    Do you find the colony consumes a lot of solid food?
    Were you able to find the queen?

    If you drilled multiple 1mm holes over the top the covered it from the inside with fine screen mesh you may get some good ventilation happening.
    Be very very careful when giving the ants food which is "past its prime". A mould break out in the lower quadrants of the nest will surely devastate the population.
    Another very interesting part of formicariums are the foraging areas. Not only is it amazing to watch their tunneling habits, it can also be astounding especially for children, to observe the foraging behaviours on a flat surface of area. Your setup could easily be adapted down the track to incorporate something similar to https://www.instructables.com/id/3_Foot_Tall_Ant_Nest_and_Foraging_Area_Authentic_/

    On a side note I keep Australian Bull ants. I should update my I'ble with photos of them in the nest.
    Here's a tiny pic, I didn't want to add load time to your I'ble with a heavy close ups.

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    to feed them i wait till early morning or late night when they have slowed in activity and then i unscrew the top .again while researching before this project i found fire ants prefer foods high in fat which i have found to be true .my mom cut the fat off some beef she was going to stew and i fed that to the little guys and it was all gone within an hour .and no i was not able to find a queen although i did get about 5 winged ants which are the "king" and queen potentials though i'm not sure if they will mate in captivity since it often takes place up in the sky oh and as much as i'd like to put that ant farm inside my girlfriend is highly allergic to them .as in a couple bite could kill her .so i'm not going to take that chance


    10 years ago on Introduction

    It is a generalised theory that most species of ant evolved from the common bull ant which closely resembles a wasp minus the wings, stinger and all.