On Farming Ants

Last year for her birthday, Fiona received an ant farm. My friend, who gifted it to her, had purchased two, one for each of our daughters. She gave one to us, she said, so that someone else could try it out and tell her how it was before she tried it. A resounding endorsement.

I’m such a good guinea pig, that I put off trying it until now, eleven months later. Fiona has been pushing me to get her a ” ‘spirment animal” like tadpoles or caterpillars that she could ” ‘sberve”. So, I being a little cheep, thought, “What the heck, we’ll order some lousy ants and let her watch them.”

And so I set up the farm, and wrote a check for a bizarre amount of money. You want $12.95 for 30 ants? I could probably pay the neighbor kids a quarter each per ant and save money. ant_farm_1  In retrospect…


So several weeks pass, Fiona impatiently asks me every day when her ants will arrive. “Soon. Soon,” I assure her.

Have you ever noticed that no matter what happens it will always happen at the worst possible moment? It’s a weird universal constant that the dishwasher only breaks, the sink only backs up, the fridge goes out the day you have people over for dinner. The washing machine only breaks right before an important meeting or a long trip.  I believe that’s why the ants arrived on Saturday.

You see on Saturday I was helping to host a baby-shower for one of my friends. I had to move locations at the last second because of the heat. I had baked a cake and frosted it, decorated, planned games, and ran from the moment I got up. So, at 12:30 when the mailman handed me an envelope as I was running between the outdoor picnic area where we were meeting and my home where I had everything I needed. I hardly paused to glance at it.

Except that it had a giant sticker on the outside, “LIVE ANIMALS. OPEN IMMEDIATELY.”

What? Really? Today? Blah, later. The ants will be fine for a couple of hours while I finish what I’m doing. Right? Right? I don’t want to kill the expensive little buggers.

Okay, well then, oh well. I can’t deal with it at the moment so they’re going to have to be tough.


Five hours later, I was feeling remarkably guilty and frustrated as I had been coerced into an outing to the pool after we were finished with the shower. Jeez. No problem, I’ll just take a quick minute and shove these little guys into the farm. That way I can go enjoy the pool and not worry that I’m being a horrible ant killer.

I pick up the tube of ants, they look pretty lethargic. I pop the top off the farm. I pop the top off the tube.  I begin to gently try to shake the ants from the tube into the farm.  Only ants. Suddenly, lively, active, fast ants are on the move. Lively, fast, FREAKING RED ANTS!  I jump back and recap the tube in my hand while yelling at my husband to grab some cups. We slap cups over the escaping ants.

One, two three, four, five, and five in the  farm. Seriously, what the heck kind of system is this? The mouth of the tube of ants doesn’t fit in the opening of the farm. The ants are wicked fast. And as I stare at the horrible little bastards through the glass wall of a shot glass they wave fierce huge mandibles at me. This is, for the record, not at all what I signed up for. Where are my happy little non-biting black ants? This is not intuitive. I grab the directions.

“When your ants arrive, be sure to read the directions that come with
them. Before you open the tube of ants, put it in the refrigerator (not the
freezer) for about 15 minutes. This makes them less active and much
easier to put into the habitat. They will soon “warm up” to start working. “

Oh. Well then. If at first you don’t succeed, read the owner’s manual.

I put the tube in the fridge, set a timer and tried to fathom how to retrieve five ants from under individual shot glasses while Fiona danced around me nervously, “Are those my ants? Will they bite? Maybe I should go change my dress? What if they get on me? Can I hold them? Can I put them in, Mommy? Are those my ants?”

Jeff meandered over to help. What had been a quick, toss them in, and go to the pool, was rapidly turning into a difficult task.

We found a piece of card stock and working together carefully jostled one ant from the cup into the farm. The next one escaped us and a quick frantic search of the table ensued. After recapturing it under a cup we finally we put those five alarmingly fast ants into the farm.

The timer beeped.

Ten in. Twenty to go. Still, these should go easier, right? The instructions state “less active and easier to put in”. This time it will be fine. We read the directions. No probs.


I would like to note, it was NOT easier. They were NOT lethargic. They were still wicked mandibled little speed demons on crack.  (Uncle Milton, you’re a jerk!)

Still, practice makes perfect. We got many of them in. Only four escaped. This time Jeff waved me away, “Go to the pool. I’ll get them in.”

And he did.

So, my friend, Gift-er of Ants,

Having been your guinea pig in the farming of ants, I have advice for you:

1. The ants you will receive by mail are red, biting ants.

2. They are freaking fast.

3. Follow the directions, but I would recommend at least 25 minutes in the fridge.

4. The plastic tube that comes with the farm to connect it to another farm? That thing fits into the openings on the sides of the farm and also slides neatly into the ant shipping tube. I think that using that tube to get the ants into the farm would be a big improvement over the “gently shake the ants into the farm” method.

5. Keep a shot glass (or five) handy.

6.  I love you, Sweetie, so this one is the important part:  Give the other ant farm away. Preferably to someone you dislike. Intensely.