Ant Farms…ant farms…ant farms…probably one of the most popular science project toys today is the ant farm. What in the world is making these toys so popular?
First of all, ant farms are self-contained. That is, of course, if you don’t have an over-zealous child who thinks it would be neat to see the ants running all over the place and opens the colony up! Second, ant farms can pretty much work in all seasons. Unlike some of the other nature projects like butterfly or ladybug cultivation, ant farms are accessible year round. Lastly, ant farms are timeless. I had an ant farm when I was a kid and couldn’t resist the urge to re-hash that childhood enjoyment with my own children. I used to watch the ants for hours (or what seemed like hours, but was probably only minutes to my poor parents).
Ant farm colonies seem to be constantly in motion. Rarely will all your ants be taking a break at the same time. PLEASE NOTE: If all your ants are on a break it may be time to get new ants!
I’m sure others could find additional reasons as to why ant farms seem to be the “toy du jour”, but what I hear from many folks who want an ant farm is “which one is best”? Of course, the answer to that question will depend on what you’re looking for, but here are some factors to consider when shopping for an ant farm.
The size of your ant colony is going to dictate how many ants you can comfortably suit and, most importantly, how much effort it will take to manage it. There are a variety of sizes, from the mini size (see GeoSafari Mini Ant Factory) to the more standard sizes (Uncle Milton Ant Farm, GeoSafari AntZone) and then the larger sizes (Uncle Milton Giant Ant Farm).
The larger size ant farms are great for classroom observation, while the smaller size may be adequate enough for the inquistive child who simply wants to get a “taste” of what keeping ants is like. Additionally, some models offer the capability to tie separate farms together to increase the living space of the ant colony (Uncle Milton Ant Farm Village).
The substance of your ant farm is also important. While sand is still a mainstay option, recent ant farms have come out with new options, such as the gel colonies offered by Fascinations and Uncle Milton. Gel colonies are based on a nutrient-enriched gelatinous mixture that can feed the ants while they work to remove it, so the entire habitat is self-contained requiring no additional food (read that as no need to open up the ant farm, if you are worried about ants in your house). Also, some of these ant farms provide an illuminated version which makes for exciting fun when you turn off all the lights in your house to sit at the table watching the ants work. Also note, the illuminated ant farms can double as a night light for your kids. There are other options as well, for instance the Anthill from Insect Lore. To be sure, gone are the days of the “sand is your only option” ant colonies.
While the old ant “farm” concept is still out there with tractors and barns galore, one can find lots of new themes for your ant colony to help inspire your children’s enjoyment. Some of my personal favorites are the Ant Farm Village and Xtreme Ant Farm. The illuminated Antworks colonies from Fascinations are also interesting and great fun for your kids to turn off all the lights and watch their ants work. This year Antworks has added two new colors (red and green) as well, which will be available later this spring.
Ultimately, we recommend you go with an ant farm that suits your child’s interests because ultimately it is their degree of interest that will dictate just how viable a learning environment their ant farm will be. Whichever option you choose, remember learning about ants in a “real world” environment like an ant farm will certainly provide hours of enjoyment for you and your kids.