Formicarium

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Ants tunneling through a formicarium

A formicarium or ant farm is a vivarium which is designed primarily for the study of ant colonies and how ants behave. Those who study ant behavior are known as myrmecologists.

History[edit]

The first commercially-sold formicarium was introduced around 1929 by Frank Eugene Austin (1873-1964 [1]), an inventor and professor at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College.[2][3] He received a patent for it on June 16, 1931,[4][5] as well as further patents for its continued development.[6][7] Austin included painted or wooden scenes of palaces, farms, other settings above the ground level, for a whimsical look. In 1956, Milton Levine, founder of Uncle Milton Industries, created his own version of an ant farm, reportedly independently from Frank Austin; Levine got the idea during a Fourth of July picnic he was attending.[8][9]

Levine coined (and registered [10]) the term ant farm, or rather Ant Farm®, for his product. Austin may not have used this term; in his patents, the formicarium is referred to as an "educational apparatus" and "scenic insect cage", and in the 1936 magazine article about Austin's device, it is repetitively being called an ant palace.

Materials[edit]

A formicarium is usually a transparent box made of glass or plastic. Ant farms are usually made thin enough so the tunnels and cavities made by the ants can be seen and their behavior can be studied. They can be filled with soil, loam, sand, vermiculite, other mineral fragments, or sawdust. Newer formicariums may be filled with semi-transparent gel (pictured above), which provides nutrition, moisture and a medium for the ants to nest but does not supply a source of protein which is essential for the queen and larvae.

Other types of formicariums are those made with plaster, autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC), or simply with no medium. Plaster nests can be made by placing modeling clay on a glass panel in the form of tunnels and chambers. The plaster is poured onto the mold and when it has dried the clay is removed and the remaining structure can be used for housing ants. The ants in this type of formicarium are very easily seen. Mediumless formicariums can be in any container, with the ants staying in moist test tubes or other small containers. This also allows for better visibility, but can be less interesting because no digging takes place.

Whether ants dig or not, e.g., tree ants, a formicarium can be designed so that it is free-standing, and not enclosed or lidded like a vivarium. A free-standing design does not require high walls and a lid, but rather relies on barriers to secure the ants within their habitat; barriers include those listed below, and may include a moat of vegetable oil.

Formicarium with AAC nest and Talcum for escape prevention

Often, containing ants inside a formicarium can be a challenge. Several substances are used to repel the ants, including vegetable oil, petroleum jelly, or PTFE ("Teflon"). They are applied to the side of the formicarium to prevent escape. These substances are generally too slippery or sticky for the ants to walk on. Despite this, some species of ants can build bridges of debris or dirt on the substance to escape, while others demonstrate that some individuals can walk on the substance without impedance. A formicarium owner may well make use of two or more security measures.

Another way of preventing the ants from escaping is to place the entire formicarium in a shallow container of water, creating a moat.

For the first three days, a formicarium owner has to let the ants get used to their new environment. This can be done by putting a black towel over the formicarium. However, some formicarium owners shake their formicarium every few days so the tunnels cave in. This practice allows owners to reset the formicarium and observe their ants dig tunnels all over again. This practice, however, is done at the owner's (and his/her ants) risk, as it may compromise the safety of the ants.

Popular culture[edit]

The fact that the term "ant farm" is covered by a trademark received notoriety when Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, used the phrase in one of his comic strips. Upon using the term "ant farm", Adams subsequently received threatening letters from Uncle Milton industries' attorneys, demanding a retraction for the unauthorized use of the phrase "ant farm" in his comic strip.

In reaction to the legal threat, Adams satirized the incident in a later comic strip. In that strip, Dilbert asked for a substitute for the trademarked phrase "ant farm", looking for another word for "a habitat for worthless and disgusting little creatures." To which the character Dogbert replied "Law school." [11][12]

"Ant Farm" is a song by the band Eels appearing on their album Electro-Shock Blues.

A Disney Channel TV Series is called A.N.T. Farm.

Antfarm is a South African based online broadcast / streaming services provider - http://www.antfarm.co.za

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Anonyous (2011 (acc. January 15, 2014)). "Biography & History.". Dartmouth College Library. 
  2. ^ KC Cramer (April, 1993 (acc. January 14, 2014)). "The Austin ant house.". Dartmouth College Library. 
  3. ^ Anonymous (May 1, 2006 (acc. January 14, 2014)). "The Original Ant Farm (Jun, 1936).". Modern Mechanix. 
  4. ^ SM Scott (2009 (acc. January 15, 2014)). "Toys and American Culture: An Encyclopedia.". ABC-CLIO, LLC. 
  5. ^ FE Austin (June 16, 1931 (acc. January 15, 2014)). "US Patent 1,810,745. F.E. Austin. Educational Apparatus.". USPTO. 
  6. ^ FE Austin (May 11, 1937 (acc. January 18, 2014)). "US Patent 2,080,160. F.E. Austin. Scenic Insect Cage.". USPTO. 
  7. ^ FE Austin (September 26, 1939 (acc. January 18, 2014)). "US Patent 2,174,305. F.E. Austin. Scenic Insect Cage.". USPTO. 
  8. ^ Carlyn Main (2014 (acc. January 14, 2014)). "History of the Ant Farm.". Techmedia Network. 
  9. ^ Dennis Hevesi (January 29, 2011 (acc. January 14, 2014)). "Milton M. Levine, Inventor of Ant Farm, Dies at 97.". NY Times. 
  10. ^ Anonymous (January 8, 2009 (acc. January 18, 2014)). "Word Mark: ANT FARM (renewal).". USPTO. 
  11. ^ Stacy Cowley (March 7, 2007). "'Dilbert' Creator, Open-Source Maverick Address EclipseCon". CRN. 
  12. ^ Scott Adams, "Dilbert," United Feature Syndicate, Inc., December 30, 1995