i call the big one bitey

Months ago, I bought the supercool Antworks ant farm from Think Geek.

Six to eight weeks ago, I ordered the little critters who would amuse me endlessly
with their incessant tunneling, and waited for them to arrive. Yesterday, the wait ended.

Around ten in the morning, I put the ants into their new gel-filled home, and by three or so in the afternoon, they’d begun to tunnel down the side. Before bed last night, around twelve hours after they’d moved in, they reached the bottom of the habitat, and started to work their way over to the side.

Holy crap, man. I sat there and watched them dig their way across the bottom for close to thirty minutes. Because of the gel, I could see their mandibles pulling chunks out of the growing tunnel, and it looked like it was sort of blooming open.

When I got up this morning, I ran straight to the ants, and the picture here is what I found: they worked all night long, and have two growing tunnels across the whole thing. In fact, as I’ve been writing this, they’ve just broken through on the left side of the picture.

There are things here that still images can’t capture: it’s surprisingly satisfying to watch one ant start at the top of the habitat and work its way down into the tunnels. They all interact with each other in fantastically interesting ways, probing with their mandibles and antennae, and as far as I can tell, they never complain about the work. When they pass over the LEDs at the bottom of the thing, they cast this eerie shadow up into the gel that looks lie what you’d expect to see if The Abyss and Them! had a love child.

There are a couple more pictures of the habitat in my flickr stream.

42 thoughts on “i call the big one bitey”

  1. Wil:
    Sounds like fun! That reminds me of way back when … those sea monkeys that they used to advertise on the backs of comic books, those delightful pictures with them swimming around, doing tricks had a castle!!! Then the kids down the street got some and they looked a bit disappointing to me (NOT like the PICTURES! HEY!). I think the thrill was in the ordering of them! Your project is way cooler though! Have fun with your inner child (and the ants!)!
    Patricia from Canada

  2. My daughter’s preschool is waiting for their ants to arrive, so I showed her your pictures so she could see what the ant farm is going to look like. She says “Tell the boy I think his ants are pretty!”

  3. I am wondering does the kit come with a queen? If they don’t what kind of life span do they have?
    This kit makes me think of seamonkeys. Am I dating myself when I talk about them?

  4. Joe – I laughed so hard, I peed a little.
    loveoff – There is no queen, because they’re harvester ants. I have endured the appropriate amount of Liberal Guilt knowing that without a queen they’ll eventually realize their life has no meaning and die.
    Maybe I’ll play The Final Cut for them.

  5. LOL! That is an unfortunate truth. The fortunate thing is that she has moved to California and maybe, just maybe, there will be an earthquake will come and try to shake her off the planet. You know like when a person finds a big bug on the shoulder and they wiggle and gyrate until they can shake it off.

  6. :) Being a California native myself, I’d prefer no earthquake and simply let the entrance into mediocrity take care of Avril. No offense to any her fans out there.

  7. Sure she will drift into mediocrity, but we will all suffer later when she decides she is going to do an issue of Playboy. Do you think fans of Avril Lavigne would read a Wil Wheaton blog? No really how many fans of Avril Lavigne read this blog?

  8. I must know more about this thing…is it reusable or no? I’m thinking it couldn’t be unless you can ‘reset’ the gel. It’s things like this that are the reason that every once in awhile I get a ‘bug’ up my butt and have to sit for hours watching ant/bug shows on TLC or Discovery. It’s just very interesting.
    psst…any word on that RFB archive type link?

  9. Sad but true, the inventor of Sea Monkeys was a white supremicist and money from the sale of sea monkeys products goes to the Aryan Nations. (google it if you don’t believe me)

  10. Just what I’ve been looking for. I never liked Uncle Milton’s ant farms from the school supply stores, this is just in time for my son’s birthday!

  11. Wil, you are the Geek King, in the coolest way. That ant farm rocks. If I wasn’t seriously afraid of my toddlers knocking it down, no matter where I put it, and releasing the ants all over my house, I’d get one. You’re awesome.

  12. I just got one of those on my desk at work but I’m still waiting for my ants to arrive. 6 to 8 weeks did you say? How hard can it be to mail ants!

  13. To Terrymr – I couldn’t find a very reliable source on the Aryan Nations claim. The best I could do was his obituary in the Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/12/24/db2403.xml&sSheet=/opinion/2003/12/24/ixopright.html) that mentioned such allegations in the Washington Post in the 80s. Washingtonpost.com didn’t turn up anything. At any rate, the current owners of Sea Monkeys didn’t appear (in a quick glance) to have any untoward Nazi connections. So enjoy your new friends guilt-free, Wil! Well, except for the whole limited lifespan thing.

  14. Does anybody else remember the UNIX program “xantfarm”? (At least, I think that is what is was called.) Man, I know it was not real ants or anything, but you could sit and watch THAT for hours, too…

  15. Ooh – I like the gel idea, never heard of it before. Reminds of how we used to try and raise tadpoles in elementary science, only they’d be injected with something so you could see through. No wonder they kept dying, poor little freaks of nature… But ants + glowing goo=geeky sweetness. Wish I could watch insects nibble stuff for thirty minutes, hehe. And who cares if sea monkeys are dated – I’m sad I missed out on growing a few of those for myself. =)
    P.S. Jaded, your daughter’s comment was the cutest thing I have heard all day. Thanks for that.

  16. *bows head in shame* Yah…categories work well when someone is looking for something and should know to look on the sidebar…sorry

  17. Do you think fans of Avril Lavigne would read a Wil Wheaton blog? No really how many fans of Avril Lavigne read this blog? — WELL LOVE- I LIKE AVRIL. I like the music , To me I don’t really care much about the artists it’s the songs I like, and the tunes. SO YES, I READ THIS BLOG, AND I LIKE AVRIL’S MUSIC.. its all about the music.

  18. I got my ant habitat – and ants- in January. The ants are just now dying off. It has been *SO* fascinating to watch them! I keep doing photo updates on my blog. Some of my pics are here:
    A Live Journal friend sent me the link to your blog today because she saw the ant farm. I find some irony here in that I named my farm the “Donner-Borg Collective” and the only readily recognizable ant (they all look the same) only has four legs is known as “4 of 6.” 😀
    People had all kinds of questions – most can be answered on the FAQ here: http://www.antworkstoys.com

  19. Fascinating. I want one! I wish ThinkGeek had reasonable shipping options outside of the states. But it actually costs more in shipping for an Antworks than it does for the Antworks itself! Le sigh…

  20. Blue jello. How Stargate.
    When I was a kid, I would take a twig and cover up the ant holes just to see the little bugs dig themselves out. Or rub my finger along their path on the sidewalk and watch them wander around confused until they re-established the scent trail. Or put a drop of sugar water near a path and watch the ants pour out as the new food source was communicated back to the group. You had to keep an eye out then, or you could find yourself being investigated as the ants crawled up your ankles.
    A blue jello ant farm, while fascinating, seems too clean. Where’s the dirt? Where’s the sun beating down on your neck? The accidental ant bites?

  21. Perhaps you might have gone with “The Gel Kings” ??? Or if you want to be more blatant – “Zoned in on the Gel Kings” would be an option.
    I totally posted this comment in the wrong spot yesterday – the folks reading the “my mind is filled with silvery star” thread must really think I’m strange

  22. I got one of these and the first week kicked ass. (Got the mail order brides in less than a week).
    After 7 days they were done – meaning they just sleep all the time and aren’t making any new tunnels.
    And it’s been like that for the last 10 or so days easily.
    Mind you it was too cool to watch them build but what the hell triggered them to stop digging?(there’s tons of untouched gel)
    I’m thinking of getting them out and trying to reset the gel like you would a candel, heat the thing in a pot of hot water.
    Anyone try this sort of thing yet?

  23. Quick follow-up, I figured out how to reset the Gel.
    1) Remove the ants. I turned the Antworks Stand upside down and slid the gel and ants into a larger plastic (Tupperware) tub. If the Gel doesn’t slide easily, you may need to warm the sides.
    2) Discard the greenish (sort of moldy looking) gel as this mostly has their crap in it.
    2) Remove the remaining ants from the gel and break it into chunks in a glass measuring cup (or some easy to pour from, microwaveable container)
    3) Add a little hot water and break up the gel into a chunky paste.
    4) Heat in the microwave until it has a syrup consistency. It took me about 4 tries at 1 minute each. I would stir it up between each 1 minute heating.
    Note: the Gel really needs to be syrup like before you pour so if you need, add just a little more water.
    5) Pour into the Antworks stand and let cool overnight. You might see air bubbles but they should work their way out as it cools.
    6) Add ants to taste.
    My Girls started digging almost right away.
    I’m so mean. :)

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