Get your moisture levels right!

We are often asked how best to maintain an ant farm to get the best out of it and make it as homely for the ants as possible. If you are using one of the traditional-type farms, the most important thing is moisture. The kits come fully provided with a sufficient amount of the right grade of sand, but it is important that it has the right moisture content.You’ve tried building sandcastles on the beach, right? Then you’ll know that dry sand is completely useless for sandcastle building. The sand grains don’t stick together and it just flows around all over the place. What you need is moisture. You’ll also know that if you have too much water then what have you got? Mud! Mud may be great for pigs and hippos but its no good for sandcastles (or ants!) because mud flows around all over the place too.

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worker antYou need a moisture content that is somewhere in between to make a nice firm sandcastle that won’t fall apart as soon as it’s touched. To stop their tunnels collapsing, this is what the ants in an ant farm need too. It depends a bit on the particle size of the sand supplied with the ant farm kit, but usually about one part of water to eight parts of sand is about right and the important thing is to keep the moisture content right all the time. Too much water and you’ve got collapsing tunnels, too little water and you’ve still got collapsing tunnels.

In nature ants will often incorporate ventilation systems into their nests with which they can control the humidity within the nest. This isn’t just for sand control, it’s also a means of preventing fungal infections breaking out within the nest.

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Get it just right and the ants will be happy and you’ll be happy too. In the new gel-type ant farms, such as this LED Illuminated Gel Ant Farm

two ants

moisture isn’t an issue because the water is contained within the gel medium but if it’s a traditional two-plate ant farm that you’re considering then this is something you’ll need to be aware of. Once your sand is sandwiched inside the ant farm the rate of drying will be very slow, so it’s important to get it right from the word go. The kit will usually contain explicit instructions about how much water to use for the amount of sand provided but if it doesn’t, or if you’re building your own ant farm from wood and glass, try these tips.

Firstly you need to ensure that the sand has the same moisture level throughout; it’s no good if some of your sand is moist and the rest of it dry. Tip your sand into a large glass jar with a screw top lid. Add water to about 12% of the weight of the sand. Electronic scales are good for this. Put on the lid and give the jar a good shake to try to spread the moisture throughout the mix. Leave the jar to settle for a day or so to let the water molecules move through the mix.

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Then try the pinch test. Pinch a small amount of the sand between your finger and thumb if it stands up in a little spike then it’s probably about right. If it collapses immediately due to being to wet, spread the sand out on a baking tray or something similar for about ten minutes to allow some of the water to evaporate. then try again. If it collapses because it’s too dry then obviously, add a little more water and do the jar thing again. It’s crucial to get this right otherwise your ants will suffer through not being able to tunnel effectively.