THE FORMICARIUM - ANT FARM

A formicarium is an artificial or man made ant nest

 

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A serious hard case, giant ants from Australia

 

STUDIO - A studio with space to move is essential for making the composite artwork to make your robot ant look lifelike, as is a clean working environment for the electrics, electronics and the ability to test the DinoBot. Where Dino is just short of 3 meters long and 2 meters wide, a room the is large enough to drive the vehicle - or at least a room with clear access to the outside world will help development.

 

 

A formicarium is usually a small vivarium (Latin, literally for "place of life"; plural: vivaria or vivariums) is an area, usually enclosed, for keeping and raising animals or plants for observation or research. Often, a portion of the ecosystem for a particular species is simulated on a smaller scale, with controls for environmental conditions. A vivarium may be small enough to sit on a desk or table, such as a terrarium or an aquarium, or may be a very large structure, possibly outdoors.) designed for the study of ant behaviour. This has become a popular hobby. The study of any behaviour is known as myrmecology.

 

Our formicarium is a laboratory to allow us to develop and build the world's largest robot ant (to date). Our prototype is called Dino. Dino is a DinoBot. Unlike the Transformer dinosaur robots that are fictional rather than physical, our DinoBot is, as you can see, real and is to be fully functional in that is can walk, pick up objects in its jaws, see you and more .....

 

This laboratory doubles up as a studio and production unit to allow us to fabricate the components, complete artwork on the body shells and to conduct tests in private, should patents need to be filed at a later date - a near certainty once the various movements and drive train are perfected.

 

We started with a damp unit that had a very uneven concrete floor and open drains. This is hardly conducive to the making of advanced robots incorporating electronics and computers, so we had first to screed the floor and enclose the open drains with a manhole cover. The walls needed to be injected with silicone fluid at high pressure to create a damp proof membrane or DPC - and then the unit painted so that it is easier to focus on the work piece, not lose parts, etc.

 

Before any of this could take place, real ants were kept and studied to see how they move and interact. A real Bulldog ant specimen was measured optically for accuracy and large scale drawings produced so that a frame could be designed that could replicate most of the hexapod movements for smooth locomotion. Bear in mind that an insect has evolved over millions of years to be perfectly adapted to its surroundings, with muscles and ligaments for movements that are very difficult to replicate with simple rotary electric motors.

 

We would recommend that any engineer contemplating the construction of a large hexapod machine, should study ants in the wild or at least keep ants for a while to get to know the subject matter.

 

 

 

CONCRETE - There was a significant incline in the floor of this unit that was previously used to dry timber. Please note that this photograph is copyright © Jameson Hunter Ltd 4 July 2017. You will need permission from Jameson Hunter to be able to reproduce it. 

 

 

MYRMECOLOGY

Often, Ants are studied by engineers for biomimicry and by network engineers for more efficient networking. It is not known clearly how ants manage to avoid congestions and how they optimize their movements to work in most efficient ways without a central authority that would send out orders.

There have already been many applications in structure design and networking that have been developed from studying ants, but the efficiency of human-created systems is still not close to the efficiency of biological ant colonies.

Myrmecology (from Greek: μύρμηξ, myrmex, "ant" and λόγος, logos, "study") is a branch of entomology focusing on the scientific study of ants. Some early myrmecologists considered ant society as the ideal form of society and sought to find solutions to human problems by studying them. Ants continue to be a model of choice for the study of questions on the evolution of social systems because of their complex and varied forms of eusociality. Their diversity and prominence in ecosystems also has made them important components in the study of biodiversity and conservation. Recently, ant colonies are also studied and modeled for their relevance in machine learning, complex interactive networks, stochasticity of encounter and interaction networks, parallel computing, and other computing fields.

 

 

 

 

DRAINAGE - There was an open drain fed from two directions that we needed to preserve access to for inspection and routine maintenance. Please note that this photograph is copyright © Jameson Hunter Ltd 4 July 2017. You will need permission from Jameson Hunter to be able to reproduce it. 

 

 

HISTORY OF MYRMECOLOGY

The word myrmecology was coined by William Morton Wheeler (1865–1937), although human interest in the life of ants goes back further, with numerous ancient folk references. The earliest scientific thinking based on observation of ant life was that of Auguste Forel (1848–1931), a Swiss psychologist who initially was interested in ideas of instinct, learning, and society. In 1874 he wrote a book on the ants of Switzerland, Les fourmis de la Suisse, and he named his home La Fourmilière (the ant colony). Forel's early studies included attempts to mix species of ants in a colony. He noted polydomy and monodomy in ants and compared them with the structure of nations.

Wheeler looked at ants in a new light, in terms of their social organization, and in 1910 he delivered a lecture at Woods Hole on the “The Ant-Colony as an Organism,” which pioneered the idea of superorganisms. Wheeler considered trophallaxis or the sharing of food within the colony as the core of ant society. This was studied using a dye in the food and observing how it spread in the colony.

Some, such as Horace Donisthorpe, worked on the systematics of ants. This tradition continued in many parts of the world until advances in other aspects of biology were made. The advent of genetics, ideas in ethology and its evolution led to new thought. This line of enquiry was pioneered by E. O. Wilson, who founded the field termed as sociobiology.

 

 

 

SCREED - Using a relatively dry cement mix using sharp sand for strength, we set about floating in a level floor. You will need a long spirit level and to check the levels in all directions regularly. The task is relatively demanding needing a team of two men; one to mix consistently and the other with some experience to float the floor in. This photograph is copyright © Jameson Hunter Ltd 5 July 2017. You will need permission from Jameson Hunter to be able to reproduce it. 

 

 

FORMICARIUM INNOVATOR

The formicarium was invented by Charles Janet, a French entomologist and polymath, who had the idea of reducing the three dimensions of an ant nest to the virtual two dimensions between two panes of glass. His design was exhibited in the Exposition Universelle (1900) in Paris. Janet's invention was recognized by his promotion to Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honour, but he did not obtain a patent for, nor attempt to market, his creation.

 

 

PATENT & SALES - EDUCATIONAL APPARATUS

The first commercially sold formicarium was introduced around 1929 by Frank Eugene Austin (1873-1964), an inventor and professor at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College. Austin received a patent for his formicarium on June 16, 1931, as well as further patents for its continued development. Austin included whimsical painted or wooden scenes of palaces, farms and other settings above the ground level.

 

 

 

TOWELING - Use a trowel to obtain a superior surface finish. The manhole cover that was proud of the floor us now subsurface. We will make a decorative wooden cover to complete the floor so that the levels are the same and yet access to the drains is preserved. This photograph is copyright © Jameson Hunter Ltd 7 July 2017. You will need permission from Jameson Hunter to be able to reproduce it. 

 

 

ANT FARM TRADEMARK

In 1956, Milton Levine, founder of Uncle Milton Industries, created his own version of a formicarium, reportedly independently from Frank Austin. Levine got the idea when attending a Fourth of July picnic. Levine registered the term ant farm for his product and registered it as a trademark. 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, the structure is called an "ant palace".

The "Ant Farm" trademark received notoriety when Scott Adams used the phrase in a Dilbert comic and received threatening letters from Uncle Milton Industries' attorneys, demanding a retraction for the unauthorized use of the phrase. Adams satirized the incident in a later comic strip, in which Dilbert asked for a substitute phrase for "a habitat for worthless and disgusting little creatures", to which Dogbert replied "law school".

 

 

 

SEALING - It is a good idea to seal the surface of the concrete with a good quality floor paint using at least two coats for a durable finish. The walls of this unit need to be injected with a silicone DPC where moisture is seen here creeping half way up to the wooden framed top section. Not long now before the unit is operational again. This photograph is copyright © Jameson Hunter Ltd July 2017. You will need permission from Jameson Hunter to be able to reproduce it. 

 

 

 

STAND - A temporary support to able to assemble the legs was fabricated from an automotive engine stand. The legs of this robot are unequal in length just the same as the real ant that the designers are using as their template. This frame is made of heavy gauge steel because it is easy to prototype without having to worry about modifications. Once all the snags are worked out, the frame could be made of aluminium or titanium if a higher performance machine is needed. This photograph is copyright © Jameson Hunter Ltd July 2017. You will need permission from Jameson Hunter to be able to reproduce it. 

 

 

 

TOOL STORAGE - To save space and make the most of a compact unit, four sturdy steel tool chests with sliding drawers were purchased from Aldi. The special tools and robot parts will be stored in these lockable units. The formicarium is also protected from intruders with alarms and surveillance cameras. This photograph is copyright © Jameson Hunter Ltd July 2017. You will need permission from Jameson Hunter to be able to reproduce it. 

 

 

CONSTRUCTION

A formicarium is usually a transparent box made of glass or plastic, made thin enough so that the tunnels and cavities made by the ants can be seen and their behavior can be studied. The fill material is typically soil, loam, sand, vermiculite, other mineral fragments or sawdust. Modern formicaria may be filled with semi-transparent gel, which provides nutrition, moisture and a medium in which ants may nest but does not supply a source of protein, essential for the queen and larvae.

Other types of formicaria 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 the plaster dries, 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 formicaria may 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.

A formicarium can be designed to be 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.

 

 

CONTAINMENT

 

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), which are applied to the side of the formicarium to prevent escape, as most ants cannot walk on these slippery or sticky surfaces. Despite this, some species of ants can build bridges of debris or dirt on the substance to escape, while in other species some individual ants can walk on the substance without impedance. Formicarium owners often make use of two or more security measures. Another escape-prevention technique involves placing the entire formicarium in a shallow container of water, creating a moat.

For the first few days, a formicarium owner should let the ants become acclimated to their new environment. This can be done by putting a black towel over the formicarium. Some owners shake their formicarium every few days so that the tunnels cave in, allowing them to observe their ants digging new tunnels. However, this practice can compromise the safety of the ants and may be considered a form of animal cruelty.

 

 

 

 

WATER BARRIERS - [LEFT] The base on this formicarium uses a large water bowl as a barrier, on it a slightly smaller bowl as an arena. Four bamboo supports form a tower with different levels and hold in the center a glass ball with the actual Formicarium that the maker calls his: AntEarth.

This glass cylinder is provided with a gypsum cover with an overhang over the opening of the glass cylinder. This summit should have an uneven form like a rock, with many niches and troughs in the supernumerary area, which could then be planted. The plaster itself was, of course, dyed accordingly. Through this layer of plaster, a thin slit, which was filled with sand, remained only to the outer glass wall, just like in a flat formicarium. 

 

In this shallow "earth crust" the ants could build their nest and at the same time be observed through the glass. The gypsum not only had the function of forming a narrow gap for the sand but also to distribute moisture from the water reservoir in the central glass cylinder.

 

[RIGHT] The same builder made an aquarium based mini world where aquatic life would complement the ant farm that lived above the artificial moat like a small island. A suitable basin and some wood and root parts were sourced in specialist stores. A tribe-shaped piece of wood was chosen as the base on which the island was built. This stem was fixed to the plexiglass plate with VA screws to make a strong foundation. On the trunk different levels were built out of wood. A special feature is still available with the filter system. Since there were not many water dwellers, the keeper did not want to include a complex filter system, instead a simple aquarium pump feeds the water at two points up into the country part.

 

 

KEEPING ANTS

 

Keeping ants as pets has been a common hobby since the mass-marketed Uncle Milton's Ant Farm achieved commercial success in the late 1950s, though these ant farms did not include a queen ant for legal reasons. U.S. Federal law prohibits shipping live queen ants in interstate commerce. The reason for this is if it escapes into the wild and starts breeding, it could be in an area where it has no predators and could breed to astronomical levels, or interfere with local insects causing ant wars that could cause injury to humans and animals.

 

 

STARTING OUT

 

There are differing methods of starting, caring for, and housing an ant colony.  You can simply capture a few ants and put them in a jar with some earth and in very short order they will make a nest with umpteen tunnels. Unlike humans they work tirelessly and together for a common goal. Having made themselves a home they need food to survive and continue to entertain you with their antics.

 

Or, you can start with a fertilized queen ant that you can buy if you cannot find one at the start of summer locally. In the UK this is fine except for the wood ant. In the USA make sure that your seller is from your area and that you are buying a native species.

 

 

HOW TO FIND A QUEEN ANT

Ants engage in nuptial flights during spring and summer, and after these flights a fertilized queen ant will land and remove her wings before locating a spot to found her new colony. If a queen has already chewed her wings off, she is likely (but not certainly) fertilized. If a queen ant on the ground still has her wings, she is likely (but not certainly) unfertilized. Thus you need a queen ant with her wings chewed off. She will be much larger than the male drones with wings. A queen ant can be distinguished from a worker ant by the relatively larger size of the thorax, and the enlarged abdomen (which at this point contains the wing muscles of the queen).

 

 

 

 

 

HOUSING THE QUEEN ANT

For fully claustral species, the queen should be sealed in a dark, aerated small container with access to water. One way to provide this environment involves using a test tube, some water, and two cotton balls. One cotton ball is pressed against the water, the queen is inserted, and the other cotton ball is used to plug the end of the tube. This nesting chamber should be kept in the dark for one month while the queen lays her eggs and tends to them until they hatch. A claustral ant species need not be fed during this period, as a queen ant will digest her now-useless wing muscles to provide her with the necessary energy until her first generation of workers emerges.

For a semi-claustral species, which is an ant that requires food during this nesting phase, protein rich foods should be provided intermittently during the pre-worker phase, with the frequency and type of food determined by the specific species of ant.

 

 

 

 

 

MOVING HOME


If successful with feeding the first generation of workers, the queen ant should continue laying eggs. Eventually (at about 25 worker ants), the colony should be moved into a larger housing such as a formicarium to allow continued growth of the colony.

 

 

CARE & FEEDING - DIETARY NEEDS

An ant's diet should consist primarily of sugars (such as fruit, sugar water, raw honey, or honeydew) and proteins (such as mealworms, cockroaches, or bits of egg). The sugars are necessary to provide the ants with energy, and the proteins are necessary for the growth of the colony. Uneaten food should be removed to prevent the growth of mold in the formicarium.

 

 

THE LAW ON ANT KEEPING

In the United States of America, it is usually illegal to ship live queen ants across state lines, and ant farms sold there contain no queens.

In Europe, some domestic species (such as Formica rufa) are protected, and it is illegal to own, keep, buy or sell these ants or to damage their nests. However, unlike for reptiles and spiders, there are no rules for owning, keeping, buying or selling non-protected species. Some formicaria sold there may not contain queens, but professional "ant shops" usually sell their colonies with queens.

 

 

 

 

 

LINKS & REFERENCE

 

https://www.aldi.co.uk/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant-keeping

https://www.antkeepers.com/keeping-ants/formicariums/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formicarium

 

 

 

 

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This website is Copyright © 2017 Bluebird Marine Systems Limited.   The names Bluebird™, Bluefish™, Miss Ocean™, SeaNet™, SeaVax are trademarks. All other trademarks are hereby acknowledged. The design of the Robot Ant on this page is design copyright © December 15 2015, all rights reserved - Jameson Hunter Ltd. IMPORTANT NOTE:  Under no circumstances may our products, or those of Jameson Hunter Ltd, be used by any military or law enforcement organization, for any warlike, combat, or peacekeeping crowd control purposes. Anyone purchasing one of these units will be required to sign a binding undertaking (Deed) to that effect. Any unit found to have been purchased by proxy, will be confiscated, along with civil remedy in respect of breach of contract, that all parties in the chain will be vicariously liable for - to include damages for vehicles developed from our designs without our consent - and possible fraud issue from the deception. In addition to copyright theft, the law of passing-off applies.