Ant Mine

Kit Overview

A Unique kit designed by Ants! Make a big plaster cast reproduction of a complex leafcutter ant colony … behind a window! So you can see everything happening. It will work with almost any ants ( we don’t supply the ants). Food tubes, ant catcher, pipette and more all supplied. Plus a special stand for easy viewing.

The easy to make Ant Mine is a scientific re-creation of a real underground ants nest. It gives a fascinating insight into a truly amazing world! Ants make great pets, they are clean, easy to keep and cost next to nothing to feed.
Watch ant teams going about their daily routines or forming up battle lines to fend off danger! You too could make ground breaking discoveries in the science of
Myrmecology. This kit provides hours of fun and is a ‘must have product’ for the young naturalist. Build it and add ants to make the Ant Mine come to life!

Think like a Proton...always positive!

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Ant Mine help

Ant Mine FAQ's

SOLUTION 1: Cut thin strips of tissue paper and stick them over the holes with just water. They will dry out and air can get in and out – but not the ants. In fact – when they’ve settled in, the strips can come off and the ants wont bother to come out. In fact – we don’t really need breathing holes as the thin parts of dry plaster ‘breathe’ air. Also try putting sticky tape over the holes. Tiny ants don’t really need the breathing holes.

SOLUTION 2: Our suggestion is to get bigger ants, longer than 3mm and more than 1mm wide.

Several possibilities:
Firstly let the plaster dry out completely as possible. Then
‘1. Coat the broken surfaces with a thin layer of white woodworking or craft ( elmers) glue. Not a glue stick. Rub it in gently with your finger. This is the sealing coat
2. Let it dry.
3. Recoat, and pull the parts together with sticky tape of bandaid while it dries.

This solution is good if the bit of plaster that has broken off does not also have a rivet through it. The join is white and invisible but not very strong. Also , do not squirt water in that area to damp down the plaster on dry days. This glue is water soluble.
OR
Firstly let the plaster dry out completely as possible. Then
1. Coat the broken surfaces with builders construction glue ( ‘liquid nails’) . This may be brown. Look for the type that will bond concrete and plaster and works in a damp environment.
2. Hold the parts together with tape or bandaids.
This solution might not look so pretty. But is is strong, slightly flexible and water resistant. Good if there is a rivet going thru the broken bit.
OR

1. Buy more ordinary casting plaster or plaster of paris.
2. Grease all the plastic tubes very well so they will slip out easily
3. Re cast the ant mine,
4. twist the tubes ( but do not remove) when plaster is set but still wet to break any ‘lock’ the plaster may have to the tubes.
5. Wait until the next day to pull the casting out of the mould.

the plaster is necessarily thin in parts as it allows oxygen and carbon dioxide to diffuse in and out through the back. But this does make the plaster extraction a delicate operation. We have recently changed the moulding pattern to make the whole system more robust. It is possible you have an early version.

If the mould is set on a flat surface as the plaster is poured and allowed to set, the surface in contact with the window should be perfectly flat and gap free against the plastic window. Any slight distortion can leave gaps for small ants to escape.
Escaping ants tend to be a problem in New Zealand, where they have very small ‘houdiniensis’ ants ( our name). In fact any ants smaller than 3mm long may be able to squeeze through the 1mm diameter air holes.

SOLUTION 1: AVOIDING BREAKING THE PLASTER
ANSWER 1: Not waiting long enough for the plaster to cure. Children often try to take the plaster out too early, as the plaster hardens quite quickly, generating heat as it goes, but that is not really enough for it to cure and develop full strength. While it is ‘hard’ but still warm is has the strength of hard cheese – not very strong! Our times for hardening and part curing are the minimum. Waiting longer is actually better as the plaster continues to strengthen – but difficult for kids to endure. 90 minutes is good enough under nearly all conditions.

ANSWER 2: Levering the tubes sideways rather than twisting the tubes to loosen them. You can also reduce the risk of ‘levering tubes’ by greasing the tubes with oil or butter, but not the bit you’ll need to hold to pull them out. ANSWER 3: Undue stress and pressure when loosening the mould from the plaster. We have found running just the tip of a sharp knife around the perimeter can break the seal the plaster may have to the mould if you are having trouble removing it.

SOLUTION 2: FIXING BROKEN PLASTER
Should your plaster break (providing it doesn’t have a rivet through it), please try the following:
1. Let the plaster dry out completely as possible.
2. Coat the broken surfaces with a thin layer of white woodworking or craft (elmers) glue, this seals the plaster and let it dry.
3. Recoat, and put the parts together, held with sticky tape or bandaids while it dries.
The join is white and invisible but not very strong. Also, do not squirt water in that area to damp down the plaster on dry days. This glue is water-soluble., but is strong, slightly flexible and water-resistant, and if you have a rivet going through a broken bit).

 

SOLUTION 3: USING ANOTHER PLASTER
1. Buy more ordinary casting plaster or plaster of paris.
2. Grease all the plastic tubes very well so they will slip out easily.
3. Re cast the ant mine.
4. twist the tubes (but do not remove) when plaster is set but still wet to break any ‘lock’ the plaster may have to the tubes.
5. Wait until the next day to pull the casting out of the mould.

A3. SOLUTION 1: TOO WET – It is very possible that the air inside was just too wet and humid for them. They can ‘drown’ if the humidity condensed on their bodies. The plaster is solid but still very wet, maybe it needs to be a lot drier. It has loads of water ‘trapped’ in the plaster. VERY carefully pull apart the rivets, release any ants (or save them in the jar), then put the plaster cast outside in fresh air and sunlight if possible where it can dry completely. Even raise it up on a baking rack so it dries both sides and leaves it for 2 or 3 days, reassembling the mine carefully.

SOLUTION 2: SUICIDAL ANTS – This seems silly, but all our ants always like to have a job to do. They seem to live to work looking after larvae and pupae. Picked up at random and put into an empty, clean foreign space occasionally seems to shock them, even to ‘death’. Here is our trick – we find the original ants nest and see if we can also find some ants eggs, larvae, and pupae (they look like sausages or maggots), plus we get a few spoonfuls of ants nest dirt. Put them in the colony first, shaking a little of the ant dirt from the nest down through the tunnels. Then add the ants. The babies give the ants an instant focus with the familiar smell of the ant dirt must make it feel like home.

SOLUTION 3: OUT OF THE SUN – Please keep the colony away from direct sunlight. It will cook them! In fact, hanging a bit of cloth or paper over the front gives them a bit of privacy which they seem to like.

SOLUTION 4: ANTS TOO SMALL AND FEEBLE – There are no two ways about it, big ants are much tougher. Small is okay as long as they are over 3mm long so they don’t get out the air holes.

SOLUTION 5: TOO DRY – If the ants all collect around the water tube, squirt 4 or 5 pipettes full of tap water on the plaster back.

SOLUTION 6: TOO COLD – If you are in the northern hemisphere, you will be moving into winter. We are not sure where you are exactly, but cold weather makes ants very sluggish, can totally stop them moving ( below 5°C or 41°F), or can kill them. If you are in a cold place – e.g. below 64°F please keep the kit indoors or in a warm room.
The bigger the ants the better too. BIG is GOOD! They are tougher! Suitable ants will be hard to find in the wild this time of year. They can be bought online in most countries, but do check on their temperature tolerance and match it to your conditions before trying again.
By the way – depending on the species, worker ants often only last for 30days from hatching out of pupae. Some species workers live for a few months and a few for up to 3 years! Anyway, if you get them from the wild, you may see a few dead ants every day and that is natural. That is why we recommend also getting ant pupae to put in the kit.

Check for some techniques in the many Ant Kit Instruction booklets.

Or you can try putting sugar water on a cotton ball inside the ant catcher jar. Then put the jar outside near a trail from an ants nest.
If you bury the jar to the rim in soil, it is even easier for ants to get in. Leave it for a day, then just pop the lid on to trap the ants.

OR you can leave the ball on an ant trail and wait. Use tweezers to pick up the ball covered in ants and drop it into your ant catcher jar.

Tiny ants are a ‘security problem’. If they are less than 1mm across the head, they will get out of our breathing holes. So if you can, get some larger ants.
However, if you can only get tiny ones, you can tape over the holes and round the sides too. The plaster actually ‘breathes’ air ( you can blow right through it if you try!) so for small ants , taping up is OK.

1. Roll very very thin sausages or strings of plasticene and make a gasket around the edge of the plaster. It will flatten as the rivets are tightened, but can still be removed.
2. Squeeze a thin ‘beading’ of silicone sealer around the outside edge. It will flatten and set as the rivets are tightened, but cannot be removed easily.

If your ants are less than 3mm long, they are probably less than 1mm wide. And our air holes are 1mm wide. So they may escape from there.

So what to do?
1. Cut thin strips of tissue paper, wet them, and let them dry over the two lines of holes. Air will still get in and out but not ants. After they have settled in 3 days or so, they generally do not want to escape and the paper can come off. ( Some might pop their heads out for a look around but then go in again. If you are faint hearted , best keep the paper on.)
2. Better, put sticky tape over the holes! For small ants, enough oxygen diffuses into the colony through the very thin plaster walls. In fact you can blow air through the back into the colony .. try it!
3. Better still – collect ant larvae and pupae at the same time. Ants love to look after them and usually they don’t even think about escaping.
4. Best of all – try and find bigger ants. It seems NZ has 11 species of native ants and 28 introduced ones. As it gets warmer towards christmas you’ll have more ant size choices.
What if the lid does not seal against the plaster?

The mould and the special lid are engineered to very small tolerances. Ants should not leak out the sides. Maybe the mould was not on a completely flat surface as the plaster was poured?

Some worker ants under certain conditions which are hard to predict will lay eggs when away from the effects of a queen. But these eggs are most often sterile. They are often fed to growing larvae as ‘trophic eggs’, or food eggs. Some enthusiasts claim these eggs have hatched into larvae and grown into new drones and queens etc. We are yet to prove it. Maybe you can?

BUT we know a sure way to keep the colony growing. Scoop up larvae and pupae ( they look like maggots or tiny sausages) with the dirt and the ants you put into your colony. These usually turn into workers BUT we have had queens and drones hatch successfully and keep the colony going for 18 months so far! An ant lives about 3 months max.

You have tiny ants and big ants? They are all actually ‘adult’ ants but of different castes or jobs. Young ants are the larvae or pupae. Once hatched – thats it! You don’t really get to grow any more. Except if you are queen when you get long and fat!

Well, in our experience tiny ants are a bit fragile even with the gentlest handling. Big ants seem so much more durable. Don’t chill tiny ants too long, if that is how you caught them. Also you can speed them out of the catcher by putting the catcher part in bright light … but not HOT light. Direct sunlight and heat seems to ‘cook’ them. If you chill them to sleep, try just pouring them in through a plug hole. But you’ll need to be quick!

To get a colony to last forever you do not need to catch a queen, but you do need to hatch one! Ordinary ants you see around under stones etc are workers. They live about 90 days. They are all sterile females unable to breed. So when you catch a bunch of them, you will expect a few to die off everyday depending on how old they were when you caught them. After about 3 months, in most species, yes … they will all be dead.
When you buy ants over the internet, they will be workers, and will not live more than about 3 months, depending on species.
But we have a trick! In our instructions we suggest you collect your own ants from under rocks and logs. You will also see little white or yellow grubs or maggots being carried around by the workers. These are baby ants ( ant larvae). We suggest you scoop up some of those too with a big spoon, along with some ants nest soil ‘to make them feel at home’. If the workers are also carrying little brown sausages too, that is excellent. Scoop up some too. They are ant pupae which will soon hatch into new ants.
Plus looking after baby ants is what worker ants are programmed to do! They love it – and you’ll see them working away in your colony just as they would outside.
DO NOT TRY AND CATCH A QUEEN! This destroys the nest and you do not need a queen. Why? When the larvae are away from the ‘chemical influence’ of the original queen, they can develop into new males and new queens! So you can hatch your own queens!
Now – it may not be the right season for you to get baby ants. But now you can plan ahead! Try with just workers first – then restock when the season comes along.

This can happen if certain worker ants from certain species are separated from their larvae and pupae.
1. Find a variety of foods, both vegetarian and meat based, chopped very finely. Just a small spoonful of each. Crushed cat or dog biscuits or a mixture of both and most ants like them. You will also need some old lids from jars.
2. Find some ants in a park or a garden. Get really really close and observe very carefully.
3. Leave the foods in little piles in jar lids near the ants. See which foods they will go to and take away. Also see what they are eating ‘in the wild’.
4. Try and track down where the ants are coming from. When you find the nest, carefully collect about 20 worker ants AND some of the dirt from the nest.
5. Also try to collect a few ‘ants eggs’. They are not actually eggs, but larvae and pupae that the ants carry around in their jaws.
6. Put the ants larvae pupae and dirt into your colony. The chemicals (pheromones) in the dirt and produced by the ‘babies’ help normalize ant behavior and should help feeding.
7. Now you also know which foods they prefer.
8. Make sure your colony is not in bright sunshine, or they cook. Make sure it does not get too dry in hot weather. If they ALL gather around the water well, squirt 3 or 4 pipette fulls of water on the back of the plaster.

1. If it is winter and very cold the ants will be inactive.
2. If the colony is in very bright light, the ants will find the shadiest area they can, and stay there. Hang a piece of dark paper over the front and see if they start to move, or put the colony out of bright light.
3. If they are all gathered around the water tube, and not moving, the colony is too dry. Using your pipette, squirt water onto the back of the plaster moulding. Do this 5 or 6 times if you have had very dry weather. In very hot dry conditions, you’ll need to squirt water daily on the back of the colony.
4. Sometimes, very rarely, worker ants just refuse to perform in an empty nest. They don’t like a completely empty nest as there is nothing for them to work at. Collecting ant larvae and pupae ( little maggotty things the ants carry around in their jaws) at the same time as the ants gives them something to do and they will become very active. If you bought or collected the ants with no dirt or nest materials, try adding chopped grass and sand in through the food port. They don’t like a messy nest, and they will soon move the offending stuff to different rooms or chambers, often changing rooms every day.
5. You can wake them up! Carefully pull off one end of the ant tubing and blow through it gently!. Ants are ‘stimulated’ by the carbon dioxide in your breath. But don’t do this too often, and NEVER inhale an ant. Plus the ants don’t like it . Their activity is actually trying to get away from the carbon dioxide.
6. If none of this works, change your ants. Very gently separate the rivets of the kit, take off the cover and release your sleepy ants in a garden. Collect some more lively ones next time.

OK, speed of hardening depends on many things. Most likely you just stirred a bit too long.
Runny is better than thick – as it will have started to set. So best stir only until all the lumps have gone – then pour.

Plaster moulded tunnels is one system used widely in university research labs, and our tunnels are carefully researched to duplicate the chamber arrangements of leaf cutter ants. Nearly all other types of ants will adopt the chambers and use them and decorate etc for distinct and varied purposes and behaviours which is the fun part of watching ants. These processes are hard to see in a dirt filled kit. Tunnel digging is the least important part of an ants day. Gel kits are easy to observe but rapidly kill ants . Don’t buy them, check feedback online yourself.
The amount of plaster is just right if mixed with the correct amount of water. We need thin walls and back as carbon dioxide and oxygen diffuse out and in through them. Plaster is ideal. But yes, they need careful handling. Condensation also does not build up in a plaster environment, and over humidity encourages fungal infections.

You can repair a cracked moulding but the results are not 100%. You can use any modelling plaster to make another. Yes leave it overnight at best, 16 hours is heaps of time. And pry it loose carefully.

Ants do hibernate. They slow down and ‘go to sleep’ at about 5°C. So if you have your colony outside in a cold place – you might see no action. They might be sulking in your large container. They do tend to stay where it smells like home.

First. When you collect ants it is very important to only collect ants from one nest. Ants from two nests, even if they are the exact same species, living close to each other tend to act like warring or competing tribes. They are very jealous of their territory! So collect ants from one nest only, just as in the booklet.

Another possibility – most worker ants only live for about 90 days. They also tend to hatch in batches so they tend to die in batches too. Maybe you collected a bunch of old timers that proceeded to expire in front of you?? In our colonies, the living workers will gently pick up the dead bodies and take them to one dry area of the kit and leave them there. Maybe it looks like a war zone, but it could be a natural cycle you are seeing.

Another possiblity: some ants do seem to get very stressed by moving home so unceremoniously. In the booklet we suggest collecting ants larvae and pupae too, along with nest soil. Please do not look for the queen. The ants (who will nearly all be workers) are programmed to look after the young ones – so they seem to be very much calmer and happier when fully employed! PLUS – the young ones will hatch and you get another load of ants for free – often including a new queen and males!

We explain that when children learn to care for and truly understand small living things like ants and worms, they will also learn to care for and truly understand other human beings. We think you will be very happy when you understand what the product is about.

In nature, worker ants live maximum of 90 days. In other brands Ant Toys, they will live max 90 days. In our capsules, we have colonies 232 days old ( and still very happy) without taking the ‘queen’. We tell children never collect a queen, only soil and some worker ants plus a few larvae and eggs. This way the world gets 2 colonies from 1 colony. Years of research with children means that we know children can look after ants very well.

The kit is designed by a zoologist, entomologist and teacher who cares about ants and children.

We suggest in spring or summer, collecting your own local worker ants plus ant larvae and pupae ( often called ants ‘eggs’) , and ant dirt, from a nest in the park or garden. You don’t need a queen. Away from the influence of the queen, some pupae and larvae will naturally turn into new queens and males in your colony, ensuring at least one queen is fertilized. Very Exciting! Then, the colony can go on ‘forever’. Get larger ants. Over 3mm long means their heads are usually too wide to get through the holes which are 1mm diameter. This is the best idea.

If you don’t have a chance to find them in the wild….

As we don’t know where do you live, here are some information for specific regions below, hope they do help!

UK:
Ants should be out and about in parks and gardens in the UK during the spring.Just follow the clues in the booklet for catching ants. (But you should be aware that catching certain rare ants is illegal in the UK.)

OR you can get nice big ants by mail from our distributor in UK
http://www.interplaydirect.co.uk/

If you are in USA, or Canada please visit here:
http://www.sciencekit.com/alive
The ants they supply are usually nice and big.

There are more on the web.
You’ll need to order them from a supplier inside your own country because quarantine laws usually stop ants being shipped from one country to the next.
If it is very cold at the moment where you live, maybe wait until the weather warms up to catch your own live ants.Or order them over the internet.
Most suppliers sell Harvester ants, and these ants are ideal – they are herbivores. So mustard seeds, grass seeds, dried fruit, sugar etc are great foods for them.
Worker ants alone might live up to 3 months. But with a fertilized queen, your colony can go can ‘forever’. We are not sure if the queens some suppliers sell are fertilized, and able to lay eggs that will hatch. You may need to ask them.

A20. Here is a strategy. It takes patience, but that is what real science is about:
1. Find a variety of foods, both vegetarian and meat based chopped very finely. Just a small spoonful of each. Crushed cat or dog biscuits are a mixture of both and most ants like them. And some old lids from jars.
2. Find some ants in a park or a garden. Get really really close… and observe very carefully…… 3. Leave the foods in little piles in jar lids near the ants. See which foods they will go to and take away. Also see what they are eating ‘in the wild’.
4. Try and track down where the ants are coming from. When you find the nest, carefully collect about 20 worker ants AND some of the dirt from the nest.
5. Also try to collect a few ‘ants eggs’. They are not actually eggs, but larvae and pupae that the ants carry around in their jaws.
6. Put the ants larvae pupae and dirt into your colony. The chemicals (pheromones) in the dirt and produced by the ‘babies’ help normalize ant behavior and should help feeding.
7. Now you also know which foods they prefer.
8. This time you should have a thriving and exciting colony of happy ants.

Dr. WILD!:
About the colour of baby ants. Yes, sometimes they do start out a pale gingery colour. Something very special happens in the skin ( or exoskeleton) of an ant , especially when it is exposed to light. ( Did you know ants and woodlice wear their bones on the outside?) Light speeds up a kind of tanning and ‘plastic hardening’ process. It is a bit like when you get a new filling at the dentist, it gets hardened with a special ultra violet light, just like strong sunlight. But in the ant, the plasticky exoskeleton goes harder and a darker colour over time anyway, but light speeds up the process. Just like us getting a tan in the sun.

I thought a woodlice home would be interesting because once I was digging up some stones and I saw 20 woodlice with some babies and it moved really fast!It was really interesting and I liked watching it very mutch .All of the woodlice were a silver greyish colour and were living in soil so I think ants and woodlice could share the same home.I put a woodlice in my ant home yesterday and its perfectly fine today.Iwas thinking something like the eco dome but for a woodlice.

A: Dr. WILD!: We have not thought about suggesting putting woodlice into ant colonies. Thank you so much for the idea. You are right, woodlice and ants do share the same home in nature , so they should live happily in our ant kits. Your observation that your ‘test woodlouse’ is OK, seems to confirm your idea (or hypothesis).
Marco, we are sorry to say that for various reasons we will not make a special woodlice home. BUT we would like to tell the world about Marco’s idea ( to put woodlice in with your ants or ECO Dome)

This can happen after a long time, especially at low temperatures.

You were correct in trying warm water. If possible soak the join in warm water/ even hand hot water. But not boiling.

Failing that, use sharp craft knife make a small cut into the rim of the tube to release some of the tension in the tube. Not all way to reveal the end of the side plug, just about half way. This and heat will release most reluctant tubes.

When replacing the tube, try lubricating the side plug with a little washing up liquid.