During the past decade, the ant farm industry has changed drastically. Classic ant farms were nothing more than two walls of plastic or glass with sand or dirt in between. You dumped in some ants and then watched as they dug tunnels. To sustain the ants, you would have to add drops of water and morsels of food to the farm. Nowadays, ant farms are quite different.
In researching ant farms for our ant farm stores review, we came across something called ant gel. Ant gel is not a gel made from ants, but rather is a new space-age material specifically designed to act as a substrate, food and water source for ants living in an enclosed ant farm.
In 2000, students from a New York high school teamed up with Syracuse University to conduct an experiment on the behavior of ants in zero gravity. The experiment planned to send 15 ants into space to study the effect of G force and low-gravity environments on their tunneling behavior. The experiment finally launched (literally) in 2003 with the space shuttle Columbia.
When preparing to conduct this test, students had to devise a material for the ant farm’s substrate that could withstand the G force when entering space, and could stay in place even in the low-gravity environment of space. Traditional ant farms filled with sand or soil would not work for these purposes, so students set out to invent a new substrate. Thus, ant gel was born.
Ant gel is a nutrient-rich gel made from seaweed extracts rich in water, amino acids and sugars to help the ants thrive without adding additional food or water to the farm. The gel also has a fungicide to keep it from rotting even with the high moisture content.
When the ants entered space, the students who conducted the experiment watched their progress from a webcam. The ants continued tunneling the same way they do on earth, excavating material to the top in order to move open up new tunnel paths. The clear gel allowed the ants to be observed clearly from all sides, giving a more complete picture of their tunneling behavior than what we can see through sand or soil ant farms.
It was predicted that the ants would be less active than their earthbound counterparts, but surprisingly the opposite proved to be true. The space-travelling ants were more active than ants on earth, tunneling more vigorously and moving around more than traditional ants. And clearly, the ants were able to survive on just the ingredients in the ant gel without a problem.
This experiment was part of a larger scientific endeavor to start studying the effects of space travel on living things. It is assumed that over time, space travel will become a reality for more people and before we can move forward with that technology we need to know more about how space travel affects living things. This ant experiment was a forerunner of future experiments that will involve more complex animals, observing how their behavior and life functions adapt to the environment of space.
Since this successful 2003 experiment, ant gel has taken the ant farm industry by storm. Gel-filled ant farms are not only much more interesting to observe (by offering a clear, 360° view of the ants and their tunnels), but they require almost no maintenance. Most gel ant farms can also be mounted on an LED base that will illuminate the ants and their tunnels, doubling as a unique night light.
Interested in trying one of these space-age ant farms? Check out our lineup of the best ant farm stores online. Also see our article “Top 10 Ant Farms,” which lists the coolest ant farms we found online. Gel ant farms are available in three colors: red, blue or green