Build a Free-standing Formicarium

Most Ant Farms (Formicariums) are either thinly-spaced glass observatories, or full Aquariums, mostly filled with sandy soil for digging and nest building in. Mine is different because the ants I keep are Crematogaster Rogenhoferi, they are tree dwelling ants from Thailand.

I wanted my Thai Tree ants to be a part of my lounge, and as they don't dig, I didn't need to fill an aquarium full of soil. I decided to attempt to build a free-standing base Formicarium that would show my ants very well and still be secure and safe.

Below you can see the completed formicarium and the habitat they forage in. It would have been nice to build it out of glass, or buy a glass base, but I found the postage was too expensive for a glass base from AntStore, and I decided to use plastic.


I searched several Home and DIY stores for a plastic storage box of suitable dimensions (about 60cm X 40 cm base). I wanted one that had a rolled lip, or a lid with a rolled shape.

Below you can see that I cut the base off so that I had about 12 or 15cm of walls for the formicarium. Cutting plastic is very hard, and I tried using a wood saw (bad) a fine-toothed hacksaw (not good but OK), metal scissors (not good) and a stanley knife (not good but OK - must be a sturdy stanley knife and not a 'craft knife'). Take care when cutting, there is a great chance of slippage and damage to the plastic and yourself. I cannot stress this enough, with the wrong tools, like I had, it's a dangerous endeavour.

Plastic Storage Box

Plastic Storage Box

Now that the rolled lip is cut off (from either the storage box or its lid) you flip it over and it should resemble a tubular canal.

Put the base into the 'moat' It should fit snugly. I like my moat at the bottom of the basin, but yours might fit better at the top.

Plastic Storage Box

The moat needs to be hot-glued to the base. Hot-glue sets like plastic, and so it provides a water-proof (oil-proof) seal. The moat only needs to be filled with 1mm of vegetable oil, and do not fill the moat until your formicarium and habitat are completely finished.

Once your moat is stuck on the glue is cool and hard, test it by putting water in. Leaks can then be spotted. This much harder to do with oil, so I strongly recommend you test with water before doing anything else.

Completed Formicarium


Many people place their aquarium or basin into a larger aquarium / basin filled with water, in the hope that the water will deter the ants from leaving their home. I'm certain this works for many people, but I also know that some species of ants learn to build rafts and bridges using nothing more than the bodies of their (living or dead) sisters. Some small ants can walk across the surface-tension of water!

Because my free-standing formicarium has nothing like a lid on it, I wanted to be sure my ants would be secure, and not invade my lounge! On the inside walls of the base I smeared a thick inch of Petroleum jelly. Most ants don't like to walk on this sticky oil based product, however several of my ants walk across it as if it's no bother at all for them. Most ants avoid it, none get stuck in it.

So, for my Thai Tree ants and my particular design of formicarium the moat of oil is the major barrier and security measure. Some ants investigate it, some ants drown in it, but none have got across it.

If you look at the photo below, you'll see that the cuts are rough and the generous use of hot-glue has not left me with a beautiful formicarium, but I am still very pleased with my free-standing ants' home, it looks good in my lounge and of course the eye is drawn to the nest and the habitat, not the base.

You can see my completed formicarium at the top of the page, and you can view different stages of construction in the early pages of my Photo Blog.


Where it states that "I cut this" and "I cut that" I should of course explain that my Chris did a great deal of the cutting, and is an absolute star for helping me so much with my ants. Chris works in civil engineering and publishes a new picture every day, so that's 365 pictures to view! Chris is also an avid Star Wars Lego builder, and he quite likes his British beers too.

Copyright 2007, 2008, 2009 Wedge - All Rites Reversed - Contact me to request images