Blue Steel Ant Farm

There are 1,121 photos matching “ant” and “farm” in flickr right now, including one set of 44 ant farm photos. The ones at the front (I have not searched through all of them) seem to focus on the Antworks farm—an ant farm that uses a translucent blue nutrient gel in the place of dirt and sand. You can light the tank from different directions and the tank is wider than the traditional ant farm so the nest can branch out in three rather than two dimensions.

I have no idea what the ants must think about this farm. Here they are, scrabbling around in the dirt only to be picked up and placed in a posh 70’s Lava Lamp nightmare. Some of the ants are happy. I’ll bet that there is at least one Wendell Berry ant that is terribly disappointed by the whole thing.

Anyway, I was looking at these ant farm pictures and wondering. When do ants decide to make new tunnels? There seems to be no clear pattern to the ant nests featured in flickr. Some ants seem to be early branchers. Others seem to branch late. Is it a function of lighting or of a temperature gradient or of the antgenes? If I placed two sets of genetically identical ants in two separate containers at the same temperature gradient and with the same levels of ambient light, would I end up with identical patterns? I doubt it, since ant farm configurations have an initial conditions feel, but I can see the value of being an early brancher vs a late brancher and being a surface digger vs a deep digger so It might be that ants taken from the same colony will make similar if not identical digging decisions.

These are all important questions. It will be difficult to justify the effort of knitting a scale “ant farm” series if I could just knit together a series of tubes (the internet!) and call it an ant farm. The ant farm sweaters will need to wait until I figure this out.

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