Gel formicarium is a trendy enclosure for ants. It looks cool and allows you to have full visibility on the life of the ants. Is it really that good?

You should use a gel formicarium if you plan to keep ants for a short term. The gels are usually edible for the ants so you don’t have to prepare them with any food or water. It is also useful for exhibition and student projects to learn about ants’ behavior, but not for maintaining an ant colony.

The gel formicarium is often linked to NASA’s experiment on ants in space. Just because gel formicarium is related to NASA, it doesn’t mean it is the best in class.

What is Ant Farm Gel Made of?

Most of the gels used in ant farms are agar. Additives may include coloring agents to produce conspicuous color, sugar as nutrients for the ants, and fungicide to prevent the growth of molds.   

Why should I Use A Gel Formicarium?

Use gel formicarium if.your main purpose is to observe ants activities temporarily
Gel formicarium gives you full visibility on ants activity. Photo by Dave Huth / CC BY-NC 2.0.

I guess the first reason why people would want to use a gel formicarium is because it looks cool and futuristic with its design and the LED lamp. The visual effect is outstanding and incomparable for many other types of formicarium.

On top of that, the transparent or translucent gel allows you to observe the ant from all angles. The only comparable formicarium material in terms of visibility is the acrylic formicarium. 

You can also get to observe the tunneling behavior of ants in a gel formicarium. The ants get to create their own nest based on their creativity, which results in different designs every time. Other types of formicaria either come with fixed tunnel design (eg. acrylic) or don’t give you the visibility (eg. sands).

Another advantage of using gel is the ease of transporting your ant colony. You don’t have to worry about tunnels collapsing, which may happen in case you use sand as substrates. This feature is especially helpful if you need to transport your ants from place to place for exhibition.

Most importantly, with gel, you do not have to worry about providing food and water to your ants. This is perfect for those who don’t have time to spend on caring for their ants. 

What are the Drawbacks of Gel?

Gel is alien to the ants because they don’t naturally encounter gel nor use it for nesting. When ants are introduced into a gel formicarium, they may not know what to do. As a result, they stay on the surface, stressed. It may take 2-3 days for the ants to start digging and feeding on the gel. There are even instances where the ants only started digging after most of them have died.

While antifungal substrates are added into the gel, there is still risk of fungal growth in the gel over time. It is very difficult to evacuate the ants when the gel is infested by molds. Most probably you will need to give up your ants if that happens.

There are also incidents where ant keepers reported excessive water excreted from the gel which eventually drown the ants. This could be due to low quality gel.

If you recall the ingredients of the gel (agar), you would know that it contains very limited nutrients. Ants require sugar, protein and fats to stay healthy. They will not survive long if they feed on the gel alone.

When should I Use Gel Formicarium

There are both benefits and limitations of a gel formicarium. So when should you use a gel formicarium?

You should use a gel formicarium if your objective is to impress someone with your formicarium. For instance, if you are promoting ants keeping in an exhibition or use it for teaching, a gel formicarium will definitely capture a lot of attention. 

If you plan to keep ants for short term, eg. just to observe them for a few weeks, or to let your kids have a fun time observing the ants close up, gel formicarium is your best option.

Here’s what I recommend you to get for your gel formicarium project. Note that I get a small commission when you buy the items through the links in this page. This helps me to maintain the site without incurring additional costs to you.

What are the Alternatives?

If you plan to keep ants for a longer term, you should consider any other formicarium but not gel. A popular choice is acrylic formicarium which is easy to assemble and allows you to have high visibility on the inside of the nest. Here’s my guide on how to rear ants in a proper formicarium.