Ant Farms Gel vs Sand, Which Is Best?

If you enjoy reading this article, why not check out our articles on Why Do Dead Ants Attract More Ants? Everything You Need to Know and Are Ants Active at Night?

What Is The Best Ant Farm?

In a space mission in 2003, NASA scientists studying the way ants behave in ant farms in zero gravity decided to use a special type of gel instead of soil. This material soon became so popular that it is now a trend and a lot of people want to use it for their ant farms. With this new option, which material is better for an ant farm? It really depends on the specific goals you have, which made you build or buy an ant farm. If you want to think about whether ant farms of any variety are a good idea in general, check out Are Ant Farms a Bad Idea?

What is the difference between gel and sand farm?

  • Sand ant farms require more work from you because you have to feed the ants, give them water, and clean up after them.
    • Gel ant farms do all that for you because the gel has all the water and nutrients that the ants need and it does not create wastes.
  • In sand ant farms you cannot see the entirety of the tunnels carved by the ants (or the ants in those sections).
    • In the gel ant farms, you can observe all the tunnels and everything that the ants are doing all the time.
  • In sand ant farms the ants live in a darker and more natural environment and receive their nutrients in a natural way.
    • In the gel ant farms, ants live in an overly illuminated and artificial environment and receive their nutrients through artificial substances.

 If you require a natural environment for the ants (and do not mind about taking care of the ants), sand is the best choice. If you are going to study something about ants (and do not want to take care of the ants), gel will give you the transparency and support that you are looking for.

The Benefits of Gel Farms

By Steve Jurvetson - Flickr, CC BY 2.0,

The gel ant farms have a great appearance and its translucency (almost transparency) allows you to see all the tunnels and the activity of the ants in a way dirt and sand could never let you. The advantage of gel is that the maintenance of the ant farm is minimum.

Also, you can transport the ant farm to different locations if you need to, with a lot less risk of having tunnels collapse. With sand and dirt, once the ants have started carving the tunnels, it is recommended that you move the ant farm carefully and as least as possible (for this same reason). The tunnels carved in sand are especially fragile because it dries quickly.

Another benefit of using gel ant farms is that when all the ants have died, you can clean up both the aquarium and the gel (carefully so that does not break), and keep the ant farm as an ornament. It becomes a very interesting subject of conversation and it really looks great. You could never do this when you are using sand.

Listen, if you want to buy a gel farm then my recommendation would be the Light Up Habitat for Kids

The Benefits of Sand Ant Farms

Sand ant farms are recommended by experts for long term ant farms. The tunnels are dark, which is the way they normally are. The food you give the ants is natural and can be varied as you wish. With this material, you can study the behavior of ants in a more natural and familiar environment, and thus, they behave in a more similar way than they would in the wild.

What is Ant Farm Gel Made of?

You can choose between buying an ant farm that already has the gel, or you can create the gel and add it to an aquarium of your choice. If you want to create the gel, you start by boiling a liter of water (until the temperature is close to the boiling point). Then you add 25 grams of potassium sorbate, 27 grams of sodium benzoate and 1 teaspoon of sugar. After that, you stir the mixture and pour it in the container (or aquarium). Finally, you wait until the blue liquid cools and hardens into a gel.

Are Gel Ant Farms Bad?

There are experts that say that gel works well for temporary ant farms, but not for serious, long term ones. The gel looks very unnatural but contains the nutrients that the ants need to survive. If NASA used it in space and after that, it became a trend for so many years, it has to work well

What Kind of Sand do You Use for an Ant Farm?

There are more than 12,000 different species of ants in the world. They all have different preferences for the type of soil that they like for their nest. When building an ant farm, the best kind of soil that you can use is the same one that ants you collected built their nest in. It even has the ants’ pheromones. When it is not possible to use the original soil, you can use a mixture of the soil you find in your backyard with sand. It is important to remove all the stones from this mixture with a sieve.

Very fine sand is good for all types of ants (the one used for sandblasting). The problem is that it dries quickly and if you move or agitate the ant farm, the tunnels can collapse very easily. If you want to use this type of sand, it must be humid and you must keep it damped.

If you want to go for a sand ant farm then the Sand Ant Farm with Observation tunnels as a new level to keeping ants.

Building Your Ant Farm

How do you make a large ant farm?

In order for an ant farm to work, you need to include ants from the same species and from the same nest, too. If you mix either ant from different species of ants from the same species but from different nests, they will fight to the death. You will need at least about 20 or 25 ants, a queen, and some eggs. If you don’t have a queen or eggs, the ant farm will only survive for a few weeks or months.

What do you need for an ant farm?

You can buy a tube with live ants, but they never come with a queen. The Department of Agriculture forbids selling queens ants because they could start new colonies of their species in places where they are not originally from. This could cause problems with farmers and the ecosystem of that region. If you want a queen, you have to look for it in a local ant nest, on your own. Queen ants are fascinating! We talk about them in many other articles; here’s one of them: Are Ants Active at Night?

How many ants do you need for an ant farm?

Some people enjoy buying exotic species of strange ants for their ant farms, which seriously seems like a lot of fun. However, if you buy an exotic species of ant (from a different place where you are from), the colony could probably die quickly because they will lack their queen and they are used to a different type of weather, vegetation and soil than the one you can provide them. It is important to check that the person you buy exotic ants from, sells them legally.

How do you find an ant colony?

It is easier if you find the ants yourself. First, find a large ant nest (of a local species) that you can have access to. You need to take a shovel and a closed container. Gather the number of ants that you need and then start digging deeper in the nest with the shovel to look for a queen and some eggs. If you can get all of these (together with some dirt from the nest), it is very possible that your ant farm will survive. Put the dirt, ants, and eggs in an aquarium, which should have some sort of lid (so that the ants don’t escape) but allows ventilation.

How do you look after an ant farm?

If you buy a gel ant farm, you can either buy the ants or catch them yourself with the procedures stated above (but in this case without the dirt). When you read the instructions, they will probably mention that you have to punch about four holes on the gel to motivate the ants to start digging. If you bought the ants and after three days they do not do anything, they probably got sick or injured and have to be replaced.

Recommended Farm Kits and Live Ants to Buy

1) Ant Habitat with LED Lights – This is a gel ant farm with LED light illumination. The ants are not included. It includes an e-book, a tunnel starter tool, a power adapter, a magnifying lens, and instructions to order harvest ants.

2) Light-up Ant Habitat for Kids – This is a gel ant farm with LED lights to illuminate it. The ants are not included. It includes a magnifying lens, a booklet, a USB power cable, a tunnel starter tool, and a coupon with a discount to buy the live harvester ants.

3) Two Tubes with Farm Ants and Book – These are two tubes with 30 live ants each and a book about ants by National Geographic.


Ants, like all social insects, have a great impact on the equilibrium of their ecosystem. Their nests greatly affect the properties of the soil. The tunnels in a nest affect the porosity of the soil and aerate it. The nutrients added in the nest change the pH of the soil, due to an increment of nitrogen and phosphorus. Also, the food and water in the nests increase the microbe activity as it decomposes.

Ants help diminish the population of some pests because they eat their eggs and the young insects. Some farmers use ants for this purpose.

Ants are eaten by other animals that also help prevent pests. They also help to pollinate plants as they travel from one flower to the next, searching for food. The decomposition of their food helps fertilize plants.

An ant farm is a completely artificial and small version of an ecosystem where you can only study a small portion of what really happens in the ants’ life. However, this experimental microenvironment can reveal a lot about this fascinating insect, its organization and even its emergence.

Listen, if you want to buy a gel farm then my recommendation would be the Light Up Habitat for Kids

Or if you want to go for a sand ant farm then the Sand Ant Farm with Observation tunnels as a new level to keeping ants.

Emergence becomes an interesting thing to study because it is hard to imagine how a simple-minded ant can do complex and intelligent things when working as a team with other equally simple-minded ants.

In many ways, ants show an intelligent collective behavior that is more than the sum of all the thoughts of the ants. Where did this additional intelligence come from? How did it develop? The fact that the NASA studied them in space, and created a gel for that, shows how much interest there is to learn from this simple-minded, and yet extraordinary insect. Both sand and gel ant farms are excellent choices for studying this species, each with its individual advantages.

If you enjoyed reading this article, why not check out our articles on Where Do Ants Live in Winter? and Everything You Need to Know About Ants in Your Walls

Steve Foster

Mad about bugs and wanting to publish as many articles as I can to help educate people about these amazing beautiful creatures! For more info check out my about page

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