Guide to Ant Housing and Ant Containment

Guide to Ant Housing and Ant Containment

The biggest concern for most beginning ant-keepers, especially parents, is 'Will these ants escape and enter my home?' Usually the answer is no, and most ant species will perish in the home environment. Even species like carpenter ants will often die unless the house in question is already rotting and damaged due to excess humidity.

This article will tackle how to house ants and how to make sure they don't escape.

Ant Housing

Ant housing is a really fun subject, and each colony size uses different setups. As a general rule, most setups come with a formicarium and an outworld. However, the most widely used setup for small colonies and single queens is the test tube setup.

Test Tube Setup

The test tube setup is the cheapest, most widespread and easily the most convenient setup for ants. In this video, we will demonstrate how to put together a test tube setup and conversely, the pros and cons of a test tube setup as well as additional upgrades that can be made to improve the quality of life for your ants in a test tube.

The main pro of test tubes is the ability for then to maintain a steady humidity for the ants inside. Also worth noting is it's cheap cost, and how easy it is to clean and make new setups.

However, test tube setups also have many cons. One large con is the limited humidity that a test tube can produce. For many smaller species like Brachymyrmex, it is hard to produce the ideal humidity conditions without adding substrates to the nest. Many ants also feel uncomfortable in test tubes

Setting a test tube is fairly easy. All you need is a test tube, any material that can absorb, retain water and that air can pass through, and some water.

Picking a test tube- test tubes generally come in two materials- glass and plastic. Glass generally provides more visibility and is easier to clean, but is prone to breaking when dropped. Refillable test tubes also exist which reduce much work when combined with the reusable sponges. However, I am told from many who have bought these test tubes that they leak unless a water absorbent substrate is added, and even then, hydration tends not to be long-term and must be refilled frequently.

Alternatives can be found in many places, such as flower picks for botany and centrifugal tubes, though they both offer disadvantages in either size, visibility, or both

First, you fill-up the test tube to the desired level. This level may vary depending on many factors. Generally, the things that should be kept in mind is that the more water is in the test tube, the longer the ants can stay inside the tube. This is important to keep in mind because in some cases it means that the ants in a tube with little water will have to be moved earlier than the ants in a tube with a lot of water. In the more sensitive species, it may be detrimental. On the flip side, more ant-space will mean not only more space, but the ants will be easier to feed without any escapees, as more space can be put between the ants, the food, and the opening of the test tube.

Next, you put in whatever center material there is. I’m using cotton here, but many alternatives, such as reusable sponges, paper towel, and other media exist. For your standard test tube setup, accessories may be added at this point. Substrates, inserts, feeders, and other test tube accessories. 

Lastly, you seal up the tube to prevent any escapees. Of course, there are many variations to this, and many choose to use a cork divider, or straw and some cotton to create a small opening to a foraging container.


Formicarium is the hobby jargon for what is known more commonly as an "ant farm." There are many types of formicaria, all with different pros and cons.

As a general rule, one should consider size, and material in a formicarium. 

The biggest mistake beginners make is choosing a formicarium of the wrong size. A formicarium which is too large is harmful to your ants and will doom the colony. There are a variety of reasons for this, but it is generally accepted that the additional airflow damages brood development, the ants will confuse portions of the formicarium with the foraging area, and will stop foraging where food is placed, or will throw trash elsewhere in the formicarium. As a general rule, the ants should be able to cover 30% of the surface area of the formicarium before they can be moved in.The formicarium should also have chambers which match the size of the ants themselves. 

Material is also an important part of choosing a formicarium. Different materials will release different amounts of humidity and will have have varying resistances to ants.


Aesthetically pleasing May warp under high humidity
Natural-Feeling Poor water absorption
Can be chewed through by destructive ant species



Natural-Feeling Can be chewed through by destructive ant species


High Water absorbency Can be chewed through by destructive ant species, but is more resistant than most other materials



High Water absorbency Can be chewed through by destructive ant species
Dissolves when in contact with water for long periods of time



Resistant to chewing from destructive species Unnatural-feeling
Requires fissures or layers to spread water



Resistant to chewing from destructive species
Limited water absorbency



Natural-Feeling Lack of visibility to inside nest
Chamber sizes increase with growth, i.e can be used for a large range of colony sizes Sandy soils may collapse
Silt and clay may be piled on glass/acrylic and obstruct viewing


Formicaria and ant nests can be bought here

Outworld (Some of the information taken from the General antkeeping guide)

The Outworld, or foraging area, allows you to easily feed the ants without them escaping.  It also provides a place for the ants to place their trash and they will often pile it in one corner for easy cleaning.

The Outworld can be made from almost any container as long as it is big enough that you can get one hand in it.

some people go all out with their outworlds and decorate them, or even grow plants in them.  You can, however, just use a simple, empty plastic box.  

Mini food dishes make feeding and cleaning up easier.  The inserts inside some pop bottles or aluminum foil work well for dishes for feeding.

 Most outworlds have secure lids with ventilation holes, but others are left open.  Regardless of which method you choose, you should have a barrier to prevent your ants from escaping.

Ant Containment

Ant Barriers

Certain barriers can be placed on the surfaces of the tops of outworlds in order to prevent ants from escaping

Olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil is probably the most used.  Take some paper towel or a cotton ball, dab it in the oil, and “paint” a light sheen about an inch wide along the top rim of the outworld.  Even just using your finger to wipe it on will work. Allow it to settle for a few hours before use since it tends to drip for a while and can drown ants caught in it.  If it drips, just wipe up the excess with a clean paper towel.  It holds some species with ease, such as Myrmica and Formica. Although there are some ants who have no trouble walking over it.  The oil has to be re-applied every 2-3 weeks.


Talcum powder

A homemade barrier uses baby powder (those made from talcum powder) and isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol.  Mix it together to make a paste, paint an inch-thick band along the top and allow it to dry.  Alcohol evaporates quickly so it shouldn’t be long until the powder is stuck to the side.  The particles of the powder aren’t stuck on there very well and even an ant’s weight will cause them to fall off.  This is temporary, as well, and some ants don’t seem to have an issue walking over it.   Be careful as the more ants trying to cross it, the faster it deteriorates.   If you have a large colony it won’t be long before the ants clear a path.


 Fluon or Insect-a-slip

Insect-a-slip, or liquid Teflon, is one of the best barriers out there.  It comes in a small bottle and is pretty pricey for the amount you get.  Before you let that deter you, though, consider that one layer uses only a fraction of the bottle and lasts at the very least for some months.  It does degrade faster with higher humidity or at low temperatures.   Each application should last around six months. Canada Ant Colony sells fluon in two different sizes. A large size, and a small size 

Back to blog