A true fascination never dies

I was 11 years old when I discovered the amazing world of ants.

This was in a time before anyone with a 3D-printer could make their own, super-elaborate nest designs. In a time without these fancy minimum-maintenance, maximum-visibility acrylic formicaria (fancy word for ant farm). There were no dozens of online stores to sell exotic ants, German-engineered supplies or even simple things like vinyl tubing or woodwool (but at least back then you didn’t have the problem of what to do with all the empty cardboard boxes). Also: no Youtube guides, no forums for ant-thusiasts, not even Wikipedia (the horror!). In fact nobody I knew had even heard of the Internet yet.

I must be getting old...

Back then, the only thing I had to guide me in my budding hobby was this little book, written by Prof. Dr. A Raignier, that I found in a forgotten corner on a dusty shelf of my parent’s bookcase. I read that book from cover to cover until they literally fell off.

Though published in 1957, most of the described experiments and anecdotes stem from the thirties. In fact, many of the mentioned scientists all were born all the way back in the 19th century!

Feeling a lot younger now...

And while all of it’s contents were new knowledge for a kid that barely knew what the big ants with wings were, most of it was quite dated even then. In particular the guides on crafting formicaria. It hails the gypsum nest as one of the latest advancements in ant-keeping (indeed a great advancement over the then commonly used set-up of chemistry beakers connected by glass tubing), and the only known barrier for keeping adventurous ants from exploring beyond their open outworld were tiny gypsum moats filled with oil, which are now as archaic as their bigger cousins meant to keep humans from storming castles.

How would professor Raignier have marveled over a 3-D-printed formicarium with organically-shaped rooms, integrated humidity basins and fancy connectors for tubing and heating cables?

So while my parents were probably glad that my attention and energy shifted from flipping every rock in their rockgarden to crafting a serviceable formicarium, they became increasingly worried about the fact that had I several colonies quickly growing beyond my capability to house them (like a successful, polygyne Lasius flavus colony), due to increasingly frustrating failures messing around with gypsum, cigar boxes petri dishes, test tubes and glass tubing.

A few of my colonies dying because the lack of proper formicaria, in combination with me realizing that it was probably going to be quite difficult to make a living as a myrmecologist, ended up snuffing my interest in ant-keeping (though I would still always be down on hands and knees to study some never-seen-before ants I would encounter).
A ‘few’ years later...

My adorable girlfriend comes home, proud as a cat showing me this ‘really big ant’ she found. I explain it’s a Lasius niger queen and put it for her into an empty dicebox with a small layer of sand. Girlfriend, now in full ‘observe-all-the-cuteness’ mode, became quite disappointed with the queen’s unwillingness to put up a reality-show, save for a tiny little peek at her eggs though the sand-cleared bottom of the box. Determined upon obtaining a better view, we stumble upon the beginner’s mistake of ant-keeping: gelfarms.

A few weeks later...

Though it turned out a (slightly embarrassing) failure, my determination to make the gelfarm work did introduce me to the wonders of 21st century ant-keeping. This, in combination with my Kittenmancer’s enthusiasm about ants have now fully rekindled my ant-thusiasm. Soon I will get to house species that I never even dreamed of seeing with my own eyes as a kid.

Now if only I could stop wishing I had become a myrmecologist after all...