If you are an adult buying an ant farm for a child, it would be smart to arm yourself with some ant facts to pass along to the youngster so the ants thrive, the child learns from the experience and the entire episode is positive and satisfying.
One thing to note from the start: No matter how well you care for the ants, ultimately, they will die and this could either be a terrible experience for a child or you could turn it into an opportunity for learning. If you handle it delicately and have some thoughtful discussions with your child, this could give rise to some remarkable observations about the life cycle in general, the inevitability of death and the way all species deal with it.
In the case of ants, they carry their dead to a "midden," or refuse area they have created essentially as an area for debris that serves as the colony's graveyard. If you take good care of the ant colony and if everything goes as it should, many of the ants can live as long as three months. However, there will be some deaths along the way, so it is wise to prepare your child for this.
Another smart move is to opt for a sand-filled farm because these require some effort on the part of the youngster and will add value to the experience. After assembling the farm and putting in the sand, you will need to add a small amount of water, just enough to dampen the soil so you can create initial tunnels for the ants. They might be somewhat disoriented by their new environment and the tunnels will help them get started at their tasks, which involve creating more tunnels, mounds and bridges.
Some ant farms for kids come with a tunnel-starting tool, but if not, you can use a straw or something similar. You simply plunge this into the sand a few times to make tunnels slightly less than two inches deep, and with any luck, the ants will take it from there.
Ant farms do not come with ants. Instead, you need to send for them, and many kits include gift certificates for live ants that either come from the ant farm manufacturer or from another entity. If your ants arrive in the mail and they are all dead, the best ant farm companies offer a guarantee that lets you send for a new set of ants.
Once the ants arrive and you are ready to put them in their new home, first place them in the refrigerator for five to 15 minutes. The cold will make them settle down enough so you can get them into the ant farm without any of them escaping. You can create a paper funnel if you'd like to ease the ants into the farm.
Ants need small crumbs of food and a source of water to stay alive in a sand environment. As you have probably seen in real life, ants will eat nearly anything. Western Harvester ants, which are the kind you send for to populate a commercial ant farm, will consume such things as small bits of fruits and vegetables provided every three days or so.
If they consume everything, try feeding them more often. You will need to remove any food particles that are uneaten to avoid mold. The ants need a few drops of water dripped into the sand in their habitat daily. They also enjoy water mixed with honey or sugar, but this should be considered a supplementary food source provided along with regular drinking water.
You should keep the ant farm in one place or you will risk having the tunnels cave in, trapping ants and generally causing serious disruption for the colony. Ants do best at a temperature ranging from 60 to 70 degrees.