Ok, ok. This must be most random idea ever. I had just got a shipment of a lot of dehydrated media from Carolina Biological, with many left over. Just today, I had caught a queen and a few workers while flipping over stones. So happy! I had just joined the forum yesterday. What a coincidence! I put them in my garage and. Before yelling at me about the consequences of mold and bacteria growth, hear my reasons for this idea:
1. Ants can dig freely, like in the Uncle Milton Gelfarms.
2. You can see through the agar.
3. Agar will not collapse.
4. Agar is light.
I have an old gelfarm. When the colony I have is awakened from Hibernation, I will put it in the gelfarm, which will be filled with agar. I will have a foraging arena, too.
So, any ideas, any thoughts? I am aware that agar can harbor bacteria, so that is why I am posting this question. Thanks for your time!
I would encourage experimentation with agar, however you would want the plain agar as a base, and not the "nutrient" mixture. The purpose of the agar gel would simply be to act as a substrate, and would not have any nutritive value to the ants.
Nutrient agar is designed specifically for the culturing of bacterial and fungal plates. Any microorganism would readily reproduce and decompose the gel.
If you use plain gracilaria agar, however, and add the correct amount of preservatives and antioxidants, then it should resist bacteria and fungus without being detrimental to the ants.
You'll need a preservative to protect against both gram negative and gram positive bacteria, which also has antifungal properties. Parabens, benzoates, natamycin, and marbofloxacin come to mind for preservatives. Antioxidants would include ascorbic acid and your tocopherols, which would slow any animal fats that end up on the gel from going rancid.
You will not get anywhere adding salt to the mixture, as that will definitely kill ants.
This preparation would definitely be something you'd want to try in a home-lab setup, as measuring the ingredients would require the use of a 0.001 gram scale, and some of the preservatives would require safety equipment to properly administer.
Even with published guidelines for usage in human food, achieving the proper ratio of preservatives and antioxidants to balance the antiseptic properties with the safety of the ants, would require some trial and error.
I'd encourage you and others to try it, and enjoy the experimentation process. Just be sure to use ants from your yard for testing before adding any complete colonies.