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Formicarium concept: slip casting pottery

clay casting cast formicarium pottery

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#1 Offline Nixionika - Posted March 5 2024 - 2:23 AM

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I have been searching for a perfect material for building a formicarium nest. Something that is porous, absorbs water, is mold resistant, and chew resistant even for destructive species. I am planning a vertical nest - a cuboid with 3 or 4 vertical nest parts on the sides covered by glass panels (think THA).

 

Plaster gets moldy. Ytong is too soft and it is hard to cut perfectly flush with the glass. I wasn't able to mix a perfect concrete that would be both hard and absorbent. I have considered fired clay before (as it is absorbent and very hard), but pottery shrinks and warps while drying.

 

And then I got an idea: what if I cast pourable clay into a plaster mold. It would stay hollow, so it could be reasonably light and hydrating might be as easy as pouring water in the inside of the cuboid). Any technical ideas? Thoughts? Experience with similar experiments?


Edited by Nixionika, March 5 2024 - 3:12 AM.

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#2 Offline ANTdrew - Posted March 5 2024 - 3:28 AM

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I’m having a hard time visualizing your concept. One issue I see is that directly pouring water into a nest will seriously FREAK out most ant species. Have you looked into improved plasters like Perfect Cast or hydrostone? That is what I recommend.
"The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer." Prov. 30:25
Keep ordinary ants in extraordinary ways.

#3 Offline FormiCanada - Posted March 5 2024 - 9:08 AM

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I have been searching for a perfect material for building a formicarium nest. Something that is porous, absorbs water, is mold resistant, and chew resistant even for destructive species. I am planning a vertical nest - a cuboid with 3 or 4 vertical nest parts on the sides covered by glass panels (think THA).

 

Plaster gets moldy. Ytong is too soft and it is hard to cut perfectly flush with the glass. I wasn't able to mix a perfect concrete that would be both hard and absorbent. I have considered fired clay before (as it is absorbent and very hard), but pottery shrinks and warps while drying.

 

And then I got an idea: what if I cast pourable clay into a plaster mold. It would stay hollow, so it could be reasonably light and hydrating might be as easy as pouring water in the inside of the cuboid). Any technical ideas? Thoughts? Experience with similar experiments?

 

 

Something we offer that completely fits this bill is our FormiBrick. We have the bricks made by a local brick factory using natural materials including our own mixture Formican. 

It's recommended to cut into while it's submerged with a dremel but nothing can chew through it & it retains 2x its weight in water. Patent pending. 

 

https://www.formican...age/formibrick 



#4 Offline Nixionika - Posted March 5 2024 - 9:28 AM

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Here's are two sketches of my design idea.

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#5 Offline Nixionika - Posted March 5 2024 - 9:31 AM

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I’m having a hard time visualizing your concept. One issue I see is that directly pouring water into a nest will seriously FREAK out most ant species. Have you looked into improved plasters like Perfect Cast or hydrostone? That is what I recommend.

I would not water inside the nest chambers, but inside the hollow. (See my pictures).

Improved plasters are improved, but it's still too soft, still degrades with water.

Edited by Nixionika, March 5 2024 - 9:35 AM.


#6 Offline Nixionika - Posted March 5 2024 - 9:44 AM

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Something we offer that completely fits this bill is our FormiBrick. We have the bricks made by a local brick factory using natural materials including our own mixture Formican. [/font][/size]
It's recommended to cut into while it's submerged with a dremel but nothing can chew through it & it retains 2x its weight in water. Patent pending. 
 
https://www.formican...age/formibrick 


I don't want to cut, I want to cast. Cutting is never perfectly straight, there are always some gaps next to the glass, at least when I do it. And I'm from Europe.

#7 Offline ANTdrew - Posted March 5 2024 - 9:47 AM

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Make water towers by fusing mesh onto plastic cups. That way you do not need to water the plaster directly.
"The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer." Prov. 30:25
Keep ordinary ants in extraordinary ways.

#8 Offline Nixionika - Posted March 5 2024 - 10:42 AM

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Make water towers by fusing mesh onto plastic cups. That way you do not need to water the plaster directly.

Yes, I know about watering towers but I want to try something new. I have experience with watering Ytong nests and I like it, it worked great.

The point of my post was really if anybody tried casting a ceramic nest and how it went. I've seen some clay formicariums but no casting.
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#9 Offline Full_Frontal_Yeti - Posted March 5 2024 - 11:14 AM

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I find perfect cast to be a good material myself.

https://www.amazon.c...l/dp/B0006O87CS

 

I keep pogonomyrmex occidentalis. They are all about destruction. Any new space they are in, first order to business is to try and tear it all up.

Their primary pass time activity is, can my mandibles tear this up?

 

And with the perfect cast, no they can not.

 

 

It surely seems to not mildew/mold at all, but of course nothing stops them from communal toilet zones that color whatever surface.

 

Personaly i like the lazy ease of water towers only needing to be checked on once every couple weeks as well as being very consistent.
And it'd not be an option to fire a nest with a water tower in a kiln.

My last thoughts on this are, i like a disconnected outworld personally. The all in ones look way neat and i like their aesthetics. But a detached outworld lets you do outworld upkeep and feeding while more easily not disturbing the nest proper when you do it. As well the nest/outworld separation gives you greater flexibility in growth options and longer term upkeep.
Like in a couple years i will want to evict them from their current nest as it gets older/dirtier.
Keeping parts compartmental from each other, lets any one item be dealt with alone.

 

I am quite lazy and so all about the lowest ongoing upkeep effort possible. I'm willing to do a bit more up front, so the longer term upkeep averages are lower.


Edited by Full_Frontal_Yeti, March 5 2024 - 11:14 AM.

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#10 Offline Nixionika - Posted March 5 2024 - 11:43 AM

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I find perfect cast to be a good material myself.

https://www.amazon.c...l/dp/B0006O87CS

 

I keep pogonomyrmex occidentalis. They are all about destruction. Any new space they are in, first order to business is to try and tear it all up.

Their primary pass time activity is, can my mandibles tear this up?

 

And with the perfect cast, no they can not.

 

 

It surely seems to not mildew/mold at all, but of course nothing stops them from communal toilet zones that color whatever surface.

 

Personaly i like the lazy ease of water towers only needing to be checked on once every couple weeks as well as being very consistent.
And it'd not be an option to fire a nest with a water tower in a kiln.

My last thoughts on this are, i like a disconnected outworld personally. The all in ones look way neat and i like their aesthetics. But a detached outworld lets you do outworld upkeep and feeding while more easily not disturbing the nest proper when you do it. As well the nest/outworld separation gives you greater flexibility in growth options and longer term upkeep.
Like in a couple years i will want to evict them from their current nest as it gets older/dirtier.
Keeping parts compartmental from each other, lets any one item be dealt with alone.

 

I am quite lazy and so all about the lowest ongoing upkeep effort possible. I'm willing to do a bit more up front, so the longer term upkeep averages are lower.

Yeah, I like the all-in-ones. It's sort of in the middle of my living room, so aesthetics are important.

 

Perfect Cast sounds promising. Does it absorb water nicely? I'm also worried about water erosion if it's constantly wet.



#11 Offline ANTdrew - Posted March 5 2024 - 12:40 PM

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Directly watering nests is honestly a very archaic and imprecise way of hydrating formicaria. It was the go-to method many years ago before people figured out water towers. Designing a directly watered nest would not be making something new.
"The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer." Prov. 30:25
Keep ordinary ants in extraordinary ways.

#12 Offline Full_Frontal_Yeti - Posted March 5 2024 - 1:24 PM

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It is not the most absorbent, somewhat, but it might not be the best material if you are going to direct water it for humidity.

I'd be fairly sure it'll stand up to being wet, but i use water towers. So I got no first hand xp to report about direct watering it for humidity.

 

As Antdrew points out, direct watering of the nest material is kind of an outdated method to use.
The water tower grants greater consistency of nest humidity, by evaporating at a steady rate into the nest. While the direct water method sees a nest get a high to low over time curve for humidity. With tons when it is wet, to less as it dries out.

 

But a water tower is just always the same amount of humidity consistently.
And by only coming form the water tower directly, you get greater control of the humidity gradient in the nest as a whole.

With locations nearer the tower being more humid than locations farther away.

Water on most nest materials directly will wick throughout it, releasing moisture into the nest in a less controlled manor.

Here's one from THA that's sort of like your example drawings(all in one, nest under outworld).

IMG_1399_1024x1024 copy.jpg

 

you can see the water towers in the image, as well as the side where there are two ports for expansion tubes or nest mates(drinking water/air vent). As well as the tiny hole where a blunt tip syringe is used to put water into the water towers.

 

best place to start for designs, is copying known good ones.

THA has a high reputation among Anters world wide. So that'd be a good place to start for designs to copy if you're looking to DIY a nest.

https://tarheelants.com/

tons of examples to be inspired by.

 

 

FYI, in my DIY nest, i have heart shaped water towers. thsi is an old image when i first hooked it up, it is very full of brood these days.

Untitled-1.jpg



#13 Offline Nixionika - Posted March 5 2024 - 3:11 PM

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It is not the most absorbent, somewhat, but it might not be the best material if you are going to direct water it for humidity.

I'd be fairly sure it'll stand up to being wet, but i use water towers. So I got no first hand xp to report about direct watering it for humidity.

 

As Antdrew points out, direct watering of the nest material is kind of an outdated method to use.
The water tower grants greater consistency of nest humidity, by evaporating at a steady rate into the nest. While the direct water method sees a nest get a high to low over time curve for humidity. With tons when it is wet, to less as it dries out.

 

But a water tower is just always the same amount of humidity consistently.
And by only coming form the water tower directly, you get greater control of the humidity gradient in the nest as a whole.

With locations nearer the tower being more humid than locations farther away.

Water on most nest materials directly will wick throughout it, releasing moisture into the nest in a less controlled manor.

Here's one from THA that's sort of like your example drawings(all in one, nest under outworld).

...

I know THA, I even mentioned them in my original post as a layout inspiration. Here is a picture of my last setup from Ytong.

 

I know about the water towers, I just wanted to go a different route since it worked for me so far. Maybe I'm just being stubborn. I will think about it some more.

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#14 Offline Nixionika - Posted March 5 2024 - 3:15 PM

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Directly watering nests is honestly a very archaic and imprecise way of hydrating formicaria. It was the go-to method many years ago before people figured out water towers. Designing a directly watered nest would not be making something new.

True, it's not new. It just worked very well for my ants for many years (my last 4-sided formicarium is in the comment above). But I'll think about it some more.

Edited by Nixionika, March 5 2024 - 3:32 PM.


#15 Offline FormiCanada - Posted March 11 2024 - 10:16 AM

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You can flatten it flush to glass with a 90 degree angle & using 120 grit sandpaper. You can also sand in higher grit for a smoother result. 



#16 Offline futurebird - Posted March 14 2024 - 3:23 AM

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Hi Yeti, I like your ideas about trying new formicarium materials. I do a little pottery, but always slab building (teapots mostly) not slip casting. I think you could integrate a hydration system into a slipcast project you'd just need to account for in your mould, then you could use plaster to hold the well in place. 

 

The "tea light" wells work really well in plaster systems, and they could also be integrated into a ceramic system. Also, using ceramics gives you options for glazing. For example some surfaces could be unglazed for better traction and ant comfort... but others could have glaze to help retain moisture. If you have access to casting and firing facilities I hope you will experiment with some designs and share them. 

 

I've been thinking of taking up pottery again and never thought to make something for the girls... but why not?

 

I could see a top-down formicarium with unglazed tunnels, filling port and glazed moisture chamber with permeable ports for hydration being very attractive and functional... I do think attaching the glass or plexiglass is the tricky bit. For a vertical system glueing magnets should work... but I've never found a glue I fully trusted. So, I might go with a top-down design. 

 

I do think the advice others have given about the down-sides to "all in ones" is good. I find it harder to keep tiny outworlds clean and nice looking with all in ones. Moving in the direction of extra large bioactive outworlds this summer. 

 

Keep us posted on what you create!


Starting this July I'm posting videos of my ants every week on youTube.

I like to make relaxing videos that capture the joy of watching ants.

If that sounds like your kind of thing... follow me >here<






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