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Singapore opens its first Ants Museum, and it's fascinating

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Ant-keeping is becoming a legit hobby here and it makes me proud.

One of the most difficult questions ant-keepers face is telling the people around them about their strange hobby. 

I have been an ant-keeper for almost three years, and that moment came when I told my boss I wanted to write about the opening of Singapore's first Ants Museum.  

While my colleagues were freaked out to find that I had over 2,000 ants at home at one point of time, I was no longer shy about my obsession with catching ant queens and raising them to colonies.

We have our own museum now. Ant-keeping has become a legit hobby in Singapore.

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The two-storey Ant Museum, which has more floor space than the previous Ants Exhibition, is now home to innumerable ants.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/JUSTIN HUI

An upgrade from the Singapore Ants Exhibition

I visited the nondescript semi-detached museum along Upper Payar Lebar for the soft launch on Sunday, Mar 15. I was really excited, as were the 20 or so visitors – most of whom were from the Singapore Ants Community – who had signed up for the afternoon tour. 

A pair of young and enthusiastic guides began the tour by ushering us to the upper floor, lined with tanks of locally-found ant colonies in their elaborate 'ant farms', or formicariums, from one end to the other.

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The exhibits at the Ants Museum push the limits of creativity, with some featuring architectural dioramas.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/JUSTIN HUI

Kristen Lin, 15, was one of our guides for the day. The homeschooler previously worked at the Singapore Ants Exhibition, which had seen around 20,000 visitors over its five-month run. 

She said: "The exhibition was just one floor and there weren't a lot of ant species that could be shown off or talked about. I think the museum has truly brought in more species and become more educational for adults and students." 

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"I used to hate ants before I came here, but once I got introduced to the concept of keeping ants, I feel like they are really majestic creatures," said Kristen (centre in black).
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/JUSTIN HUI

Singapore's rare ants on display

One thing that still amazes me is the diversity of ants in tropical Singapore. From the giant forest ants to the tiny but notoriously invasive fire ants, the variation in size and shapes of the ants on display is quite impressive. 

Many fellow ant-keepers I've spoken to from more temperate climates can only dream of seeing such a variety of ants, and the hope of the people behind the Ants Museum is to attract tourists as well. 

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Diacamma scalpratum ants are almost 2cm, and rely on a 'gamergate' mated worker to reproduce, rather than a queen.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/JUSTIN HUI

While many of the younger ant-keepers were running around to photograph the colonies in their large and impressive formicarums, my attention was drawn to a small display near the staircase with a species I had never seen in my three years pursuing the hobby. 

These Diacamma scalpratum ants, nicknamed dinosaur ants, had a metallic-looking exoskeleton that was shaped like plate armour. And rather than scrambling around like many common house ants, these giants took each step intentionally and were mesmerising to watch. 

"Here you can come face-to-face with ants that not every ant-keeper gets to see," said Nyi Nyi, 15, who runs an ant club in his secondary school. 

"This museum gives ant-keepers inspiration for their setups, and gives the general public a deeper perspective into ants, rather than just seeing them as pests."

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One of the people behind the Ants Museum,
Chris Chan (centre in black), 32, explains how crystals were used in decorating the live termite mound display.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/JUSTIN HUI

A space for creative expression

If the second floor of the museum showcased the variety of local ant species, the first floor showed off the creativity of local ant-keepers. 

Large ant-themed paintings lined the walls, and ornate formicariums made using precious stones and gold made the place look more like an art gallery. 

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This painting by Zat Low and fellow artist/ant-keeper Elise was inspired by the Carebera diversa soldier ants, which are so large that smaller ants ride on them for protection like 'army tanks'. 
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/JUSTIN HUI

After the tour, I got the chance to talk to Zat Low, 36, the organiser of the Ants Museum. He asked me about my colonies (he gave me advice and test tubes to start my first colony years ago), and shared about his hopes for the hobby and community. 

"This place is helping to bring the community together," he said, referencing the numerous smaller groups within the hobby, "I want it to be a thriving community." 

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Zat shared that the biggest challenge they faced was COVID-19, which made them switch from a walk-in system to an appointment-based one for crowd control.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/JUSTIN HUI

As we walked through the basement of the museum, which currently functions as a rest area for the staff between tours, Zat gestured to a large portion of the room where he dreams of building a gigantic formicarium to house a large colony of fire ants or giant forest ants. 

He continued: "We need to encourage the community to build their own formicariums. If you start to build your own formicarium based on your own creativity, you have a stronger sense of ownership and pride. 

"If you really love the work you create, you will invest your energy to maintain it daily, and this helps bring the hobby to a new level." 

The Singapore Ants Museum is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays (by appointment only), and on weekdays for private bookings. Contact Chris at 8779 9266 to book a time slot, at $15 per pax. 

BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/JUSTIN HUI

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