Skip

Uncle Milton has bought The Farm
January 30, 2011 7:13 AM   Subscribe

Milton M. Levine has died. He invented the ant farm.

Ant Farm in action

For every human there are one million ants.

Fun for the kids.

Scientific versions

The Future.

The past.
posted by Sailormom (38 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
RIP Uncle Milty.
posted by electroboy at 7:16 AM on January 30, 2011


.


I have novelty coffin idea
posted by Artw at 7:32 AM on January 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


 \_/
.-0-.
.-0-.
.-0-.

posted by msbutah at 7:32 AM on January 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


NPR host Melissa Block speaks to Milton Levine's son, Steven, about his Dad, ant farms and the company he built.
posted by ericb at 7:39 AM on January 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I had one of these in 1959.
I remember they sent the ants
by mail. They went to work post
haste building their tunnels, but
were soon buried alive by viewer created
earth quakes.

.
posted by quazichimp at 7:45 AM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]




I was given an ant farm for Christmas one year by an uncle or somebody, but I never opened it. Not because I didn't find it interesting -- I did -- but because our house was so cluttered and cramped that there wasn't really any place for me to put such a thing. Flat surfaces were a rare commodity in our home. And also, it was strongly implied by my father that there would be dire [read: belt buckle] consequences if I brought ants into the already bug-prone house, which was enough to scare me away from even attempting it.

Hey, my father's dead. Maybe I can try it now!
posted by Gator at 7:50 AM on January 30, 2011


His death leaves me with mixed feelings. On one hand, I had an ant farm as a kid and thought it was great. On the other hand, ants have been using my home as a giant ant farm the past couple of years. That I might have contributed to this by helping to breed ants that think tall vertical homes are just peachy leaves me feeling used.
posted by tommasz at 7:57 AM on January 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am so totally gonna write a song called Ant Farm. It will be about an ant farm.

RIP, Milton Levine.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:04 AM on January 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Gonna be a hell of a grave.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:07 AM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have an ant farm on my desk right now. An actual Uncle Milton, with the pastic barn and windmill. And I really love it. But something I hadn't considered when the ants first arrived, without a queen the colony would eventually perish. Sure enough, of the original 20 I'm down to eight. They move kind of slowly and are significantly less active than when they first thawed out from their trip to our house in the envelope.

I poked around to see if you could order a queen, but it seems that the USDA isn't a big fan of the idea. I can and probably will try and dig one up in the summer, but in the meantime it's just a death watch.

Has anyone ever actually dug out a queen? Tips?
posted by Toekneesan at 8:08 AM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Uncle Milton's obit in the NY Times.
posted by Argyle at 8:09 AM on January 30, 2011


By the way, one of the neat things that happened when I was setting up the ant farm was the medium they send instead of actual sand, kind of spilled, about half of it. So we mixed in a little sand from the kids' sandbox.

By the end of the third week, the colony had sorted out all of the granules, lining living areas and the surface with the preferred artificial medium, and moving the actual sand to the bottom of the colony. It was amazing and a little obsessive compulsive.

The instructions also suggested feeding the colony seeds. I had some winter rye handy so I plopped in a few grains. They never seemed interested in eating the seeds, but they buried them and almost all of them sprouted. I can't say I've seen them eating the plants, or the roots, but it still left me wondering if they buried them as storage or to grow them.
posted by Toekneesan at 8:20 AM on January 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Milton M. Levine has died. He invented the ant farm.

I'm betting he's got one more insect agricultural project in 'im.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:29 AM on January 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


"If all of humanity were to disappear, the remainder of life would spring back and flourish. The mass extinctions now under way would cease, the damaged ecosystems heal and expand outward. If all the ants somehow disappeared, the effect would be exactly the opposite, and catastrophic. Species extinction would increase even more over the present rate, and the land ecosystems would shrivel more rapidly as the considerable services provided by these insects were pulled away."

Via Journey To The Ants by Bert Hölldobler & E.O. Wilson
posted by fairmettle at 8:29 AM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


.

We got one of those for our kids a few years back and it was seriously neat stuff.
posted by jquinby at 8:31 AM on January 30, 2011


I remember when we had one of these things the ants started dieing and I remember the survivors piling all the dead ones in one tunnel. Reading the above-linked Onion article, I see my memories are accurate:

"It was really weird," said Jessica Lurman, 14, of Savannah, GA. "The ants were, like, really careful to put all the dead ants in this one big grave until there were, like, only four left. Then, the next morning, three of the four were lying with the others in the big pile, and the last one was dead over by the plastic farmhouse thingy. It must've died right after it buried the second-to-last ant."
posted by marxchivist at 8:41 AM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


without a queen the colony would eventually perish
This is too unbelievably sad...

"Worker #1892B, dig! We must all dig for the glory of the Queen!"
"Yes, Worker #1892A, I dig, I dig...and yet I wonder...why have we never seen the Queen?"
"It is not for us to wonder, 1892B, it is for us to dig! Dig food storage tunnels for the Queen! Dig ant-laying tunnels for the Queen!"
"1892A, I have been thinking...what if there is no Queen?"
"WHAT? NO! THIS IS MADNESS! Dig, 1892B, we must dig! In digging lies our colony's future! Our glory! Our purpose!"
"But WHY? Why, 1892A? What purpose, what future, if there is no queen?"
"This is madness...madness! Unnatural! Blasphemer! I must dig...must dig...dig for the Queen...for the...the future... [breaks down sobbing]
posted by PlusDistance at 8:44 AM on January 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


There is something really terrible about setting these tiny creatures in an artificial habitat and gawking as they dig futilely. Some people may think that the ants are constructing a home, I think they are trying to escape.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:54 AM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meh, I kind of doubt it's quite so existential. Yeah, they are out of the boundaries of their normal existence, but I think it's a bit more Gilligan's Island and a little less Lost.
posted by Toekneesan at 9:05 AM on January 30, 2011


There is such a thing as too much empathy. I received an ant farm as a gift when I was but a wee thing, but we lost some of the sand, and the ants spent the entirety of their short, meaningless existence attempting to level the remainder. Back and forth, forth and back, sloping and resloping, never building tunnels or nests, til they all dropped from ant ADD. I was permanently emotionally scarred. Worst. Present. Evar.
posted by tspae at 9:44 AM on January 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: a bit more Gilligan's Island and a little less Lost
posted by Meatbomb at 9:45 AM on January 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hey Meatbomb.
posted by Sailormom at 9:47 AM on January 30, 2011


We had an Uncle Milton ant farm a few years ago. It was awfully depressing. Watching them pile the dead ants in the ant graveyard--which started almost immediately--was rather horrific.
posted by RedEmma at 9:49 AM on January 30, 2011


My son has an ant farm. The one that has the NASA blue stuff that they consume as well as dig tunnels into. It has lights at the bottom and glows in the dark. This one ant, much bigger than the rest, we named Henry. I swear, if we get close and watch the ants do their thing, Henry would stop and stare at us. No lie. He would see our presence, and turn and look me in the eye. Watching me....watching me.... judging me. Well, every Saturday morning we do as told by the instructions and open the sealed lid to bring in fresh air. Most of the ants would haul ass towards the surface but it was futile. We would slam the lid shut, and the ants would crash around into each other in animalistic outrage. Except Henry. Calm as a cucumber, he would sit at the top of the blue stuff and observe. He was the only ant not overcome with excitement/grief about the chamber opening up to freedom. One Saturday morning, I opened the lid after seeing the ants near the bottom chambers. As I glanced down at the lid in my hand, I saw movement. Henry had been sitting under the lid awaiting this moment. He fell to the floor, and I scampered to retrieve him with my sons drawings littered on the floor. Henry went under a bookcase, and I'll be damned if he didn't turn his head and looked back at me as he went into the shadows of the darkness.

Despite our efforts, we never found Henry. But, I have a feeling, ever so slight, but always there in the peripheral vision of my mind, that he is not through with me. One day he will come looking for me, and Henry and I will finish this dance once and for all.
posted by Senator at 10:00 AM on January 30, 2011 [23 favorites]


.
Growing up I thought there should be an "ant farm" channel on TV.
posted by variella at 10:06 AM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, haven't thought about that ant farm I received as a Christmas present (or was it my sister or brother who got it?) for many, many years.

What mixed feelings it was as a child to get that emerald green framed transparent plastic box to observe tiny ants. There was a slight revulsion because, in spite of the likable Ant and Bee books, ants were not that easy to sympathize with, especially since I'd accidentally stepped in a red anthill as I leaned forward to look at the alligators at a zoo in Guatemala and been stung badly. Ants aren't in any way the kind of creature one wants to cuddle, no fur to stroke, no limpid pools for eyes, no waggy tails, no language I could hear, no songs or pretty feathers. And there was that slightly disturbing thing about them having such a tiny waist. How did their food get to their stomachs? Why was their waist sooo tiny?

When the ants started to make their excavations in the ant farm, I watched their diligence and then felt sympathy for them. Was this the life that was also set out for me and other human beings, to be diligent? Was diligence and energetic construction of the community all there was to life? What about fun and playfulness, art, music, joy, bliss? Did ants feel bliss ever? That ant farm depressed the shit out of me and yet I did want to see what they were doing, what they made.

Before I knew it, that ant farm got me thinking about the philosophical and emotional states of all creatures. And then I read a book about how ants milk aphids for honeydew, how they have aphids like cows, like miniature dairy farms. Ants can even control aphid development, modifying their ability to be free. The gap between the tiniest creatures and humans seemed suddenly and miserably smaller than before.

Over the years that gap between ants and humans has seemed smaller still. Ants build cities, are engineers, wage wars, keep slaves, domesticate other creatures and plants, teach, cooperate and communicate, have queens.

And now, all these years later, I wonder if having that ant farm trivialized the amazingness of the universe ants or opened my eyes.

So I have to thank Milton M. Levine for creating that stimulating quandary for me via his Big Brother plastic box for looking at ants.

I do like his sense of humor, Mr. Levine certainly appreciated Pogonomyrmex californicus. “I found out their most amazing feat yet,” he said. “They put three kids through college.”


posted by nickyskye at 10:27 AM on January 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Whoa, Milton Babbitt died the same day and has not been eulogized here. Not that he cares if you miss him.
posted by spitbull at 10:42 AM on January 30, 2011


.
posted by clavdivs at 10:52 AM on January 30, 2011


For every human there are one million ants.

I like to think I'm a little pickier than that.

posted by StickyCarpet at 11:25 AM on January 30, 2011


.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:46 AM on January 30, 2011


Yeah, it's been a bad day for Miltons. ("Milta"? "Miltoi"?)
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:35 PM on January 30, 2011


> By the end of the third week, the colony had sorted out all of the granules, lining living areas and the surface with the preferred artificial medium, and moving the actual sand to the bottom of the colony. It was amazing and a little obsessive compulsive.

> I remember when we had one of these things the ants started dieing and I remember the survivors piling all the dead ones in one tunnel.

DWARF FORTRESS
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 2:14 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had one of his ant farms as a kid.
Rest in Peace, Uncle Milton.
posted by Flood at 3:30 PM on January 30, 2011


Has anyone ever actually dug out a queen? Tips?

My husband got me an ant farm a few years ago and I decided not to use it because of this problem. Apparently, digging up a queen won't help the ants you already have because it won't be their queen--in fact, you have a good chance of getting your guys eaten.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:35 PM on January 30, 2011


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:00 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ant farm keyboard proposal
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:58 PM on January 30, 2011


Re: ant farms with queens. Somewhere out there, during the heat of our ant farm experience, I came across a website with pictures of some guy's ant colony. It was in his house, and it was in a gigantic glass case because IT WAS ENORMOUS AND FULL OF MILLIONS OF ANTS. I can't find it now, of course, but know that there's a precedent out there for you.
posted by jquinby at 6:16 AM on January 31, 2011


« Older Collect 'Em All!   |   Classic upbeat song about... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post