The Ant Farm: A small inventor success story.
August 5, 2002 7:14 PM   Subscribe

The Ant Farm: A small inventor success story. Levine, who never attended college, gave lectures, wrote chatty books about ants and made appearances on "The Shari Lewis Show." "I spoke to Lamb Chop for a half an hour about ants," he said. "I felt like an idiot." Reg: cpunks/cpunks
posted by skallas (9 comments total)
"...sent to customers who have already bought the farm."

It's a miracle he sells any, considering these people are dead.
posted by dr_dank at 9:24 PM on August 5, 2002

I am always happy to read stories about college dropouts/borderline nutcases who make good. These things give me hope.

That said, this guy is a shrewd bastard, and more than a little bit evil. After all, he's pretty much the grandaddy of the "Trick the gullible kids using a snazzy picture in a comic book" school of advertising. He sold sea horse farms, among other worthless crap. It's a short leap from there to the infamous "Sea Monkey/Brine Shrimp" bait and switch (pun intended) scam.

Not that I'm bitter. I just wanted my goddamn sea monkeys.
posted by Optamystic at 9:35 PM on August 5, 2002

Here's the page where you can order Uncle Milton's original Ant Farms. For those interested in weird words, the scientific study of ants is known as myrmecology. My goal is to use that word in casual conversation tomorrow at work.
posted by josephtate at 9:47 PM on August 5, 2002

Talks are underway with Louisiana turtle farmers to bring back tiny green turtles taken off the market years ago because some carried salmonella.

I had a friend when I was around 7 who had a pet turtle (obtained from a local pond, probably). He died of leukemia. For the longest time I thought it was salmonella.
posted by dhartung at 10:54 PM on August 5, 2002

This is REALLY weird ...

This very afternoon, a scant few hours before this topic was posted, I had somehow gotten it into my head that I wanted a genuine "Unlce Milton's Giant Ant Farm". Call it kitsch, call it nostalgia, call it curiosity ... but I was all over google looking up vendors and Ant FAQS and such.

One of the disappointing things I quickly discovered was that Uncle Milton's outfit will only send you run-of-the-mill worker ants -- no queens. This means that the entire colony will die out within 6 months ... proabably a lot sooner.

Nor can you purchase queens anywhere else. Beyond the logistical problems of integrating the correct type of queen with the correct type of colony, there are strict legal requirements that pretty much ensure that only serious research facilities can obtain queens from specialized vendors. Makes sense (of course). You could easily screw up a local eco-system if the wrong ant breed gets a foothold in a given area.

The only solution is to catch your own queen along with a significant number of drones from that same colony. But now we're into identifying the various ant species and providing for their quirks, identifying the queen (not real easy), figuring out where to look, when to look -- ARRGH!! What had started as a simple trip down memory lane was quickly bitchslapped by a million sober details.

Add to that -- I couldn't even find a single good book on the subject.

I'm not giving up just yet though. "Ant Farms" are like "Lava Lamps". Unless you've actually seen one up close, you can't really explain the fascination that can commands your gaze for hours.
posted by RavinDave at 10:55 PM on August 5, 2002

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Sea Monkeys. I think it had something to do with me watching lots of Lancelot Link in syndication and actually thinking that there was some hidden connection between them and real monkeys, and I could make them talk, do tricks, or wear little crowns like on the box.

I went through several kits, and was always really proud when I could get them past a couple millimeters. My most successful project was sitting on the kitchen counter when my parents had a party and my drunken uncle decided to swallow the entire thing.

My dad suggested that I try ant farms as a less beveragey alternative, and I was horrified, thinking how much worse it would be if another one of their parties got out of hand and somebody ate them.
posted by HellKatonWheelz at 11:08 PM on August 5, 2002

I too thought of Sea Monkeys when I read the ant article (warning: flash req.). I found a 1973 Sea Monkey comic book ad online. Here are the ads I remember from 1979. I ordered them way back when via what we now call "snail mail." They arrived. I put them in water. They never, ever grew. One of many childhood disappointments...
posted by josephtate at 11:32 PM on August 5, 2002

my roommate in college was an ant guy. he turned our linen closet into an insectary, complete with tin foil walls, and glowing red light. the ant colonies lived in shallow trays with this stuff called fluon (i think... it was like babypowder) on the sides. the fluon prevented the ants from walking out of the trays. anyhoo, it was interesting to live with the colonies! my roommate had dug them all up by hand.

ants are neat because they are all females. the queen only makes males at a certain time of year, and they are called sexuals. they have tiny heads with no brains, a pair of wings, and they only live long enough to hump and die. mmm... flying penii!

if you like weird species, here are some interesting facts about leaf cutter ants (who farm!) and army ants (who can attack an animal as big as a pig!). also, here's a good ant FAQ.
posted by mawlymawnster at 1:16 AM on August 6, 2002

It always amazes me when people complain about Sea Monkeys and what a rip-off they were. I used to read all the comics and was fascinated by the Sea Monkey ads, but I couldn't ever get them, given that I live in New Zealand. It was terribly frustrating.

A friend gave me some a few years ago, and they were brilliant - I kept them on the window sill at work, where the building would get very warm once the air conditioning turned off for the night. They grew to about 1.5 cm long. And they're intriguing to watch.
I guess I had much lower expectations than the average 8 year-old.

Hmmm. I should get some more...
posted by wilberforce at 1:41 AM on August 6, 2002

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