Unorthodox new pets in the TED office

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TED-antsWe at TED have a new addition to the office: a space-age ant farm!

The Ant Column Cylinder Ant Farm arrived at our office last week. It’s a six-inch tube filled with a nutrient-rich blue goo. We added ants ordered from Ants Alive into the equation and within a few hours, the ants had built a complicated series of tunnels in the goo and looked very at home in their new habitat.

The blue goo that fills the ant farm was originally developed for a higher purpose; researchers at the University of Colorado created it out of seaweed extract to see how the insects would behave in space. (Scientists have been sending animals into orbit since the 1940s. See: Laika the Russian space dog.) The gel was requested by a group of New York high school students who dreamed up an experiment in 2000 to see how ants would tunnel in zero gravity — if they would get disoriented or stay focused like their relatives on earth. The ants were finally launched into space in 2003 aboard the the space shuttle Columbia. However, tragedy struck when the shuttle disintegrated upon re-entry to the atmosphere, killing all crew members aboard.

A decade later, the goo is now available commercially. It contains amino acids, sugars and fungicides to fulfil all the ants’ nutritional needs — and it makes for ant farms that look far more interesting than your standard sand-and-dirt variety.

So why are ants the perfect pet for TED HQ? They value community, they are smart and industrious, plus a little bit quirky — like us. Check out a photo of the ants as their tunnels progress.

This isn’t the first time TED has expressed awe and admiration for creepy crawlies. Below, a selection of TED and TEDx talks featuring our favorite arthropods.