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uncle miltons ant farmBack in 1956 “formicariums,” ant habitats, were hand made and you could only find them in classrooms and natural history museums. But all that changed when the man who made the words “ant farm” an enduring brand found his calling.

Now the GroTube XL, version two of the GroTube, is “a multi-material starter formicarium consisting of a nest area and a detachable foraging area, designed and manufactured by byFormica,” and it’s 3D printed.

Milton Levine

Uncle Milton Levine

But it all began when “Uncle” Milton Levine came home from the war to found a mail-order novelty company. The inspiration for the first commercially-popular ant farm came when Levine attended a Fourth of July barbecue in 1956 and noticed a group of ants marching in and out of a crack in a swimming pool. He recalled how fascinated he’d been as a young boy with watching ants, so he and a partner put together their first mail-order ant farm kits from a plastic box, a bag of sand, and a vial of live ants.

The idea took off, and Uncle Milton found himself in the enviable position of having to hire “ant pickers” to supply the demand. Later iterations of the toy saw the sand replaced with volcanic gravel and the box engraved with a classic farm scene. Uncle Milton passed away in 2011, though not before seeing classic versions of his gravel ant farms make a comeback among kids just in time for the 50th anniversary of his invention.

byFormicaFormally known as a vivarium, such structures are used to study ant colonies and reveal ant behavior, and the people who take on that work are known as myrmecologists.

And now Terry Miller of Atlanta, GA, has taken up Uncle Milton’s dream with the GroTube XL. It’s a formicarium which defines wet and dry nest areas to allow for water to be injected into either a right or left reservoir, and the nest is kept properly moist using a small piece of PVA sponge embedded into gypsum stone.

byFormica 3d printed formicarium ant farmThe GroTube XL is 3D printed in polyamide, and then molded and cast in solid plastic resin. The company says the product is an “experimental micro formicarium (which) shows what is possible with 3D printing.” It also includes replaceable, 3D printed modules which are available for download on Thingiverse or for purchase on Amazon.com.

The company says production is underway with two styles available: a pink housing, and a single white prototype unit which is priced less than the final retail units. They say additional styles and new housing colors such as yellow and grey will be made available for sale on or after May 8 of this year.

You can get your hands on one, and make some ants and their child masters very happy, for $29 plus shipping and handling.

What do you think of the 3D printed GroTube XL? Is it a worthy successor to Uncle Milton Levine’s Ant Farm? Let us know in the 3D Printed Ant Farm forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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