Ants scurry around in transparent boxes stacked outside a Singaporean store that is tapping into an unlikely but growing local trend of keeping the six-legged creatures as pets.
John Ye says he became fascinated with the “altruistic, compassionate” creepy-crawlies after receiving some as a gift from his brother-in-law.
The 41-year-old eventually ditched a job in electronics distribution to open “Just Ants” in January and cater to fellow enthusiasts.
“I wish to have a place where people can gather and share insights, and share their ant-keeping journey,” Ye told AFP.
The shop sells ant farms along with specialist equipment, including mini handheld vacuums for catching the insects, tiny feeding dishes and mealworms used as feed.
It was forced to close for a period due to a coronavirus lockdown earlier this year but has reopened since restrictions were eased, and business is picking up.
It stocks 30 to 40 species, sourced from ant-keeper friends or collected by Ye and his team around Singapore.
Catching the creatures is no easy task. It is usually only possible during so-called “nuptial flights” – when new queens and winged male ants take to the air in the hope of finding a mate.
Pets or pests?
The queen ants are then placed in test tubes or small tanks, where they give birth to a colony of worker ants if they have mated.
Ye’s personal collection includes tens of thousands of marauder ants, a species of the creature commonly found across Asia, housed in a large box.
The number of ant aficionados in Singapore is small but growing, according to Ye – a Facebook group where keepers exchange advice and information has nearly 4,000 members.
But Ye knows he has his work cut out to convince people in Singapore, where ant-keeping is rare, that the creatures are pets and not pests.
Most Singaporeans believe “you should actually not keep ants because ants . . . are poisonous, they are dirty, disgusting, they carry diseases”, he conceded.
“We always fear something that we don’t understand.”
Beginner ant-keeper Wei Sern Lim visited the shop to buy a box of food and a new home for his colony.
“It’s nicer to see the products and a lot more convenient just to have a physical shop,” the 30-year-old told AFP.
Others simply turned up to see whether such a shop really existed.
“I’m very tickled, they are actually selling ants as pets – it’s totally unheard of,” said visitor Michelle Serio.