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Small wonders: Asia’s first ant museum in Singapore

A life-changing moment led to an unusual hobby - and Asia's first ant museum in S'pore

Ants that can grow to the size of a human ear and some that can "live forever" by cloning themselves.

These are just two of the 23 species of ants on display from today at Singapore and Asia's first Ant Museum.

Over the past few months, an unassuming three-storey shophouse at 359 Upper Paya Lebar has been slowly transformed into a space dedicated to an insect most people deem a common household pest.

Helming the museum is its ant-crazy founder Zat Low.

The 36-year-old is known as the Antman of Singapore due to his expansive ant collection. He is also the founder of enthusiast group Singapore Ants.

The first floor of the shophouse mainly showcases Mr Low's art in the form of ant-related paintings and self-made formicariums, which are ant farms that house colonies.

Since falling in love with ant collecting five years ago, Mr Low has learnt to build formicariums from scratch, using mostly acrylic, glass and 3D printing.

He sells these to other collectors and frequently gives away smaller ones to children to help them kick-start their ant-collecting hobby.

On display on the second floor of the museum are colonies of different species of ants.

Mr Low rattles off the ants' scientific names and shares lesser-known facts about the ants, which are local species that he caught in forested areas here or got by trading with other local ant collectors.

His profound knowledge of ants and passion did not appear overnight - the start of his enthusiasm was a serendipitous one.

  • VISIT THE ANT MUSEUM

  • WHERE: 359 Upper Paya Lebar Road

    WHEN: 

    • Open from today. It is also available for private appointments.

    • Walk-in visits, from 10am to 10pm, are on Saturdays and Sundays.

    • Mondays to Fridays are reserved for school visits and private appointments.

    ADMISSION: $15 for adults, $13 for children and $11 for senior citizens. Entry includes a two-hour guided tour.

    INFORMATION: http://www.thesingaporeantsexhibition.com/ 

NOT JUST PESTS

I want to help educate the public on how to live hand in hand with ants... Ants are not just pests, but can also be pets and can even be obedient, just like dogs.

MR ZAT LOW

Back in 2015, he had spiralled downwards to what he said was his lowest point because of personal turmoil, in part after having lost friends who had taken their own lives.

One day, while looking out his window and harbouring self-destructive thoughts, an insect flew into his mouth.

Out of curiosity, he did research on it after spitting it out. It turned out to be a queen ant of the Camponotus auriventris species, and Mr Low took the encounter as a sign that he should learn more about ants.

That same year, he started catching queen ants and harvesting their eggs to sell to bird feeders. He also reached out to people on web-based marketplace Carousell to form an ant interest group, which has grown into the official Singapore Ants group and boasts around 2,000 members.

Mr Low wound down his egg business in 2016 to concentrate on helping to grow the ant-collecting community in Singapore.

Encouraged by the response to an educational exhibition he organised late last year, he decided to create a permanent ant museum, together with a business partner.

Besides giving visitors a glimpse of both common and rare local species, the ant museum allows them to learn about various ant behaviours. It also offers two-hour guided tours.

"I want to help educate the public on how to live hand in hand with ants," says Mr Low. "Ants are not just pests, but can also be pets and can even be obedient, just like dogs".

For instance, ants can be trained to clear their "trash", like leftover food, into a specific corner of their habitat, he said.

With this venture, Mr Low hopes to turn his hobby into his job, and also wants to use this platform to spread his love of ant collecting.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2020, with the headline 'Small wonders'. Print Edition | Subscribe