Shining their flashlights into the darkest corners of Singapore, a small group of ant hunters searches for an elusive winged insect.
With luck, they will find a queen ant to lay eggs and start a colony under the watchful eye of a collector.
“You can search for a few hours without finding anything at all. So, it’s really luck,” Leland Tan, 14, said after he hit the jackpot, and found two queen ants in one night.
Singapore, a tropical city-state home to more than 40 ant species, has a small but growing community of ant collectors.
Ants Singapore, a Facebook group that has grown to 380 members since last December, aims to connect “ant lovers and even those who are interested in keeping ants.”
Followers share tips on catching and breeding ants, do-it-yourself ant farms and links to videos such as the giant killer ants in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
While most ants in Singapore are harmless, the insects are often regarded as a nuisance. That is something Chris Chan is hoping to change.
“I want people to look at ants differently,” said Chan, a 29-year-old Uber driver and member of Ants Singapore.
“Now, a lot of people still think that ants are pests, but with enough education, I can educate them that keeping ants can be safe,” he told Reuters Television.
Chan lives across the border in the southern Malaysian city of Johor Bahru with his girlfriend, her family and up to 30 ant colonies living in 10 formicariums, or ant farms.
Helen Teh, the mother of Chan’s girlfriend, said she was curious why the couple needed so much sand and wood in their home.
“He said, ‘Oh Auntie, I’m keeping ants,'” Teh said, recalling her initial surprise.
“Later, when I knew it is something that he loves … I said, ‘It’s no harm done,'” she said.
Chan has turned to social media to promote his hobby.
He has started a YouTube channel for new collectors and answers questions about ant care on the group’s Facebook page.
Chan also organizes ant-hunting trips to teach people how to find and catch the tiny insects that he says can hold his attention for hours.
“Some people can stare at an aquarium for hours. Same, just like my ants,” Chan said.