You have seen exciting and interesting documentaries where entire colonies are kept in captivity and their activities are carefully recorded and analyzed. Perhaps you yourself always wanted to keep ants right next to where you lived but always thought terrariums required the expertise and money only available through natural history museums or nature centers. It is indeed an art to maintain an ant colony. If you do it right you can join many people who do just that like Mikey Busto. His Ants Canada initiative designs terrariums and provides many instructional videos.
Watchable terrarium design is very critical for engaging and informative natural history interaction. Ants are amazing self-organizing systems. However certain species requirements can be rather demanding. A mature leaf-cutter ant colony can consume leaves more than a weight of a cow every day! Think of the nutrient cycling these ecosystem engineers provide to their biological community… Being able to meet basic requirements of a colony requires good design. Take the famous tropical weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) who construct their nests by stitching leaves of trees using secretions of their larvae as glue.
Natural history of weaver ants is rich with specialized interactions with other animals including nectar secreting caterpillars:
All weaver ant species (Oecophylla spp) live in tree tops and the colony may spread into many trees forming forest canopies. This arboreal way of life lead them to evolve a behavioral ability to form bridges using their bodies between twigs and leaves. They grab each other with their mandibles and build a bridge of connected ants. In the following video you can see a horizontal bridge construction. This is a quite challenging move because they have to work against gravity.
Keeping ants in captivity allows experimentation and one can build controlled “obstacle courses” to further understand how certain behaviors unfold. Ant-plant interactions can take many different forms. In the following video researchers introduce a vertical gap in their foraging in which worker ants work together with the gravity. In this experimental challenge they can form much longer bridges: