Lazy Singaporeans delight in pet shrimp

Lazy pet owners shying away from the demands of dogs, cats or even goldfish are delighting in ants and shrimp that fend for themselves in self-contained ecosystems.

The latest craze among workaholic Singaporeans are creatures that never need feeding or pats, but are fascinating to observe.

Ecosystems called BeachWorld for shrimps and Antquarium for the six-legged insects “have really caught on among busy professionals”, said Soh Yeow Liang, manager of the sole distributor in Singapore.

Purchasers claim their charges enhance home and office decor, and are educational as well.

BeachWorld is a miniature biosphere containing between two and 12 red shrimp native to the Hawaiian islands. The algae, in artificial light, produce oxygen and also serve as food for the shrimp, whose waste in turn provides nutrients for the algae.

However, the Antquarium requires owners to go out and catch their own inhabitants, Soh noted.

“The nests of carpenter or worker ants are found after digging a bit in dirt or sand,” he said. “Use an object to scoop them out.
They’ll bite on a stick, making it easier.”

From then on, the plastic tank, measuring 13,5cm by 8,5cm by 3,5cm, provides everything needed to observe them building their intricate system of tunnels.

“The small vents in the frame are too tiny to allow the ants to escape, but provide plenty of air,” he added.

The ecosystems, imported from Globus International in Italy, are being snapped up since Soh, who formed Glo-Well Singapore, started importing them in March following their launch in Europe.

The medium- to large-size BeachWorld spheres are the biggest sellers, with a tree structure, stones, shells and plants.

“A lot of people buy them after they have done up their homes,” said store owner Joshua Yang. “I had one customer who bought it for feng shui purposes. It’s supposed to be good because it’s round and has water and life inside.”

Round objects are considered desirable in feng shui practice. Water is believed to enhance health and prosperity.

Another advantage for hands-off pet owners is that after the initial purchase—BeachWorld sells for between 218 Singapore dollars (about R800) and 788 Singapore dollars (about R2 900) depending on the unit’s size, Antquarium is only 44,95 Singapore dollars (about R167) minus ants—upkeep costs are nil.

Plus, there is no need to make special arrangements for the care of the shrimps or ants while away. The sphere containing the shrimps only needs to be placed in a location where it will receive at least five to six hours of artificial light daily.

Those intrigued by the ants are told to cover the bottom half of the habitat with black paper when they are not watching.

“This keeps it dark, as it would be underground,” Soh said, making it easier for the ants to tunnel through the turquoise gel.

Owners are also intrigued by BeachWorld’s link with space missions. Experiments with sealed closed ecosystems were carried out aboard the United States shuttle and the Russian space station Mir, Soh said.

Bank manager Chua Eng Lee (40) keeps his 10cm BeachWorld in his office.

“It’s quite unique to see living things exist in such sealed conditions,” he said.

The Antquarium is more popular with men than with women.

“It’s quite interesting and educational,” said student Larry Tan (25).

Insect lovers are advised not to introduce a queen.

“One would have to dig much further to find one,” Soh said.

The shrimps’ environment is also not conducive for them to breed. The lifespan of the shrimp is five years, while the ants have six months.

The Antquarium is reusable as long as the gel remains. All that’s left to do is dig up more ants.—Sapa-DPA

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