Forget House of the Dragon, I’m watching ant wars on YouTube

Straight away, House of the Dragon fans are gearing up for a season of backstabbing, violence and betrayal.

And so do I, because I’m watching a YouTuber built a 3,000-gallon vivarium full of hostile ant colonies.

For the past six months, AntsCanada fame Mikey Bustos has been cultivating biodiversity in a 10-foot-long vivarium he keeps in his home in the Philippines. The latest addition is a 6-inch baby caiman, which he plans to eventually move to a separate swamp vivarium and then into his backyard. The ethics and legality of this are unclear to me, but it’s a fascinating watch nonetheless.

Bustos, a longtime ant YouTuber, uses a 4K camera to capture the inhabitants of the vivarium, a world he has dubbed Pantdora. Yes, with a “t.” There are tree frogs, geckos, many species of ants, crickets, cockroaches, guppies, spiders, the aforementioned caiman, shrimp and more.

The baby caiman, yet to be named, floats in Aqua Noctis
IMAGE: AntsCanada

Over incredibly high-definition footage of the creatures, Bustos narrates in one clip, his voice tight with excitement. “Ah, I love it as a fishing school! There’s just something beautiful and hypnotic about it!” he exclaims after adding guppies to Pantdora’s blackwater pool, Aqua Noctis.

A tree frog clings to a vine, its body accentuated by light.

Mrs. Piggy, in the moonlight
IMAGE: AntsCanada

A tree frog gets a similarly poetic introduction. “When I saw her in Pantdora, I was impressed by how beautiful she was in the misty moonlight,” says Bustos. “I named her Miss Piggy.”

The rhythms of the videos make me feel slightly insane. I’m pretty sure they are made and suitable for children. The picture quality is stunning, but they have the narrative simplicity and deranged cadence of something like CoComelon, and Bustos’ narration is less David Attenborough, and more Dora the Explorer.

But the drama. Oh, the drama.

A screenshot of Bustos' channel, with several compelling video titles

I can’t wait to watch this one.
IMAGE: AntsCanada

Early in the series, Bustos realizes that several ant colonies have accidentally ended up in Pantdora, after being stashed in a giant salvaged tree stump and soil from his garden. He is excited to see a vibrant colony of plunderer ants – but wait, what is this?

Two invasive ant species have also made their home in the vivarium: fire ants and black crazy ants.

A brief, bloody skirmish between the marauders and the fire ants ends with casualties: Bustos watches sadly as a marauder major dies, locked in battle with a fire ant. The surviving marauders bury the bodies, while the fire ants retreat into their tunnels, presumably to reproduce and increase their numbers.

But the black crazy ants seem to coexist with the plunderer ants in the tree stump (formally called the Hallelujah tree stump). Until one day.

Hundreds of black crazy ants – with multiple queens – pour out of the stump, carrying eggs and moving the colony from the center to the top of the stump. Bustos realizes that there may have been a war going on inside the tree stump between the crazy ants and the marauders – who haven’t been that numerous lately. Plus, the crazy ants have somehow infiltrated the hardened poop tunnels of a colony of termites sharing the Hallelujah tree stump! Can the colony survive? Or have the king and queen, and their precious eggs, been killed?

As Bustos says, “Mother Nature is just breathtaking, isn’t it?”

I can’t wait to find out what happens in the ant war. Or what devastation the new praying mantis will cause. Or what will happen after Bustos’ huntsman spider, Lady Deathstrike, is introduced into the ecosystem along with her egg sac.

A beautiful large vivarium full of green plants

IMAGE: AntsCanada

The thing is, despite the overly dramatic voiceover, I genuinely believe in Bustos’ enthusiasm for his creatures. When he exclaims about a young grasshopper crawling up a vine and praises his wisdom in moving slowly so that predators (like tree frogs Kermit and Miss Piggy) won’t see him, I get it! It’s pretty cool, and I’ve never been more engrossed in the complicated and dangerous lives of insects.

I’m not sure how many other adults will be able to stomach the childish narration of Bustos’ videos. Speaking of which, I’m not sure how many other adults will be compelled to watch two huntsman spiders have sex in stunning 4K. But I need to know what happens next in Pantdora, and I’ll keep an eye out for that.