When the unknown man poured molten metal into the ant nest below, his actions no doubt raised a few eyebrows. After all, to the untrained eye, it seemed that he simply wanted to destroy the colony assumed to be present within. When the guy dug the nest up, though, it became clear that he’d made something magical.
In 2003 someone posted a strange video on YouTube. The title was ambiguous; it was “Casting a Fire Ant Colony with Molten Aluminum (Cast #043).” However, that didn’t stop the vid from becoming immensely popular.
The footage begins with a couple of close-up shots of an ant nest in the middle of some grass. At the same time, the film’s creator measures the mound before producing a bucket of liquid. He then proceeds to pour the fluid through a hole and into the nest.
The liquid in question is, in fact, molten aluminum. And as the bucket tilts, viewers can see the substance sparkle as it streams into the nest. Once he has filled the underground structure, the mysterious man in the video then puts his bucket back down.
At this point, the mound seems to take on a life of its own. It screeches and gargles as the molten metal settles within. Steaming as it does so, the pile heaves before coming to a standstill once more.
Once the nest has cooled, the man in the video uses a trowel to remove the top layer of earth. He then starts digging around the structure, destroying the nest walls completely. Then, when the construction is freed, he lifts the metal-filled nest up onto solid ground.
Next, the guy uses a power hose to clean up the now solid aluminum. Using the jet of water, he removes every scrap of dirt from the impressive structure – and what he unveils is completely astonishing.
The video was posted by a YouTube user called Anthill Art. In his work he uses molten aluminum to cast a number of items, including ant colonies. He then sells his art works online using eBay.
Ants live in extremely complex structures, and each of their subterranean nests features a maze of intricate tunnels that connect a number of levels. Amazingly, too, crews of worker ants work tirelessly to maintain the chambers.
Hence, when molten aluminum is poured into an ant nest – with or without the insects inside – it fills the tunnels within the formation. And once the metal has cooled, the artist is left with a perfect mold of the ant hill structure. In fact, because the casts are so accurate, they’re often of great use to educational and research facilities.
What’s more, not only are the works informative, but they are also stunningly beautiful. The cast that Anthill Art created in his 2003 video resulted in an enormous object. It weighed almost 18 pounds, measured 18 inches in height and was certainly a feast for the eyes.
In fact, the piece of art mesmerized people. In a matter of months, more than 7 million had viewed the video online, and since then, that figure has grown to an impressive 94 million.
However, many people were quick to criticize the controversial video. Some people believed that what Anthill Art was doing is immensely cruel, especially if the artist poured the molten metal into the nest while ants were present.
“Your video and art made me first sick to my stomach and then made me so angry,” one disgruntled viewer wrote on the Anthill Art Facebook page. “How can you call yourself an artist? Is murder an art?”
“You think so, obviously,” they continued. “Guess you never grew out of your childish need to kill animals, insects and who knows what else, in order to feel powerful. These are innocent creatures with amazing colonies which took them who knows how long to build.”
And others agreed with the impassioned response. “This isn’t right. Killing thousands of living creatures in the name of art. I’m not a PETA supporter but this is just inhumane,” another person wrote in the comments beneath Anthill Art’s YouTube video.
In fact, the criticism grew to the extent that the artist behind the video came forward to defend himself. He claimed that the ant nest belonged to a colony of fire ants, which can give nasty bites. And because of the insects’ bites, many authorities are actually trying to cull the insects.
In general, the artist said that he tries to make his art responsibly. “I try to find abandoned nests but it doesn’t always work out. Either way, I do it sparingly and the property is still overrun with them,” he said in a statement quoted by Metro in 2013.
Meanwhile, Paul Hetherington, a spokesperson from insect conservation organization Buglife, told Metro that he approved of the art form. “If the nest is empty, we would support this casting as it raises awareness to the fantastic architectural prowess of ants,” he said. “However, if the ants are still present it is an extremely cruel way to kill them, of which we disapprove as they are effectively boiled alive.”
Meanwhile, although his work has proved controversial, the owner of Anthill Art has showed no signs of stopping. Indeed, his Facebook page now boasts more than 37,000 followers. And despite what people may feel about how his art is created, there’s no denying the fact that it highlights the beauty of the natural world.
But while few of us have turned insects’ nests into art, some more daring individuals have cracked them open to catch a glimpse of their cores. And when Dan Markham’s son Lincoln asked to look inside a wasp nest, he was quick to oblige. What waited for the duo within the hornet hideout, though, took them both by surprise.
After slipping on a pair of gloves and picking up an extra-long kitchen knife, Dan began to saw away at the lair that the insects had built from old wood and plant material. However, the crunch of the nest’s thin layers was loud and almost scary to Lincoln, who would call the sound “disgusting.”
Then, once the cutting was complete, Dan opened up the nest like a melon he had just sliced in half. Next, he presented both of its sides to their camera to reveal what the interior of the nest looked like. And he and Lincoln, along with Lincoln’s friend Kai who had come along for the ride, couldn’t believe their eyes.
This hadn’t been the first time that Dan and Lincoln had performed such an experiment, though. In fact, the pair’s fact-finding missions had all started in 2014, when Lincoln was a second grader at Endeavor Elementary School in Kaysville, Utah. As part of a class project, Lincoln had had to answer a question that was on his mind and share his findings on a posterboard.
As a result, Lincoln decided to figure out what was inside of sports balls. And to this end, he and his dad spent an afternoon slicing through a basketball, tennis ball, golf ball and soccer ball. Dan also filmed the entire process and posted the resulting videos on YouTube – although he didn’t think that the clips would garner much of a following.
But after a while YouTubers began flocking to the footage that Dan had posted. Thousands watched and subscribed to his channel, in fact. The pair then began fielding requests for what to cut open; and when they heeded those demands, they got even more views and subscribers.
The duo went on to aptly name their show “What’s Inside?”; now, they upload a new video to their channel every week. And, to date, the father and son team have cut into a whole load of different items. These include a drone, a department store mannequin, a kaleidoscope and a rattlesnake’s rattle. The wasp nest, meanwhile, featured on an edition of the show from November 2015.
But in order to find what was inside a wasp nest, they first needed to locate the item in question. This proved tough at first, however. “We went outside, and all of our wasp nests have lots of wasps in them and they were very small,” Dan admits in the YouTube video. So, unable to find a nest on their own, the pair decided instead to buy one from an unlikely source.
“We went on eBay,” Dan continues in the clip, “and you can buy wasp nests from people!… I just bought a wasp nest for like 30 bucks from somebody in Wisconsin.” In his hands, meanwhile, he holds a large cardboard box and a knife, seemingly ready to show off their strange purchase.
“Hopefully bees don’t come flying out at us,” Dan jokes as he begins to cut through the tape used to close the shipping carton. And once the box is open, the dad goes on to remove the protective padding around the wasp nest. Upon seeing his purchase, though, he exclaims, “Oh, that’s gross!”
“Oh my!” Lincoln chimes in; his friend Kai added, “It’s huge!” In fact, the boys look shocked as Dan finally removes the enormous nest from the box. However, Dan then seems to have a moment of realization that he is in his home’s formal dining area. “I don’t know how comfortable I am with cutting this open inside of the house,” he comments.
But after the boys encourage him to continue with the plan right where they are, they then grab a couple of items to make a size comparison. These would help viewers understand just how big their wasp nest is. And it’s huge: sandwiched between a basketball and a soccer ball, the nest is clearly the largest of the three.
With that, Dan goes on to slip into his protective gloves and grab a knife, ready to discover what was inside the nest. “If bees come out, you guys save me, okay?” he quips to Lincoln and his friend. “No, we’ll be saving our lives not yours,” Lincoln retorts. Fortunately, though, the trio’s lives wouldn’t prove to be at risk.
“I can’t wait to see what’s inside of this thing,” Kai says, as Dan’s knife crunches through the nest’s papery layers. And when the dad has finally divided the object in two, he asks the boys – and the video’s viewers – if they are ready to see what is inside. Then, he holds up the nest to the camera.
Inside, it turns out, are countless small compartments. In these individual, hexagon-shaped chambers, wasps keep and care for larvae. And adults bring them chewed-up caterpillars to eat until the larvae are ready to pupate, reaching the metamorphosis stage between an immature larva and a mature adult wasp.
In the clip, meanwhile, the two boys seem to be impressed by the wasps’ handiwork. “That’s amazing,” Lincoln says, as Kai also points out that “they still have, like, dead eggs in there.” And Dan calls the habitat “fascinating” as he examines all of the living spaces built to house the insects.
Then, at the end of their experiment, Dan, Lincoln and Kai discuss what they will do with the nest now they had sliced it apart. “We’ve kept a lot of the things that we’ve cut open,” Dan says. “This is one I don’t know that I want to keep.” In the end, though, the trio decide to store it away in Dan’s garage – and, with that, their video finishes.
And, unsurprisingly, the episode became an instant hit among fans. In the two years that the footage has been on YouTube, moreover, it has already been seen more than 35 million times. By comparison, most of Dan and Lincoln’s weekly uploads garner between one and four million views; their most popular, the investigation into the rattlesnake’s rattle, has had more than 80 million hits, however.
In fact, through their endeavours, Lincoln and Dan have built up quite the fan base. A whopping 4.9 million people subscribe to their YouTube channel alone, for instance. As such, they’ve received attention far and wide for their videos and for the fun way they spread knowledge. And in February 2016 the father and son even met Bill Gates. The Microsoft co-founder lauded the duo for shedding light on the need for clean water around the world after they had cut open a water filter.
Since their wasp video, though, the pair have continued posting episodes of “What’s Inside?”. Recent experiments have included a deconstruction of a bladeless fan, a Tesla battery and NBA player Kevin Durant’s new Nike basketball shoe. Lincoln even got to play a game of one-on-one against the basketball star – and scored a few points on his Finals MVP opponent.