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Young Vietnamese turn to ant keeping for peace, relaxation



One of Vietnam’s newest trends is ant keeping – a not-so-traditional hobby that involves caring for the ants, occasionally auctioning off colonies, and using the pastime to build a deeper connection with the natural world.

Nguyen Tan Minh Nhut, a 30-year-old resident of Binh Tan District, Ho Chi Minh City is busy putting the final touches on 30 formicaria – the formal name for man-made ant tanks – he plans to deliver to customers at the end of the week.

Each of Nhut’s ant farms boasts two compartments: a nest and an outworld.

The nest, made from cement or light brick, is typically placed at the bottom of the formicarium and is meant to simulate a natural ant colony.

It features a manmade system of tunnels that allows the ants to exist in nearly the same way they do in their natural habitats. Within these tunnels are a living area, food reserve, and nesting place.

Nests in formicaria are not always manmade. Ant keepers who prefer ant-led tunneling use sand and soil and let the ants tunnel as they please.

Atop the nest is the outworld, where ants can work and play.

Ant keepers sometimes make highly creative designs for their ant farms. Photo: Huy Le / Tuoi Tre
Ant keepers sometimes make highly creative designs for their ant farms. Photo: Huy Le / Tuoi Tre

To build an outworld, Nhut works closely with customers in order to meet their exact requirements. While some customers prefer stones and twigs so that the outworld resembles a rainforest, others prefer a more desert-like appearance.

There are even ant keepers who prefer to keep their formicaria simple and simply fill their tanks with little more than dry leaves.

Of course, different ant species require different environments.

Field ants, for example, prefer holes where they can play hide-and-seek, while ants which typically live on plants need spacious areas with lots of branches and twigs.

“An inappropriate outworld stresses the ants out. It reduces the efficiency of female workers and the fertility of the queen ant,” said Nhut.

“Sometimes the whole colony perishes.”

Formicaria feature a transparent cover which allows a clear view of their daily activities.

Many ant keepers liken watching their ants to viewing a living painting.

It takes meticulous work to design and assemble a formicarium. Even the tiniest scratches on the glass, or misplacement of mundane details, can create a nuisance for observers. 

Formicaria must also be properly sealed to protect against any external factors and prevent outsider ants from encroaching on the colony.

“Keeping ants? Are you nuts?”

Raising ants is sustainable and basically cost-free.

Devoted keepers go to great lengths to build their colonies, often venturing to the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City looking for queen ants after a torrential rain.

Le Duc Huy owns 10 species of ants, a few of them can be seen in this supplied photo.
Le Duc Huy owns 10 species of ants, a few of them can be seen in this supplied photo.

Some even brave the dangers of forest streams, hills, caves, and bushes to find rarer species.

“I often ride to Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc, or Dak Nong Provinces on ant-hunting trips. Even after driving between 45 and 250 kilometers, there are days I can’t find anything but snakes and centipedes,” said Nhut.

“I do occasionally find queen ants, but they don’t always lay eggs. I have to take them to a laboratory for inhabitation. Only 10 out of 100 queen ants can spawn a colony, and that process can take up to a year.”

Not everybody, however, appreciates the joy of ant keeping and Nhut occasionally experiences criticism for his love of ants.

“People get mad because ants damage their food, but ants are actually very clean,” said the experienced ant keeper.

“They typically take their trash away from the living area, so it’s important to make sure they have a few empty compartments to keep their garbage.”

Nguyen Hoang Ngan is a 25-year-old ant lover in Tay Ninh Province. His family simply cannot understand how he spends so much timing feeding, caressing, and even talking to his ants.

Yet, Ngan ignores the criticism, explaining that his hobby is extremely relaxing.  

“Watching my ants relaxes me after hours of stress at work,” he said.

“They remind me to keep myself busy. It’s an indescribable joy to witness a hatching ant egg.”

25-year-old Le Duc Huy, another Ho Chi Minh City-based ant lover, uses his YouTube channel to share his knowledge about ants and provide ant-keeping tutorials for newbies.

Each type of ant is distinct in both looks and habits. Therefore, owning different species is seen as a sense of accomplishment for an ant keeper.

Huy currently has more than 10 species of ants in his collection, including the colorful Camponotus, and he claims to have learned a different lesson from each.

The diacamma ants, for example, are solitary hunters, but work together when a cricket is placed in their tank.

“I was staggered to see such unity in the natural world. The ants put aside their personal habits to work for a common cause,” he explained.

Ant auction

Considering the enormous amount of time it takes to go from a single queen ant to an entire colony, many ant keepers buy and sell ants, typically in packages of one queen and several female workers.

Social network groups of ant keepers generally ban the selling of the queen ant alone because of the potential for buyers to be scammed with immature or infertile queens. The most common rule seems to be that sellers can only offer queens that have produced at least 10 workers.

This design of an ant formicarium can hold up to 100 members. Photo: Trong Nhan / Tuoi Tre
This design of an ant formicarium can hold up to 100 members. Photo: Trong Nhan / Tuoi Tre

The prices for one ant tank ranges from VND300,000 (US$13) to VND800,000 ($35), depending on the ant species.

The most popular species are camponotus albosparsus and camponotus turcestanus due to their impressive appearances.

Buyers typically pay VND600,000 ($26) to VND1 million ($43.8) for a queen and 40-60 workers of these species.

The messor barbarus sells at VND600,000 for one queen and ten workers, while the tetra rufonigra is priced at VND500,000 ($21.9) for the same number of ants.

Purchasing a large colony is also a popular choice. Three queens and 100 workers of the rufipes species sell for VND650,000 ($28.4).

Meanwhile, 12 trap-jaw queens and 200 workers sell for VND1.2 million ($52.5).

According to ant keepers in Vietnam, these prices have gone up threefold over the last two years due to the increased popularity of the hobby.

Online auctions of ants on Facebook attract a great number of viewers. For the auction of a messier aciculatus tank with two queens and 50 males, the highest price was settled at VND600,000 after 30 bids, six times as high as the initial offering.

Ants require water, carbohydrates, and protein. Carbohydrates provide energy for the laborers and can come from honey juices or sugary liquids.

Protein caters for the gynes and larvae. This can come from crickets, caterpillars or worms.

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Your Vietnam

Scientist brings solar energy closer to people



When beginning his journey to the US at the age of 20, Nguyễn Trọng Hiếu showed an endless passion for science. From a young student, Hiếu has become one of the nation’s leading scientists in engineering. With pioneer initiatives in solar energy, he and his team have taken humanity one step closer to a future where solar energy can thrive. Việt Nam News reporter Hoàng Hồ talks with Hiếu about his journey.

With excellent scientific research works, Nguyễn Trọng Hiếu was honoured to be nominated by the Central Committee of the Hồ Chí Minh Communist Youth Union in the list of 20 outstanding young Vietnamese in 2021. Photo courtesy of ANU

Inner Sanctum: How did you feel when your name was announced among 20 outstanding young Vietnamese in February? What were the turning points in your career?

I’m thrilled and proud to be honoured as one of the outstanding young faces of Việt Nam as a rep for the scientific research category. This motivates me to continue what I have been doing — performing good research and supervising and teaching my students, and mentoring junior colleagues.

I won a full scholarship to study at the Portland State University, USA, thanks to my performance in the first two years of studies at the Hồ Chí Minh City University of Technology. It was a huge step for me. But the turning point was when I started my PhD at the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, Australia, immersing myself in their world-class solar device fabrication and characterisation facilities. I received excellent mentoring from many world-renowned researchers and collaborated with many world-leading research groups.

Inner Sanctum: What are the challenges in reaching sustainable solar energy? 

The Earth receives thousands of times more solar energy from the Sun annually than the world’s total energy consumption. However, solar energy usage is still limited due to its higher cost than conventional electricity sources.

This is primarily because of the commercial solar cell efficiency (20 per cent), which is still far below the theoretical limit. The current challenge in improving solar cell efficiencies is the poor understanding of factors that can potentially cause efficiency losses at various stages. My work is well on the way to addressing this knowledge gap and providing the community with new tools to characterise these losses and novel processes to minimise them.

Inner Sanctum: Can you explain your research, its goals and the specific applicability of the research in daily life?

Dramatic climate change forces humanity to seek clean energy sources that are efficient, cost-effective, and reliable. Solar energy is an obvious solution. My research goal is to make solar energy cheaper and closer to everyone. I’m doing it innovatively – exploring light emitted from solar materials.

Nature gives physical things beautiful colours, which are a key to unlocking the potential of solar technologies. The secret is that every part of light emitted from materials contains important information. Examining the emitted light allows me to determine the most efficient material to use.

Because emitted light has unique features corresponding well to certain material properties, I can diagnose the material characteristics by just ‘looking at’ but not ‘touching’ them. I am taking it a step further – after understanding the material properties, I apply the knowledge to the fabrication process.

Much of my research directly supports R&D engineers to improve the efficiency of solar cells. These innovations could be applied to make better solar cells by different solar cell and module manufacturers. Then, the devices will be distributed around the globe, including in Việt Nam.

This will help the industry make more efficient and cheaper solar cells, unlocking the full potential of solar energy and providing low-cost renewable energy for humanity.

Hiếu founded two optical laboratories at the Australian National University, used by more than 50 researchers from nine different groups. Photo courtesy of ANU

Inner Sanctum: Can you share your passion for a field that is difficult for many people? Did you have any difficulties at the beginning of your journey in the US? 

My love for physical science took me to engineering. Then, my bachelor’s study was in electrical engineering, grounded in semiconductors. Ten years ago, solar cells were a hot topic, a path to tackle our climate change. The bulk part of solar cells is semiconductors. I decided to follow this area to utilise my background and do something meaningful for the world.

The greatest difficulty at that time was my English, particularly my writing and speaking skills. To overcome them, I just practised and practised. Practice makes perfect.

Inner Sanctum: How is your time working abroad? What in the US and Australia can Việt Nam learn from?

So far, I have enjoyed my time working in the US and Australia very much. I have built collaborations with numerous leading research groups around the world. These collaborations have provided me with unique opportunities to learn a wide range of state-of-the-art solar cell fabrication processes and characterisation techniques.

I am happy with their open working culture. I’m free to express my opinions and ideas even though they sometimes contradict the majority. VNS


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Your Vietnam

National Senior Golf Championship to start early next month



HÀ NỘI—The Vietnam Senior Championship presented by T99 2022 will open on June 4-5 at Vinpearl Golf Nam Hội An (Quảng Nam Province), the Việt Nam Golf Association (VGA) and the Vietnam Golf Services (VGS), it was announced yesterday.

The organisers said the tournament would be followed by the T99 Vietnam Amateur Series 2022.

Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Dung won VGA’s golf champions in 2008 and 2021. Photo by GolfNews

About 100 amateurs aged 45-55 for women and 50-60 for men and higher aged golfers are expected to join the tournament.

The championship started in 2008, with Andrew Hùng Phạm (men) bagging five championships in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019, and 2021.

Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Dung (women) won in 2008 and 2021.

The VGA and VGS signed a strategic cooperation deal with the Technology Finance, namely T99 Group, in which T99 will become the main sponsor of the T99 Vietnam Amateur Series 2022.

Andrew Hùng Phạm bagged five VGA golf championships in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2021. Photo by GolfNews

Nguyễn Ngọc Tuấn, deputy general director of T99, said: “National golf tournaments have been improving over the past years and lured an increasing number of golfers into joining.

“T99 wishes to join the VGA to develop this sport further to attract more golfers, particularly to improve the quality of golf tournaments and bring the country’s golf to international tournaments.”

The tournament will be broadcast live by VGS Media via GolfNews channels. VNS


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Fencer, volunteers collects rubbish in Mỹ Đình Gymnasium



Lê Hương

HÀ NỘI — Famed fencer Vũ Thành An and nearly 100 volunteers collected plastic rubbish in Mỹ Đình Gymnasium on Friday in the “Collecting Plastic Rubbish – Getting Green Medals” activity as part of the ongoing ‘For A Green SEA Games’ campaign.

They divided into groups to pick up rubbish, bottles and cans. By the afternoon, over 30 volunteers who collected the most rubbish won Green medals from the SEA Games organiser.

Fencer An (right) collects rubbish with a volunteer at Mỹ Đình Gymnasium on Friday. —  Photo SEA Games organiser

With the spirit of “For a Stronger Southeast Asia”, the event has not aimed just at fair play but also for green-clean-beautiful and environment-friendly purposes.

The Natural Resources and Environment Communications Centre and the WWF have coordinated with the SEA Games 31 organiser on a project to minimise plastic disposal in the ocean and implement a national plan on controlling plastic disposal in the sea by 2030, aiming to set up a recycling economy and focus on environmental protection.

These plastic reducing activities are part of WWF efforts to protect Việt Nam’s biological diversity, including the Sao La (Asian unicorn), chosen as this SEA Games mascot.

This is the very first time such a rare and valuable mammal has been chosen as the mascot.

Volunteers at the event. —  Photo SEA Games organiser

The programmes “Collecting Plastic as Gifts” and “Collecting Plastic Rubbish  Getting Green Medals” have been implemented in Hà Nội’s Mỹ Đình Gymnasium since May 12.

They aim to enhance people’s awareness of various kinds of plastic that can be recycled and encourage people to sort rubbish to protect the environment.

Volunteers at SEA Games venues have been joining the activities. — VNS


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